Monday, September 27, 2010

Aging: Some Thoughts on Architecture, Place and Community

I'm your basic romantic type, and that extends to architecture and shelter. As I entered my 50s, I told my friends that I wanted to grow old living in the country in a teepee, dome or rustic cabin. Simondale, the beautiful (also inexpensively built, low impact) hobbit house in Wales shown in this photograph is my idea of a truly marvelous dwelling.

I've never lived in a teepee, but have enjoyed being at home in both dome and rustic cabin. My friend Mouna Wilson lives in a wonderful dome in the Colestine Valley where I myself lived in a rustic cabin for many years. I wish I had taken a photo or two of her place when I was there last week, as the full moon made its way across the sky window at top of the dome. I'll have to do that and post it here soon.

Right now, after happily living alone in Ashland for the past 13 years, I am sharing a place (still in town) with my friend Louise Pare. Louise and I get along well and it's been a good experience in terms of social engagement and affordability. But I have to admit, the impulse for country living is still strong in me.

Living alone or in community is a subject that I've been musing about quite a bit lately. According to the 2000 census, 30% of older Americans live alone and the percentage rises with age. It affects women more because they live longer than men, so for example, 57% of women 85 or older live alone. Poverty increases the impact for many elders who live alone.

Social isolation is a specter for many older people. You don't need scientific studies to know that the kind of severe social isolation that many elders live with is not good for your health, mental or physical. It makes sense to engineer a life that is socially engaged, and home is one place we can do that.

Because our aging population is increasing so quickly, there is a scramble to invent new ways to live in the later years. Buzz words include aging in place and aging in community. Most people want to live where they are planted or if they choose a new community place they want to be engaged with others.

(Being an educated person, you probably already know that only 5% of elders live in nursing homes.) Most of the over 60 population lives in their own homes or live with family or in elder co-housing, elder house share, the village movement and continuing care retirement communities, among others. The New York Times ran an informative article titled Living Together, Aging Together. Author Paula Span reported on several cohousing developments in California, Colorado and Virginia. I found both of these articles fascinating. It's great to see elders developing community together this way.

Co-housing options appeal to those who have sufficient retirement income. The ElderSpirit community in Abington, Virginia is the only one I've heard of that has included rentals for elders on fixed income in their model. These units are funded by federal housing money. I wish more co-housing groups would include options for low-income rentals. Not all elders can afford to buy into elder co-housing.

I found some interesting information on shared housing and home share options for lower-income elders. Increasingly, state and local agencies are investigating how to create affordable, community-based housing options. The National Shared Housing organization is a clearinghouse of information.

I am looking forward to meeting Raines Cohen, who contributed to the book Audacious Aging, and who with his partner Betsy maintains a website Aging in Community. Check it out for much more information on elder cohousing, village networks,ecovillages, intentional community and more.

What is your take on elder living arrangements--do you favor living alone or in community?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Harvest Moon Wakes Me at 3 AM

The full moon often pitches me into a state of non-ordinary reality. First, dreams that are like boats filled with the wind of imagination and creativity. Then waking at 3AM full of energy and a childlike delight, of the kind you can see in this wonderful photo by Laurent Laveder, who made a whole series of full and crescent moon photos with his children. When I woke at 3AM, I walked outside and put my face up to the moon. The stars were very beautiful.

"There they stand, the innumerable stars, shining in order like a living hymn, written in light." ~N.P. Willis

Now it is after 6 and the sky is lightening. And I can't say exactly how those three very light lunar hours flew away, as I looked at the sky, mused about my life and enjoyed the ardent, bouyant feelings the harvest moon ignited in me.

I am glad to experience a shift in the tides of the inner sea. For the past couple of months, I was feeling blocked about my musical play on aging A New Wrinkle because I was not satisfied with the script. I love the songs in the play, but the script itself has never felt right to me. The other day, I had a meeting with my playwright/performer friend Carolyn Myers (mentioned in an earlier post on her feminist comedy troupe Crackpot Crones) and she suggested that I might like the project better as a musical revue. Wow! As soon as I heard that, a weight that I've been dealing with for months lifted off me. Yes! This feels very right. Then I had a meeting last night with my composer colleague Laura Rich and she was very excited about the change and happy to compose more music. She agreed that the new format might actually be a much better way to present the material. So this morning I am refreshed and optimistic about going forward. I plan to write lyrics for at least 2 new songs and invent some narrative that flows around the songs. Yay!

