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Magical Thinking About Aging

“You’re growing up too fast!” I heard myself saying to my youngest grandchild recently.

Seems like a normal response from a granny to her youngest grandchild.  But as I heard the words and saw his somewhat shy and maybe embarrassed look, I wondered what I was really trying to say or what I was feeling when I said this. Did I really mean I was sorry he was growing up?

It sounded as if I thought he was doing something wrong, that he shouldn’t be growing! But in fact, he was right on schedule, growing taller and stronger each year and slowly turning into an adult…just like he was supposed to do, just like I wanted him to do.

It sounded like I wanted him to stay a baby, that I was disappointed that he was growing, maybe even that I liked him better when he was little and younger.

Unless you’re a cheese or a wine, growing older isn’t much valued in our Western society. We are told by marketers and advertisers everyday that we need to look younger and feel younger, indicating looking our age or feeling our age is unacceptable.

Even the word “aging” is used when someone is showing signs of defectiveness. “My, how she’s aged over the last few months!”, meaning she’s rapidly decaying, or not-so-good any more.

And here I was unintentionally adding to this cultural message that bodies must always be cute and pretty, young, small and un-pimpled.

Without consciously thinking about my intention and what I value, I slipped into an accepted cliche and popular response. Maybe I can magically change reality if I don’t acknowledge aging out loud and everything will stay the same and the fairy tale of happily-ever-after will truly happen…these beloved babies will always be babies!

Every once in a while, I too have been the reciprocator of this kind of magical thinking when a lovely soul says something like “You don’t LOOK 74! I would never have guessed you are that old.”  And I blush and take it as a compliment, like as if I’ve done something wonderful, and say “Oh really? Thank you!”  But in reality it only makes me more aware that I shouldn’t be aging, that I should try to look as young as possible, that it isn’t good to be 74 and look 74!

Besides when I view the process of growing old with realistic eyes, without magical thinking, I agree with Michael Caine: “To me, growing old is great. It’s the very best thing – considering the alternative.”

I’m not saying that I want brutal honesty or rudeness. But a more authentic evaluation of age would be welcome. Maybe something like, “My, you are aging well…such a vibrant 74 year old.”

I want my grandchildren to know that growing up is a good thing. I want them to know that each age and stage of life is good and something to be valued. I want them to know they are wonderful right now, just as they are, and I will love them at every age and every size.

But, one thing I know is I’m ready for the next time I see one of my grandchildren. I’m ready to say, “My goodness! Every time I see you, you’ve grown some more. And you are doing such a good job of it!”

What are some other ways we inadvertently contribute to the magical thinking about age? How do you feel about this?

 

 

 

 

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

All You Need is Less

I bet you thought this title was a mistake, right? Everyone knows all we need is LOVE…not less!

Well, stay with me here and consider taking an overview of your life, where you’re living right now,  and where you’re going.

Chances are if you are 70 years old or older, retired and in relatively good health, you are beginning to think about downsizing from your family home of many years or you are in the throes of doing it, or you have already made the move.

Whichever it is, you probably have stuff, all kinds of stuff, in piles being sorted, or in boxes waiting to be unpacked or stored or given away, or in containers being hidden until you can organize it or figure out what to do with them!

Why do I think this about you? Because It’s true about me! We are in this together…it’s The American Way: the unbelievable, overwhelming accumulation of stuff. It might even be the #1 First World Problem, judging from what I know about landfills!

Consequently I seem to be a magnet for articles, books, Ted Talks, reports and studies addressing “de-cluttering”, “living simply” or “minimalism”. It seems to always be on my mind. I google the topic and search for clever ways to organize excess stuff that will make me feel like I live simply and uncluttered. I am forever sorting through papers and stacking magazines, clearing off the kitchen counter, etc. etc.

Google the word “clutter”. There are how-to books galore on this subject, as well as  services that provide guidance and even consultants who will come into your home and declutter for you!

And always in the back of my  mind is how to eliminate all the excess stuff NOW so my family won’t have to do it when I die! One thing I’m sure of, my kids and grandkids don’t want any of it…I’ve already asked them, several times!

