Aging: Finding an Extra Set of Hands, or Added Muscle in Ourselves

Aging is a mystery we can’t solve no matter how much we might desire to do so. We just live it, if we’re lucky. Although it might not always feel so lucky.

 

But maybe, if we could hear the honest truth of how other people lived their aging, we might live our own more gracefully. Maybe. Or at least we would not feel isolated in ourselves.

 

So I’m now reading two very different books, Essays After Eighty by the American poet Laureate, Donald Hall, who lived 1928-2018, and The Selected Poems of Tu Fu, Expanded and Newly Translated, by David Hinton. Tu Fu lived from 712-770 C. E. and many consider him China’s greatest classical poet.

 

Hall’s writing feels very personal to me, partly because I took a creative writing class with him when I was in College. The class was engaging, challenging. At times afterwards, I contacted him to talk about my own writing or how to get published. And years later, he gave a talk at a nearby college and we reconnected. I was so surprised he remembered me.

 

We can hold such contradictory and frightening notions. We can both want to know, and yet, not know⎼ what will happen to us next week? Next year? When will we die? We can think of each decade as an actual thing, a door we pass through. “I’m thirty now…seventy, eighty, ninety.” But the door has only the solidity we give it. As Hidy Ochiai⎼ world renowned master and master teacher of the traditional Japanese martial arts, who is still teaching in his eighties and with whom I have studied for many years⎼ put it: “We’re not old. We’re just getting older.”

 

Hall says, “However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life.” And as we age, we enter and deconstruct that alien universe.

 

“My problem isn’t death but old age. I fret about my lack of balance, my buckling knee, my difficulty standing up and sitting down…. I sit daydreaming about what I might do next.”

 

Maybe we don’t worry often about death, but we feel it more and more, somewhere behind us and getting closer. Sometimes, we just stop, lost in thought about what to do next or whether we have already done all we need to do. We wonder how well we will be able to walk, get around. How independent. In the U. S., independence, vulnerability or lack of control is one of our greatest fears.

 

Yet so many of us say we don’t feel old. Even in our seventies, we imagine we’re thirty. I notice it is more difficult now to get up after doing floor exercises. One reason I work out daily is to stay as young in body and mind as I can, to stay limber, healthy. The aches I feel afterward are almost pleasurable, a reminder I am here….

 

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Waking Up to a New World

I wake up to a new world. The standing Buddha in the yard is wearing a large conical white hat and is surrounded by a foot of virgin snow. The solar lights on the deck are miniature mountains.

 

And even indoors⎼ near my bed, a painting on the wall I’ve looked at almost every day for ten years named “Golden Woods,” by the English artist Jo Barry ⎼ suddenly, the painted light flows through the artwork. It is absorbed by dark trees and adds so much life to the yellow, orange, and gold leaves and flowers they pop out and become so distinct that, for the first time, vast depths can be seen behind them. Unrevealed details.

 

And Linda, a wife, partner, and best friend⎼ is standing by the dresser, the universe seen and loved in her eyes. What a beautiful morning.

 

Already it’s different outside. The light has changed, dimmed. Near the Buddha, under the bird feeder, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove⎼ is that a Nuthatch?

 

Writing, like a good conversation, can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Yet it can be so tenuous. It is best when words just emerge almost by themselves. When I started writing this morning, my mind was fresh from a good night’s sleep. There was clearly something pushing to be noticed and written, but I didn’t know what it was. The only thing clear was the fresh snow, the light in the painting, and that naming emerges from the nameless. Writing can be like that, when we trust the process. We pick up a pen and don’t know if we will get what we aim at or what, if we let it, we’ll say.

 

Other times, it’s amazing that we can speak at all or write about anything. One minute, we feel we are in the grip of a great revelation, only to find, on the very next day or next moment, a contrary revelation. We speak, thinking we know what we’re talking about, but so much lives in each word, each perception, that all we can ever describe is one moment’s cupful. The rest spills out or jumps from the cup as if our speaking or looking gives it feet.

 

We can worry so much about saying the wrong thing or how we will sound that our voice becomes foreign to us, as if spoken at a great distance, like an echo. And this echo can be  painful and isolating, made worse when we think only we personally carry such burdens or there is something missing in us because we do so. If only we could step right through this distance.

 

When we study ourselves closely, mindfully, study our actual sensations and feelings, we can eliminate the seeming separation between us and everything….

 

This piece was published by The Good Men Project. To read the whole post, please click on the link. 

Creativity and Our Love for Others Can Save Us

This morning, like almost every morning, underneath the rush to run off to do this or that, or to lie in bed and watch the day begin, there is a yearning to create something beautiful and meaningful. Or maybe it’s a desire to write something exciting, to write myself into a revelation of the depths of life, something utterly true, unseen, new, about life, relationships, myself.

 

Then I hear the news ⎼ lawyers for the President, instead of trying to prove his innocence, they try to justify on the Senate floor the subversion of the constitution and the establishment of one-man rule, and I lose all concern for depth. Fear sucks away the creativity.

 

Or I hear John Bolton say DT directed him to pressure the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden. Or Lev Parnas revealing the tape he has of the President giving the order to “get rid of” Ambassador Yovanovitch is only one of the many tapes he has. Parnas says everyone, including Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence, “was in the loop” on DT’s Ukraine scheme.

 

And I get excited. I want this to be heard. I want it to shake the depths of our political system. I imagine the dark cloud of the Presidency will be lifted and this threat to humanity removed. I get caught up in hopes and fears and lose touch with beauty and depth.

 

And I fall asleep again because I didn’t sleep that well and a dream comes to me. I am walking on a beach. Several people are around me. It’s awesome. And in the distance, I see waves heading to the shore. And suddenly I notice a wave, a huge wave, getting bigger and bigger coming towards the beach. I yell to the people in the water and those around me, and start running uphill, away from the beach. And from the other side, the hill gets washed out. The land has become water, water to the right, water to the left…

 

And I wake up.

 

The act of creating, whether it is by writing, painting, dancing, cooking, carpentry, film-making, playing music or whatever gives us a sense of strength and meaning. It is an affirmation.

 

I want to write so I can harness the flood. I want to write so the writing itself is a meditation, a door opening into soul territory. I want to write so I remember there’s more to life than anger, regret, and fear. That the possibility to act and affect the world exists.

 

So when we come home from work or school or after hearing the news, after the fact check, we can write to our local newspaper or on social media, speak out, paint a sign to hold aloft in a demonstration.

 

And we can look closely at those we love, listen to them, as if how we relate to them were also an act of creation. As if the sincerity and depth of our caring would somehow strike some politician with sanity.

 

Even fear and nightmares can be the siblings of the urge to create and to live deeply, meaningfully ⎼ and in a nation that listens to and respects our rights and viewpoint. And of our care for and relationships with others. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t fear.

 

And it is this yearning to create and this love that we have for others that can save us. We have to keep this yearning and care in mind and let it inspire us to also take care of ourselves, as we speak out, keep informed, make political action part of our loving, and hug our friends and family deeply.

 

 

This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.