Saturday, April 1, 2017
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
I have been working on letting go of the ego since I became a Buddhist in my mid-30s. After 40 years I wish I could brag about my progress. But if I were bragging about how egoless I have managed to become.... well let's face it, that would be a tad egotistical.
It is a work in process. I still have not succeeded in transforming all that lead into gold. Understated, but true. I will spare you the gory details. I'm sure you have your own to contend with.
"Altruism is innate, but it's not instinctual. Everybody's wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped," says author David Rakoff.
Getting older does help with flipping that switch. One is aware that these are the final years of life. That recognition hopefully puts some wind in the sails.
The inner work that is a natural part aging sails us into waters that we could never have navigated earlier in life. We just were not experienced enough. Even in later life navigating these waters is challenging. Facing death, life review, healing old wounds, letting go of the ego--these are profound areas of maturation and self-understanding.
That's why later life is a real treasure chest for the alchemist who is willing to spend time in the laboratory refining lead into gold. It's natural to be in that laboratory as we age. Much more natural than the hyper-active busyness that some older adults ascribe to as a way of filling every inch of space possible while avoiding the inner life.
I love this quote from the famous author and spiritual leader Ram Dass who tells us, "I didn't have to be somebody..."And that from a person who has been a highly visible public figure for many years. How he came to not having to be somebody is his unique journey, one interesting to read about. It's the same for each of us. We all have our own path.
I notice that there is a great deal of freedom in not having to be somebody. Loosening up the bonds of attachment to identity, performance orientation, station in life. It's one positive aspect of being less visible, stepping back out of the action a bit, spending more time with the inner life.
“I am weary of heroism. I am tired of doing. I am tired of great projects and frenzied efforts. I have left the busy land of the middle-aged for a realm of deep inner stillness, quiet and sacred being." --John Robinson
|Left to right Jeannie, Laurie and me at Tashi Choling|
Being more self-aware and quiet--letting go of heroic attitudes and ambitious great projects-- doesn't automatically mean disengaging from positive activity and engagement.
The process of letting go of the ego naturally propels older adults into more altruistic ways of thinking and being. We find ourselves asking ourselves, What is the most meaningful way for me to contribute now? With a less constricted sense of self, freed up from the confines of having to be somebody, and knowing time is short, some older people can be great activists, philosophers and mentors.
I'm not saying it's easy, this business of self-transformation, letting go, and opening up in ways never dreamed of before. Letting go of the ego. I am grateful that I have a good strong ego to wrassle with. Seriously. But being ruled by the ego is too limited and limiting. Such self-fixation is a constricted version of who I really am, or could be as I go deeper.
So here I am, at the tail end of summer, navigating my boat in these beautiful waters. Hope this finds you well and happy.
P.S. Quotes from Ram Dass and John Robinson are from the Fierce with Age Digest, which you can subscribe to by clicking the link above. I look forward to receiving it, because it contains such thoughtful content about aging. You may enjoy it too.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
|Rogue Valley Road, photo by Larry Turner|
What a wonderful surprise it was to receive so many letters via email in response to my last post from the summer solstice, in which I wondered who was reading my blog, and what readers were engaged in as they aged.
Some folks wrote short messages, but a handful sent longer, thoughtful and descriptive communications that one could rightfully think of as bona fide letters. Now letters in this day and age are all too scarce, and I was touched and delighted to be gifted with a whole bouquet of them via email. I found it very meaningful to learn more about what others are doing, too. I want to share excerpts from some of the letters here, because I imagine you will also find them rather fascinating.
Oh, but before starting that, I want to acknowledge these beautiful photos from a local photographer named Larry Turner. I love his work.
|Waldport, Oregon, photo by Larry Turner|
She keeps bees and some goats at her farm. We have never met in person, but we have had some nice talks over the years.
In her letter, she talked about how good it felt to mentor another woman who wanted to learn about beekeeping. She also talked about the inner work of harvesting one's life and sent a couple of excerpts from the book From Aging to Sage-ing by Rabbi Zalman Schachter, which relate to that. Here they are:
"Up to now, we have gone shopping in all the world's markets, gathering the ingredients for a cake. To become an elder, we must stop rushing madly about, learn to get quiet, mix all the ingredients together meditatively, bake the cake, and allow it to rise in its own time. In this way, elder hood represents the crowning achievement of life."
|Lavender in bloom, photo by Larry Turner|
Yes, harvesting--an important aspect of aging....