Then there’s the Christian teaching that comes into play for me, adding a good measure of guilt, “…if you have two coats, give one to your sister who is in need”  and also when Jesus instructed followers to not “lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupts, but instead lay up treasure in heaven…” In other words, fill life full with compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, generosity, love…instead of material goods.

Defining or exposing the problem is easy. What to do about it is the real challenge.

Many years ago I helped a friend sort through her family home because her mother was unable to manage it any longer and had been admitted to a nursing home nearby. We sorted 50 years of accumulated stuff until we had left only what would fit into one small closet, one 6-drawer chest and a small 2-drawer desk in her mom’s new living space.

This experience was a powerful life lesson for me. I realized that life begins with nothing and ends with nothing, nothing of material value, that is.

I look around me now, in this Gran Finale stage of life, and wonder if I minimize the clutter, the excess, just keep what I need to live my life well, how much space would I create for the pursuit of what’s really important, the eternal spiritual (heavenly) stuff…the stuff about which I want my legacy to be?

If I minimize the clutter, and the care and concern of it, I most probably would have more energy to be more patient with those around me each day, have more time to be more intentional in showing love and giving compassion, and eliminate my preoccupation with tasks of maintenance, upkeep and organization.

We need very few material possessions. I learned from downsizing my friends mother that  less is more when life is truly simple… less to maintain, less responsibility, less burden, less complicated.

We often hear the cliche “Never settle for less”,  probably meant to encourage one’s self worth and aspirations to fulfill one’s dreams. Instead it gives encouragement to over endulge, spend more than we have, and/or be discontent with what we have. It’s a popular marketing slogan and has been used to feed a sense of privilege and entitlement.  “I deserve more”, “I’m worth more”, “I can have it all.”etc.

But for this Vibrant Old Woman, in the final chapter of my story, I’m settling for less! Clear the clutter! Make more room for the stuff that really counts.

How about you? What’s your take on “less is more” and clearing out the clutter?

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Blog, Inspiration, Life Lessons

How I See Beauty in My Aging Body

“This is a difficult country to look too different in -the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krasser puts it-and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

So! There I was at my local YWCA signing up for the Silver Sneakers Water Aerobics class and I admit I felt a slight intimidation.

I had been given the choice by my doctor to either begin exercising and lose a few pounds, or start medication to lower my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It was not an easy choice.

The word exercise, in my mind, equels the four letter word, YUCK, (not too fond of sweat) and losing a few pounds means omitting delights like ice cream and cookies. But the thought of beginning medication doesn’t appeal either. I mostly don’t like to spend money on something that isn’t fun or beautiful, and don’t like to feel tied to a daily have-to (weird little personality quirks, I know, but I’m just being honest).

It was a nice-enough locker room but didn’t afford much privacy. I quickly found a corner where no one else was and where I felt I could undress unobtrusively. So I began. I had just figured out how to pull my swimsuit on without exposing my whole naked body at one time, when I turned my head just enough to catch a woman not far from me looking straight at me, her body stark naked, smiling broadly, saying, “Hi! Aren’t you new?”

I didn’t really want to look at her nakedness, but felt obligated to be cordial, so looked sideways while answering, “Yes, I am.”

She continued while she began pulling her suit up over her very white, plump and sagging body, “My name’s Carol (Not really Carol, but want to protect her innocence!) whats yours?”

“I’m Norah-with-an-H” I said smiling but looking away. I used a pseudonym to protect MY innocence!

“Glad you’re here. You’ll love it. It’s a great class!” she said and hurried off towards the pool.

Well, Carol was right. It was a great class. I did love it. And after the class, we all filed out towards the locker room. It was Carol who came alongside me and told me about the jacuzzi that some of the women take advantage of after the class. I decided to join them, just to warm up before dressing, and also to get to know a few of the women. There were five of us sitting in a semi circle in this jacuzzi that was in a nook that faced the changing area.

We hadn’t been seated long, when one woman began stripping her suit off while in the jacuzzi…no shyness, no hesitation. “Its easier to get off in the water than when my body’s dry,” she explained as I tried not to stare!

Then a couple of women appeared out of the shower area with towels, rubbing their wet hair while talking and walking towards the lockers…completely naked, completely at ease.