Creating art is real work, and it can be hard work at times. It's not all marvelous dictation or initiation from the Muse. Having a community of support is very helpful. I went to two artist creative support groups this week, which was wonderful. I've been part of Artist Conference Network for a year. Our meeting was held in a dome in the country this time, and I could see the full moon in the sky window at the top of the dome the whole time. It was a very intimate, sweet meeting.

I went to another meeting of a group that uses the model of something that began as No Limits for Women Artists and is now called Artist Leadership Network. It was a powerful, intimate meeting. The two approaches are quite different in ways, but the intent is much the same. It is delightful and very useful to engage with other artists in a mutually encouraging way and I'm glad that's now part of my life.

Autumn equinox already. I am still hoping it is warm enough this weekend to swim at the hot springs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Creative Aging and the Flowering of the Inner Life

Our annual fall retreat at Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies ended yesterday with a big tsok (blessed food) feast. What a blissful, happy, delightful time of spiritual practice this retreat has been. My spiritual teacher is now 86, and our time together is even more precious than ever. I found it difficult to leave, even after I changed gears by helping to clean and re-organize the temple shrine room, which needed it after a week of retreat practices three times a day, and even after Sarah and I swept and mopped the floor of our adjacent East Wing, which is our more social gathering place with a kitchen, dining room and bookstore.

I sat outside with a few lingering friends and watched the processional of deer. We have a congregation of deer it seems, in the meadows and hills, and all around the temple. They are safe from hunters here. I'm so accustomed to the trusting way the deer move around near the temple that when visitors show up and exclaim about it, it startles me. I finally got into my car and drove down to the Mandala Garden to circumnambulate the big Vajrasattva statue and contemplate returning to my so-called ordinary life. The top photo shows the Mandala Garden, and the temple is on the hill above it.

In the Mandala Garden I met my old friend Lama Bruce, an unassuming guy who is also a very good meditation teacher, partly because he has spent most of his adult life in meditation practice and retreat. Bruce was leading a tour for folks at Mountain Meadows, a continuing care retirement community in Ashland. They all departed after awhile, and I circled the statue and turned the prayer wheels by myself, while the clouds formed marvelous patterns across the sky and the tiny finches enjoyed the seeds in a nearby bird feeder. I could have stayed there for hours longer, but finally I got in my car and drove to town, reminding myself that integrating spiritual practice into everyday awareness and life is what it's all about because we sit on our cushions for only part of the day, but we are in our minds 24/7.

As I grow older, the inner life of spirit and imagination fills more and more of my experience. I remember reading an article by Jane Thibault titled Aging as a Natural Monastery. In the article Thibault points out how aging simplifies one's experience. "It was as if life had been stripped down to its barest essentials, so that the real could shine through and be appreciated, even if the real involved pain and suffering...In a very real sense the experience of old age, especially frail elderhood, is an experience of living monastically. Solitary life in one’s own home or common life in a nursing home is an experience of winnowing, of paring down to the barest essentials."

My own immersion in the natural monastery of aging has not reached that stage yet, but it will. Meanwhile, my natural monastery has more activity, in the midst of which beautiful gardens of solitude and contemplation bloom. I love being in those gardens. Being, simply being. Breathing. Remembering, recalling the pristine nature.

Last evening I attended a marvelous poetry concert by Kim Rosen author of Saved by a Poem. a gorgeous book which I highly recommend if you have any interest in heightened awareness and the transformative power of words and poetry. Her performance was thrilling as she shared poetry of many poets, along with beautiful mostly cello music. I couldn't take her workshop because I am doing a solo performance tomorrow, but I look forward to connecting with her more sometime soon.

Yes, my house concert In the Presence of the Sacred happens tomorrow at my old friends Rochelle and Rob Jaffe's home. I chose the beautiful image of an angel for the poster we created for the event. The image is taken from a Giotto fresco. I love its freshness and immediacy. Tomorrow I will be sharing healing voice in the form of wordless improvisational song and will also be offering hymns and prayers of St. Francis, Milarepa, Lorca, the Tibetan siddhi Gotsampa and others. I set some of the pieces to music myself. Some have traditional melodies, and some arrived with composed melodies when I discovered them.

All of my solo performances have at their heart a call to adventure, and that adventure is being in the presence of the sacred--opening up into an exalted, consecrated way of being or state of mind. But this performance is especially so, because of the nature of the hymns and prayers in it. I am looking forward to tomorrow, to sharing with the particular mandala field of energy vibration that is attracted to take part (also known as the audience). I also look forward to the opportunity to share this particular sacred constellation more with further audiences in other venues. So if you find the notion of sponsoring this work interesting, email or call me.