Another person shared the story of giving up her law practice at 57 and taking off in an RV, then resettling for 7 years in southern California before returning to the place she realized was home.
This writer said that the journey and the return "has also left me with an enduring sense of gratitude for that realization, and for somehow miraculously landing on my feet, once I moved back here."
I received a letter from an old friend who now lives across the ocean. He said,
"The awareness in my aging is that I should not carry things with me merely because they are not complete. It is like books: people feel bad because they have not completed a "read" and that somehow the money spent on the book is wasted without the completeness. Actually, often what was purchased was an opportunity to find an awareness of One Thing. We would all like to feel that our life is One Thing Complete, and then spend some time enjoying the feeling. That ain't gonna happen is all I can say. The only real Completeness is when we meld back into the Field of Peace."
One writer said that she was enjoying painting, and two others said that they were writing about their lives. One wrote: "I am 68, an entrepreneur, artist (public art,sculpture) all of which doesn't seem important anymore. I am happy to be alive and do whatever calls to me."
Some of the people who wrote told me that they felt that I was a kindred spirit, that they enjoyed my positive aging perspective or my willingness to take risks. Thanks for the feedback, and the friendship, too. I have had the real pleasure of hearing about your lives and adventures. I am so happy to have been gifted with these messages.
Okay, are you ready for the 4th of July? Sometimes I do think about the kind of holidays I would invent, given the opportunity. Wouldn't that be fun? Enjoy your bees, goats, friends, families, fruits, dances, forests, waters, beaches, dirt roads, parades, music, libations, loud fireworks, aero flyovers etc. Peace and love.
Monday, June 20, 2016
I would love to know.
Here, I find myself in a retiring kind of mood. Which has surprised me a bit, though it seems quite natural. Retiring in the sense of letting go of some projects, the push to accomplish.
Our society encourages us to continue in that continuous accomplishment style, even as we age. Active aging-- and in many cases overactive aging.
It's an overcompensation for the way our society denigrates aging--so elders are pushing to prove we are still viable, capable, worthy of notice.
I have been in this mold myself, but find that as time goes on, this heroic archetype interests me less and less. I have lost interest in some of the work that I was so intensely engaged in.
The musical review I wrote on aging, and the one-woman show on aging I have contemplated producing, they seem like such a lot of work. Too much work. And in fact I have to admit that I am just not interested in doing that particular work. It's not easy to spend years and years on a big piece of work and then drop it, let it go. Though I have have to remind myself that I have done just that many times in my creative life, and it seems I am doing it again.
Hallelujah--choice is a wonderful thing. And dropping things that took a lot of effort is good practice for dropping the body, which we will all be doing at some moment.
Perhaps it is natural, even inevitable, that I withdraw or retire even more. Six planets in the 12th house for one thing--bringing a strong tendency to value immersion in the inner life. I have been a Buddhist for decades. I am in the final years of this life. What is it that I want to accomplish in these final years? What do I want to leave behind? How can I continue to mature my character and behavior so that I am more of a benefit? These are things I contemplate lately.
I just finished creating a book with a collaborator friend on the history of Tashi Choling, the Tibetan Buddhist center I helped to found in 1978. Now I am working on another book, the life story of my spiritual mentor, Tibetan lama Gyatrul Rinpoche.
The first book will be published by September, hopefully. It is very exciting to me, with over 300 color photos that illustrate everything we have done together there.
The second book is really still in its early stages. Of course it is a wonderful opportunity to write a book about the amazing life of my spiritual teacher and it is also challenging in many ways, as you might imagine. Both of these books are meaningful to me, and they are what I want to focus on in terms of creative work.
I had a turbulent period recently, really examining my impulse to move to Mexico, a place I really love. And I decided to stay put here in Ashland, where I have lived for so long. Oh how mundane.
People will give you a lot of encouragement for doing things they consider risky or adventurous, like fitting out a gypsy wagon and wandering here and there with a one-woman show--stuff like that, things they might never do themselves. I'm sure some elders will carry on that tradition, and here's to them and their vividness.
To me, the real adventure is within. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, when people grow older, they retire into a more contemplative way of life. It seems natural. I may not be moving out into the forest or into a cave (though who knows?) but I find the archetype of the prayerful forest-dwelling elder one that calls to me.
I wonder what elder archetypes call to you. I would love to know.