In fact, there was somewhat of a “Merry Month of May” exhibition going on right before my eyes: 70+ year old feminine bodies on parade.

I saw about a dozen different shapes and sizes. Floppy boobs, saggy butts, Buddha-bellies, scars and blemishes. There were no apologies. No shy attempts at cover-up. I saw only confidence and acceptance. The locker room was filled with an air of comradery, fun and exuberance. It was beautiful. It was comfortable. It made my heart smile!

I saw a new kind of beauty that day.

  • It was the beauty that comes from acceptance and the confidence that differences are valuable and comparisons and conformity unnecessary.
  • It was the beauty that comes from accepting life as it is with a sense of humor and enjoyment rather than judgement and condemnation.
  • It was the beauty that comes from the understanding that physical beauty is subjective and needs to be measured within the context of a life well-lived.

I’m still learning to see this new kind of beauty in myself. I often revert back to feeling insecure about my aging body, as if I should somehow be able to defy Nature and rise above wrinkles and age marks. But the group of Senior Sneakers, those Vibrant Old Women, opened the door for me to realize if we have lived 70+ years, we have a beauty all our own!

What I see when I see my aging body is a life-time of living a fully human existence:

  • I see a little girl who had polio, who fell from the cherry tree and broke her arm, who got her nose broken playing volleyball, who lived through measles, mumps and chicken pox.
  • I see a young lady who wore a perfect size 6 prom dress and wedding gown, could walk somewhat gracefully in 6″ spike heels, and who could eat ice cream everyday without gaining an ounce.
  • I see a  young woman who gave birth to 4 babies, breastfed 3 of them and nurtured all of them into adulthood.
  • I see a woman who moved more than 20 times and lived on two different continents and 4 different States.
  • I see a woman who has lived 70 full years,(that’s  25,550 days), been a baby, a child, a teenager, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an employee, a retiree.

My body has changed. My body is changing. It’s beautiful when I look at it with humor, make no comparisons to how I once looked or to anyone else, and remember that the lines, wrinkles, sags and blemishes are all signs of a life well-lived.

What do you see when you see your aging body?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Make a Positive Contribution to the World Without Missing Your Nap

“A Real Go-Getter! A BusyBee! She burns the candle at both ends! Give her a job and you KNOW it will get done well!”

Cliches, yes, but labels and comments that have been a real part of the self image of most of us Baby Boomers. We work hard, take on big assignments and live as large as possible.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” was the USA President’s challenging edict that we bought into wholeheartedly…back in the day.

We were part of the Feminist Movement, the Freedom Movement, the Jesus Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Student Exchange Program or the Peace Corps. We wanted to change the world and still do!

But today, right now, as these lofty thoughts present themselves in my sleepy head, I close my eyes, snuggle in a little deeper into my comfy arm chair and nap.

When Did I Start Needing a Nap Everyday?

I have a vibrant old friend in Oregon who has reminded me at times that much of what we do, we do because we can.

If I have a kitchen drawer filled with chocolate bars, I eat chocolate bars. If I have a car and a valid drivers license, I drive to the shops instead of walk.  If I have free time after lunch everyday and the house is quiet, the comfy chair is empty and the afghan nearby, I nap.

When I took the bold step of leaving my career and the daily routine of my job, I suddenly had free time after lunch, the house was quiet, the comfy chair was empty, the afghan nearby, and I became a daily napper!

And probably so did you. We nap because we can…and it is very delicious…though just a little guilt-producing.

Let it go or Protect it?

Apparently an afternoon nap is healthy for us. Health professionals, like the National Sleep Foundation, recommend a regular afternoon nap to restore energy and aid heart health.

Many successful people, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, who made great contributions to their communities and to the world at large were nappers. Perhaps there’s a relationship between success and rest.

What does it take to have my nap everyday yet still feel useful?

When we were younger and probably not napping everyday, we were led by our passion. We heard the call of our president or our personal hero or shero, and we followed…with all our hearts. Some of us left everything to follow. We defied the wisdom of our mothers. We left school or our home town.  We bought one-way bus tickets. We didn’t ask for a lot of questions to be answered. We expected good results and never counted the cost.

