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….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project

Are We Now Living In A War Zone? How Can A Poet Help Us?

Any conversation I have now with good friends is shadowed by, or turns directly and painfully, to politics. Even responding to a polite “How are you?” can require great creativity, to somehow be genuine but not devolve into tears or rage. “Considering the state of the world, I am fine,” is one of my usual responses.

 

In one discussion, a good friend said our country is now more and more a nation at war. Another said we’re a nation ruled by an incompetent, oppressive, and wannabee dictator.

 

DT is clearly turning our nation if not into a war zone then into a zone of lawlessness. He says he is the only candidate who can protect America, but whatever lawlessness is happening now is already during his watch, and he is certainly provoking the violence and is one of the nation’s biggest lawbreakers.

 

For example, he sends Federal officers, in violation of the constitution, without identification, to create havoc in cities with Democratic Mayors, who are hosting protests against racial violence and injustice. And when white militias show up In Kenosha, Wisconsin, and police allow a militiaman with a gun to shoot and kill 2 people, DT barely mentions the murdered victims in his GOP Convention speech, likes a tweet supporting the murderer, and his supporters blame the protestors.

 

As Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon said on Sunday (8/30): “It’s you [DT] who have created the hate and division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of two Black people killed by police officers… And it’s you who claimed that White Supremacists are good people.”

 

He dares to call himself “the law and order President.” Talk about the Big Lie. No President has been sued like DT. He has been impeached by the House, committed more corrupt acts, has had more members of his administration indicted, has undermined not only laws but the rule of law and the constitution itself⎼ and he calls himself the law and order President? He’s the father of disorder, the violator of law and the violator of the constitution.

 

He lies so blatantly and caustically that many words and concepts have become haunted with his venom. Think of ‘media’, ‘immigrant’, ‘fraud’, ‘election’, ‘liberal’, ‘socialist’, ‘mask’, let alone terms like ‘Post Office’, ‘fake news’, ‘health care’, ‘pre-existing conditions’, ‘Social Security’, ‘first responders’, and ‘essential workers’. Although there are some words and terms that have taken on more clarity, that wake us up, like ‘vote’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’.

 

Our mouths, minds and hearts have been mined with emotional time bombs, traumas, which is just what DT wants. …

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Walk That Reveals Dragons: Walking So Our Capacity for Compassion Is Strengthened Along with Our Legs

Walking has taken on new significance and importance today, due to the coronavirus. Gyms are closed, so the outdoors have become a gym we all share. Or we have always shared this gym, but maybe we now do it more deliberately. Almost everyone I know says they take walks. Where we each go⎼ that is not so shared. Some have the privilege of deep forests, beaches, or river sides, others city streets, parks, or parking lots.

 

I took a walk a few days ago that could have gone on forever. Our home is in a rural area, on a steep hill, and I only stopped when my legs tired. I was also experimenting with how to walk as more a meditation⎼ how to lose myself for at least a few moments. And how, when my mind wandered, to kindly return attention to the basics⎼ breathing, looking, listening, and feeling.

 

When I first started my corona-walks, I distracted myself from each step so the weight of steps wouldn’t drag me down. The walk up our hill is challenging. I would set a goal to exercise for maybe 30 minutes or an hour. But if I began each walk thinking about how many minutes I had left to finish, each step would become a burden. So I either counted steps or thought about interesting ideas or people or projects I could take on. Or I played this game with myself. I pretended I would only walk to the big house up the road. And when I arrived there, I’d tell myself to walk just a bit more, to the maple tree where I saw the turkeys last week. And when I reached the maple tree I’d continue to the next memory or turkey siting.

 

But not this time.

 

In an online birding class I took recently, the teachers spoke about how we honor the birds we live with by knowing their names and their songs. This was a new and beautiful idea for me. But as I walked, I just wanted to listen. To name the birds would be another distraction from the song itself. It would mean me, here, and it, there. But to stop walking and just listen, the sound grew closer and clearer. And when the song ended, the trees and insects and stones and cars on the road were waiting for me even more distinctly.

 

In the past, I often thought about what it meant to feel at home someplace. This is the answer. That the gullies, streams, and trees, the wind, heat, and the house I owned would live inside me, not just me inside it. That I’d be open to all of it. That it would be a place to love and think.

 

There are so many ways to think. We can think rationally and critically, use words, concepts, examine theories, research and organize facts. Or we can let our minds wander through imaginative realms, memories of the past or ideas of the future⎼ through our pictures of ourselves or how others picture us. Or we quiet the mind, by focusing on a singular chosen point of focus⎼ the breath, sensations, the maple tree, and especially feeling⎼ or awareness of whatever arises in the immediate moment, including awareness itself….

 

**To read the whole piece, go to the Good Men Project.

 

*For information on walking safely when you might meet up with other people, in this time of the coronavirus, please refer to this NPR program, Masks and the Outdoor Exerciser.