May you be blessed on this beautiful full moon day.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
His daughter Tara took this photo of Philip "doing his Moses impression" on Mt. Ashland. Philip was the main builder for the Tashi Choling temple in the 80s. He spent summers living in a school bus and went back to work in Hollywood for the winters. Then he bought land near the temple and built an adobe structure and filled it to the brim with family and friends. He used to say that he was starting to grow a third world country there. His place did have some of that quality at times. After years of living that way, he built a bigger adobe house on his land. He is an artistic guy with a fondness for beauty and it shows in everything he does.
I have a tender feeling about him these days, knowing that both of us are at the tail-end of this particular lifetime, and having a great appreciation for his determination, loyalty, and eccentricities, which once could be a bit annoying at times, but now seem to be endearing.
"It's a new day," as my Mother was fond of saying. Coming back up to the surface from the dream dimensions and waking again. Musing about the dreams and then meditating. Walking, writing, looking at birds and people. Reflecting on the state of the world, sperm whales dying with their stomachs full of plastic, the deranged phantasmagoria of politics. Memento mori. How good David Bowie looked even two days before his death. Fortunate in that way.
Yes, I have become this person about to turn 75, with a body verifiably older, my belly pregnant with wisdom or whatever, and so forth on the rest of the usual details re face, arms, breasts, neck and derriere which have not been subjected to plastic surgery or herculean exercises and are letting go into a far more relaxed, soft style. Acceptance.
I have gone from being a bohemian, beatnik, hippie and now bringing all that along with about 40 years of Buddhist study and practice, find I am an elder woman living in what I prefer to think of as voluntary simplicity, but which others might describe as low income. I am on the waiting list for a senior apartment. Which truly cracks me up at moments. But one never knows what is next, really.
|A National Geographic photo from the 40s, Texas bluebells|
The lilacs are in bloom. I am in the midst of my annual lilac yearning. This year, I have no garden with big old lilac bushes as I did at my flower cottage or at my friend Kate's place last year and I find myself walking along the back alleys in Ashland wishing I had brought my clippers to take a bit of lilac here and there for a bouquet. This could well happen. I may be a flower thief this year, unless somebody reading this brings me a lilac bouquet before I set out to quench my lilac thirst.
Everything is blooming much earlier than it did years ago. Lilacs always remind me of the day long ago when I took Refuge, agreeing with myself to enter (or re-enter) the Buddhist path. I brought a big bouquet of lilacs to Sister Palmo that day, which was May 13th, some year in the past, maybe 1975? Somewhere in that region. I wrote about this in my book Songs of the Inner Life. The book chronicles my adventures only to my early 30s.
I guess my current book project provides some kind of followup, though not in the memoir format. I helped to start Tashi Choling in 1978 and now I am collaborating with my sangha sister Lisbeth to create a book about Tashi Choling, a project I avoided for years, but which now has a kind of sweet inevitability about it. I feel quite lucky actually. I have finally relaxed into the sweet inevitability, how I as a writer and as someone there from the beginning am a natural person to engage in writing this history. People tell me, "Oh, you're the perfect person to be doing this." Perfect, not. But definitely a likely suspect.
In fact, I feel more content than I have felt in a long time, working on this book. If all goes well (translation: and I live long enough) after we finish this book, I will go on to write a book about my teacher Gyatrul Rinpoche's life. I have already begun on that effort, but have to finish the Tashi Choling book first.
You would never find me doing this tightrope walk. At least not physically. I am a real flatland type of gal, strongly favoring solid ground over vast chasms. And yet.....
I have been reading Chogyam Trungpa's brilliant book The Myth of Freedom again. In it, Trungpa opens up topics like boredom, restlessness, simplicity, mindful awareness and the various ways in which we use credentials to confirm or prove our existence. The last item is one I contemplate these days. The tightrope of identity. Or just being a lot more open. Work in progress. Letting go is Sage's Play, and practice for the upcoming journey out of this particular body and life.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
|It's lush, fragrant and green on the way to the beach|
Since a writer cannot be read without readers, and because I truly enjoy sharing travel experiences, along with ongoing musing about aging, art, creativity and life on the earth plane, here goes.