Today, we are older, but we can still be led by our passion…we just have to work around our afternoon nap time.

Physically, age slows us down a bit. We probably can’t DO as much as we once did. Now we must choose more carefully and focus on our strongest passion. Contribute smarter!

Daily commitment to being our real, authentic selves, nap and all, adds  honesty to the world. We acknowledge our limits and honor them. We contribute by being kind to ourselves and this gives others permission to do likewise.

Remember when we thought being busy equaled being important, being significant? Remember how we proved that wrong!?! Eventually busyness breeds contempt, or at least, burnout.

Positive contribution isn’t about how much we DO. Positive contribution is about BEING the unique person you are. You  contribute by being alive, learning and giving.

Each of us has a lifetime of experiences that have gone into making us who we are. As we continue to honor the unique understandings and talents we gained from our own experiences, we find ways to pass them on to those around us, just by being who we are and doing what sparks our passion.

Four Tips for the Napper Who Still Wants to Make a Contribution to the World:

  1. Lean into your passion. Whatever brings you the most joy, give yourself to it, even if its a minimum amount of time compared to earlier years.
  2. Live at your own pace. Changing the beat of each day is one of the perks of this stage of life. No one is measuring your production, or keeping a time-card on you!
  3. Redefine napping as a positive. An afternoon nap is good self-care and helps revitalize our energy level. It helps you BE your best.
  4. Embrace this ‘retirement’ stage of life as the Being-stage and live out these years as the unique You that you are.

Enjoy that nap! It will only make you better!

“Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution.” ―Deepak Chopra

How do you see your contribution at this stage of life?

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His Name is Philando Castile

I just want to say his name. I want to acknowledge that a family and whole community are hurting. I want the rhythm of my life to be interrupted because of the pain of my community. I want to feel our connection. I want to care.

MY RECAP:

This past week-end in my hometown a court decision was handed down by a jury that stunned what seemed like the majority of our citizens. A young man was killed over a year ago when he, his girlfriend and her 5 year old daughter was stopped by a patrolman because of a broken tail light. The young man happened to have brown skin, as did his girlfriend and her daughter. This shouldn’t have any consequence on anything, but it seems to be included in the first sentence every time this incidence is spoken of, reviewed or reported.

Philando Castile was killed by the patrolman, shot multiple times through the opened window of his car while still strapped under his seat belt. His 5 year old was in the back seat watching and listening while her mother sat next to him…

The patrolman declared that he “felt his life was being threatened” when Philando told him he was licensed to carry and had a gun in the car, exactly the procedure required of anyone whenever one has a licensed gun and is stopped by law enforcement for any reason. The rules, Philando was playing by the rules.

Philando Castile was a young man and a participating member of our community. He had worked at the local school, in the lunchroom, for  years. The children loved Philando. Their parents loved Philando. He was a giver and an asset.

Our community has been waiting, one year, for the verdict: was this killing justified? Did this man deserve to be shot multiple times for driving with a broken tail light?

Finally a verdict. The jury acquitted…”reasonable doubt”. The patrolman was justified. Philando Castile was so threatening sitting behind that wheel, strapped in his seat belt, beside his long-time girlfriend with her 5 year old daughter in the back seat, that he deserved 7 life- taking bullets.

Family, friends, community leaders knew that the only threatening thing about Philando was the color of his skin. “Brown skinned men are scary”.

So What? Why blog about this on a site for Vibrant Old Women? What does it have to do with us at this stage of our lives? 

My “so what?” is this:

  • Because I care about myself. I have lived more than 70 years and I am still alive today. I want to be vibrantly alive. Vibrancy depends on the condition of my Spirit (see ebook chapter on “Be a Giver”*) and my Spirit thrives when my heart is openly giving to those around me and caring about the lives of others in my world. Seclusion or isolation is self protective and selfish, and will cause me to lose vibrancy and  “rot from within”**. I have to care when others hurt…or choose not to and dry up myself.
  • Because I care about my grandchildren and their grandchildren. I have lived more than 70 years and know what makes a good community. I know we need good laws that give everyone a fair chance and give everyone protection from harm.  I want the future to be good for all our children. When our system fails one citizen it fails to be good. I owe it to the next generation to help expose the failure and help correct the system.
  • Because there are a LOT of us Vibrant Old Women and we can leverage change. If we give what we have, i.e. our wisdom, experience, and insights to broker understanding, our prayers, our time to write letters, make calls and show up at marches and demonstrations, our vote and community engagement, and our dollars, we could change some laws and procedures that serve our community unjustly.