Oh, the photo in the center is a pathway in Lithia Park, where I often love to walk.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Local Color

I know I said I would review Robert N. Butler M.D.'s new book The Longevity Prescription. But as an appetizer, how about these images? From top to bottom they are my friend Elizabeth Robinson's garden, then a series of images of the wonderful paintings on the walls of Morning Glory, a great local restaurant where my daughter Sophia and I had brunch today. The haiku by Basho is the last image, and it's what inspired Morning Glory's name.

I've been on a photographic jag lately. I also took some photos in Lithia Park today, but I'll save them for another time.

About Dr. Butler's Longevity Prescription book: It's completely practical, easy to read, full of very interesting medical and psychological research about aging, and at times it's inspiring, too. Dr. Butler was a living example of everything he explains here--keeping mentally and physically vital, having a passion or some kind of meaningful engagement, engaging your creativity, cultivating close friendships and intimate relationships, getting out of your comfort zone to learn or explore new things, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising in ways that are pleasurable, sleeping enough, taking care of medical and dental needs and last but certainly not least eliminating stress.

The book includes a Longevity Index quiz that is informative and useful. The quiz allows you to evaluate yourself in all the above-mentioned areas and check what's going well and where things could work better. Because Dr. Butler, who passed away in July, was an M.D. and a psychiatrist the book contains a fair amount of medical information, which most readers will find quite useful.

Definitely recommended reading. Maybe you're thinking my review is kinda blah. Well, I do read a lot in the area of aging, and I have read some of this material in other reports that Dr. Butler's International Longevity Institute has published. But don't let my been there-read that attitude deter you from checking this book out yourself, because it contains a variety of encouraging and sometimes surprising material on aging and its valuable opportunities. We are living a lot longer, and we all want to make those years meaningful.

One week to go to my September 19th performance gathering "In the Presence of the Sacred." I am really looking forward to it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Theater of the Crackpot Crones: Making Art of Aging

Two playwright/performers, Carolyn Myers and Terry Baum, have formed a theatrical duo they call the Crackpot Crones. Carolyn and Terry collaborated many years ago on Dos Lesbos, a prize-winning play, one of the first plays from a lesbian perspective. Now they've re-united to take a cronish look at growing older.

As they will tell you when they start up, Carolyn is a small town heterosexual, wife and mother and Terry is an urban lesbian. Since they formed Crackpot Crones, they have been performing in the SF Bay area and Oregon, but this summer they hit the Big Apple, too.

I've been friends with Carolyn for over 30 years. She has many wonderful qualities, and one of them is being hilariously funny. She also belongs to the Hamazons, (The Warrior Princesses of Comedy) an improvisational comedy troupe that has enjoyed a decade of happy success here in the Pacific Northwest. Carolyn is now the oldest member of the current Hamazons group because all the original older members have left and been replaced by younger ones. So even in the Hamazons, she maintains the crone perspective.

The other day Carolyn confessed that she felt like a theatrical bigamist, belonging to both the Crackpot Crones and the Hamazons. I think that is pretty funny, though I am sure it does have some of the elements of bigamy.

Here is a clip of a wonderfully inspired Crackpot Crones scenario titled Eve in Therapy. Be a little patient with the sound quality. I've seen this performed live 3 times and it always makes me laugh. Enjoy!

And please don't limit yourself just watching their clips on You Tube. Bring these artists to your area to share them with your community and enjoy their creativity and cronish insights in full bloom.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Healing Waters at Jackson Wellsprings

I wanted to share these photos of Jackson Wellsprings in Ashland, Oregon where I live. The herb gardens at the entry of the hot springs have grown more beautiful each year. I am appreciative of all the work community members contribute to make this such a beautiful place.

The invitingly delicious swimming pool is warm-- a mixture of hot mineral water and well water. I love swimming there in the morning before the crowds arrive. Lying in the water, looking up at the sky and clouds, watching the swallows swerve around in the sky...bliss...There is also a smaller and hotter soaking tub, where you can really loosen up and relax.

Bright flowers ornament the pool in hanging baskets and big standing pots. Sometimes my visits are quiet, and other times I meet old friends, people I have known for many years,or visitors from different parts of the country who are camping at the hot springs.

It is truly a restorative place. I have enjoyed myself here this summer, last summer and the one before that, etc. To me, Jackson Hot Springs is one of the best things about Ashland. And I don't want summer to be over. I hope we have a nice Indian summer so we can continue to soak and swim in these healing waters. Happy Labor Day weekend!