I decided to take a seaside holiday in Mexico to celebrate my 75th birthday. Which is not happening until the end of April, but these days the ship I operate is flying the flags of Choose Joy and Eat Dessert First. In that spirit I think it was logical to start celebrating my birthday early.
|The entry to El Tamarindo|
Zihua is remembered by some folks as a location in the film The Shawshank Redemption. I still haven't seen that film. Therefore, I had no prior concepts, except for my ongoing Tropical Beach Fantasies, which are a longterm condition with me. And for this lingering thirst, I found Zihua quenching. Its wide bay sparkles with clear, calm water--warm salty water perfect for delicious swimming that is freeing, relaxing, utterly marvelous.
And of course, in counterpoint, unseen bugs are making their marks on one's flesh.
Processions of gringos in variegated regalia pass along the beach. Mexican families appear with their children. Solitary locals wade out in the water with their fishing nets.
Boats, ships and sailing vessels of various shapes and capabilities come and go. And everywhere, butterflies of all sizes and colors flutter through the air, their luminous, fragile bodies igniting a sense of joy and delight.
“I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.”
--Oregon poet William Stafford
|In the patio of the large casa|
|A street for strolling in El Centro|
I read a wild travelogue by Peter Moore titled The Whole Montezuma. I finished two novels--Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Both marvelous. And then there was Configurations, a wonderful book containing the poetry of Octavio Paz in both Spanish and English. While in Z, I was thoroughly drenched with the magic of words.
Speaking of words, it's said that one possible meaning of Zihuatanejo might derive from the Nahuatl language, referring to the "place of women" the western paradise of the Nahuatl universe, "the home of the goddess women."
I just leave that as a seed for the imagination. And there is some evidence. For one thing, there are seven statues of women scattered through El Centro and they are meant to represent the seven areas of Guerrero.
I took photos of several of them. Beautiful, no? Yes. I think you will agree.
Last January when I was in Ensenada in northern Baja, I took a photo of a large statue that ornaments one of the city's oldest parks. The statue depicts a breastfeeding mother. Unfortunately it is hard to imagine finding one like it in the US. But I will not get into that right now....
Mexico is different. And that is one of the things I love about it. Because after all, women are half of the human experience.
No doubt there is plenty to be said about each of these statues, but I am not an authority on the topic, so you will have to find somebody else to say it. All I can report here is that they are quite lovely. And I am glad that they grace Zihuatanejo.
|La Barra de Potosi, a village near Zihua|
La Barra de Potosi is a small fishing village with about 600 inhabitants. The village faces an expansive bay, and includes a lagoon area which has a large mangrove estuary filled with birds. In the winter season the bay hosts humpback whales, which can be seen leaping from the water with their white fins outstretched like wings. What a tranquil, wonderful place.
La Sirena Gorda
I had to stop at La Sirena Gorda "The Fat Mermaid" for a meal one day. Well, just because....
The food was good and there were many paintings and sculptures of zaftig, voluptuous, chubby, fat mermaids adorning the walls.
I like the Mexican sense of humor. And it's refreshing to be in a culture that appreciates the fleshly contours of women.
These are just two of the many paintings of plump mermaids I saw there at La Sirena Gorda.
Having a Good Time
One day I was in a small fruit stand outside of the Mercado Campesino. I tried to move aside to let an old woman pass. She was petite: the top of her head came to my heart area. Her gray hair was pulled back into a bun. Her thin brown face was well wrinkled. She was carrying an umbrella and wore a loose cotton dress that would have been at home in the 1930s.
I stepped to one side, and so did she. I stepped to the other side, and she did too. Then she raised her umbrella in a flourish, looked up at me and smiled. She began to dance, gracefully and in earnest. Of course, I had to dance too, not just to be polite for heaven's sake, but because when two old women meet that way among the mangos and tomatoes, it's good to celebrate the moment. And I wish I understood what she said to me when we ended our dance together. Here's what I think she said. "Nice to meet you, sister. May the Dance be with you." And with you I told her with my eyes.
Monday, October 19, 2015
|Step out of ordinary time and let go of self-consciousness|
Spontaneity, Freedom, and Renewal
I am a woman who loves to play. It's true that I did have a serious play deficit during part of my adult life, even quite a significant part of my adult life, but now that I am older and wiser, I have relaxed back into being playful--thank goodness.
Grownups are far too serious and inhibited. Elders included.
It would do all of us good to be more playful because playing lifts us out of seriousness and self-consciousness, giving us a no-cost vacation from mundane concerns that preoccupy us much of the time.
Play sets us free in a beautiful open field, where we have a chance to express ourselves spontaneously.