I don’t want to keep the rhythm of my small life when one of my neighbors  is suffering injustice and sorrow and when we all have to live in fear for the lives of our sons because of the color of their skin.

So! that’s why I’m remembering Philandro Castile today and saying his name. I don’t want to forget.

 

*https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=vibrant+old+woman

**Line from poem, Pumpkin, by Connie Wanek

 

 

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Connecting the Past to the Now Without Going Backwards

Buzz words! Just name a few that you have experienced in the last couple of years, never mind in your lifetime! Where do they come from and who starts them? I’m never sure, but I suspect a lot of them come from pop-culture, like lines or themes from movies or TV programs, phrases from songs or raps, or maybe catchy captions from newspapers, books or quotes from celebrities.

Being the rebellious middle-child that I am, I tend to shun the current buzz word, trend or fad, sometimes to my peril, sometimes to my credit! Occasionally, though,  a current buzz will ring true with me and I embrace it wholeheartedly… until it feels common. Then I usually dump it and replace it with my own version. The last thing I want to be or appear to be is cliche!

The current trend towards “living in the NOW”, “Being Present”, even “mindfulness” has grabbed my buy-in for quite a while.  I continue to be very much aware that it is beneficial on many levels to practice this trendy wisdom. (Actually it’s ancient wisdom that has become trendy.)

I try to meditate regularly in order to “be IN the moment”. I try to discipline my thoughts to stay focused on the time and place I’m in and not think about later now. I use a very helpful tool called 5-4-3-2-1 where I routinely name 5 things I can see at any one moment, then 4 things I can hear, then 3 things I can feel, then 2 things I can smell and finally 1 thing I can taste…all meant to ground me IN the moment. I certainly don’t want to miss anything that is going on in my life!

Good stuff, right? Good practices. Good discipline.

All good…BUT! There seems to always be a flip side!

At this stage in my life, when each day can easily look and feel like the previous one as well as the next one, “being present” can feel a little boring. There’s just not a lot going on sometimes.

Taking a step out of the present and remembering the past or taking a step out of the present and dreaming about the future, either one, can be a welcome adventure!

The caution, from experts on aging, seems to be that we don’t get stuck in the past or the future and thus miss the learning and opportunity of the moment. But surely, a little excursion in either direction occasionally, is good!

Like today. Memorial Day in the USA. A time set aside to remember. A time to honor the past, the history, and those in particular who gave their lives and their talents to make today livable for me.

I remember my past today. I remember my dad, that he was in the Philippines when I was born, that I didn’t see him until I was almost 2 years old, that he missed a couple of years of my early teens serving in Korea during the conflict there, that he was gone for several months at a time throughout my life serving in various capacities with the US Army. I remember him. I remember how I called him “sarge” behind his back because he was so authoritative.  I remember how he required everything to have a place and be in order.  I remember and connect the experience of him being my father to who I am today.

An old psychologist friend of mine used to tell me that, in part, personality was the continuity of life experiences. The past is not done. The past is flowing into the present, giving texture and depth and meaning to the present.

Being fully “in the Now”, today at least, means remembering the past, allowing it to help define the present.

As Vibrant Old Women, we have the advantage of seeing almost the whole story of our lives, from where we’ve come, who we’ve been and who we are now…a panorama view. I love the flow of connection from one event, one happening, one era into the next.

I think from now on, as I practice living in the moment, I might add a bit of the past by “habit stacking”* onto 5-4-3-2-1 and add a memory that something in the present reminds me.

What do you remember? How do you see the impact of the past on your Now? What feelings does this awareness bring?

 

*See Habit Stacking,http://vibrantoldwoman.com/?p=999

 

 

 

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