Things happen when we play that don't happen in other situations. In the midst of playing, we lose some or all of our usual self-consciousness and step into another, more timeless way of being. Play is pleasurable and invigorating. It's full of information about ourselves and others that comes in refreshing, even surprising ways.
People don't all play the same way of course. We have different play personalities or styles, or a mixture of several of them. Here are eight play styles.
Eight Play Personalities
There's the Joker, who loves being silly, the Mover who loves dancing and sports, the Explorer who loves new places, whether they are physical, emotional or physical, the Competitor who loves playing to win, the Director, who loves planning and creating events and projects, the Collector who loves gathering interesting or beautiful objects, the Artist who loves making things and the Storyteller, who enjoys creating an imaginative world with stories or other artforms.
What play styles appeal to you? I am fond of the Joker, Explorer, Director, Artist and Storyteller, with a good appreciation for the Mover. I have limited involvement with the Collector and the Competitor. What about you?
Medical doctor Stuart Brown wrote a wonderful book titled Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Brown suggests that when we reminisce about positive play experiences from childhood it can give us information about our emotional profile and what truly excites us in life.
What kind of play did you love as a child? What are some of your positive memories about great play times?
I remember doing a workshop titled Playfulness and the Pleasures of Aging at the Sage-ing International Conference in 2012. I asked the 20 people who took part in the group to consider their childhood play experiences and to choose one that remains vivid to them. The responses were wonderful--running the gamut from tender and mystical to liberating and whimsical. One man spoke about how few positive play experiences occured during his childhood in Germany in the midst of war. But he recalled picking wildflowers and sitting with his sister making crowns from them. Weaving and wearing those crowns was a memorable moment of play and connection for him. Another person told of being raised in an oppressive atmosphere in an orphanage, and how he looked forward to throwing off his clothes and running into a lake at the end of each day. A woman spoke of a numinous dream of being underwater and the influence it had on her life. We went on to play some improvisational games together. By the time the group was over, I think all of us understood the truth of what Plato said long ago, when he wrote, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."
Not only can you discover more about another person, you can also discover a lot about yourself that you would never learn from other types of pursuits. Because in play, we are free to express parts of ourselves that often have no other kind of outlet.
Is it scary to be silly?
Even though I loved playing jokes from a young age, and even though I had a father who took great delight in talking with many accents while inventing a variety of very funny characters, I often thought being silly was kind of scary. After all, kids or adults could make fun of you, ridicule you or laugh at you. It took me a few decades and a fair amount of experimentation and healing work, but these days I am generally comfortable with being silly.
Being silly is really a lot of fun. It's freeing to let go of being so darned grown up, armored by the need to control our established image of ourselves. I know that when I am silly, it gives other people permission to be silly, too.
Of course, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin have permission to be silly. They are professional funny people. But we can give ourselves permission to let go and explore what form of silliness lives in us, too. What are your silly aspects? Do they have names? Do you talk with them? You know, we all have a bevy of characters and archetypes within us, and being silly is one way to get to know them better and give them a chance to have their say.
In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. ---Friedrich Nietzsche (and that goes for women, too!)
The Magical Aspects of Play
For this child from the Omo tribe, elaborately beautiful makeup includes many elements from the natural world, and carries meaning within the tribe. In our culture, Halloween and Mardi Gras are often the only times we dress up or change our faces to present another character, persona or archetype, and these dress-ups we do in our culture are of course quite different from the Omo ways. But they are what we have to start with. It is wonderful to explore archetypes and personas with ceremonial makeup.
I have been wanting to play with others using ceremonial makeup, movement, voice, improv games and deep relaxation. I have been calling this program Free as a Bird Frolics. I would love to see this develop into a retreat of 2-3 days, either in a retreat setting in Ashland or in other locations. Right now, I am offering it for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon.
So far, however, the tribe of players has not responded to the call. This is a bit sad of course, because it would be great fun to play together. But on the other hand it just may not be the right time, or I may not have gotten the hang of how to let others know about what I am offering, or it may be that this program is something for me to let go of. It's good to remember that all of life is a creative exploration. Success and failure are rather static, blocky words for what is really quite a playful enterprise. It all becomes clear as we go along the path. I continue to be playful in my life, and welcome the opportunity to play with other dear humans, in whatever way the play manifests.
So if you want to play, let me know. I am sending good energy waves to you, energy waves, the play of cosmic forces.....
Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there. -- Miles Davis