Friday, March 29, 2013

In the Flow of Life

Tibetan Master Yangthang Tulku Rinpoche
Last week  I traveled to Alameda, an island near Oakland, California. It was delightful to be there and enjoy the freshness of some new vistas. I was attending a few days of the empowerments being given by Yangthang Tulku Rinpoche, a Tibetan master now in his late 80s. He is one of the few remaining Tibetan masters from what people call Old Tibet, the land before the Chinese Communist decimation.

Yangthang Rinpoche embodies a lifetime of spiritual development and service. He was held in a Chinese prison for many years. Prisoners were forbidden to pray or meditate on pain of torture and death. It is said that Yangthang Rinpoche lay next to a different Tibetan every evening and whispered the Dharma teachings in their ear.

In Alameda, he followed a schedule that most octagenarians could not duplicate. He got up on his teaching seat at 6am, and got off it at 6 or 7pm, with only one break-- for lunch.

Meditators at his level of development have control over their bodies and minds. I suppose that for those who have never had any contact with authentic spiritual teachers, this may seem astonishing, but really, it is the least astonishing aspect of the influence and effect teachers like that have upon us beings who are still in the formative stages of development. Once I arrive in this kind of gathering, and sit in the presence of a teacher like Yangthang Rinpoche, I find it hard to leave and return to my ordinary life.  But of course I do return to it, to my habits, projects, friends, home and garden, all of which are the expressions of innate openness and light.

The Lagoon in Alameda

My friend Diane and I stayed in the Coral Reef Motel, and our living room faced the lagoon. We walked from the motel to Orgyen Dorje Den, the Buddhist center where the teachings were held. Alameda has a big Asian population and that gives the place its particular flavor.

I enjoyed the warmth, the beautiful gardens that front many of the houses, walking on the beach, window shopping and visiting the wonderful natural foods market. It was a nice respite from my home in southern Oregon.

Elder Beat 

Cause for celebration! I find more and more evidence of positive aging in the media and in the flow of everyday life. Two weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner for the Rogue Valley Chorale. Lyn Sjoland, now in his 80s, is retiring as its director after a 40 year career. Sjoland is such a warm, humorous and vivid presence -- he is a wonderful example of how to age in a happy, fulfilled way.  Vision and purpose are key elements to successful aging.  Sjoland certainly has managed to demonstrate that. It was touching to see how many lives he has enriched with the musical programs and ensembles he created.

On the nonagenarian front, I read another article about a 90-year old yoga practitioner. Her name is Phyllis Sues. Here's her take on aging. 

"I started my own fashion label at 50, became a musician and learned Italian and French in my 70s, took tango and trapeze at 80 and walked into my first yoga class at 85. So, if you think you're old, think again!" You can read Phyllis Sues story here 


Here's a few other items from my recent Elder Beat explorations.

There was an article in the Washington Post about 101-year old Ray Clark and his fitness routine. It's pretty inspiring to read about a centenarian's commitment to wellness through exercise. Here's the link. 
I discovered the work of filmmaker Laurie Schur, who is developing a film on creative aging after 80. Take a look at the film clip for Greedy for Life to see some wonderful living embodiments of positive aging.  I am looking forward to hearing and seeing more about Laurie's work.
Yesterday in her Time Goes By blog, Ronni Bennett posted an article about the development of elder playgrounds.  

How wonderful! I'm a big fan of playing. I think of my life as one big elder playground, but it would be fun to have a real life playground in some nearby park, too. 
I know I said that I would tell you about Carol Orsborn's new book Fierce with Age. This is her 21st book! It's a very enjoyable read. Its main theme is Orborn's shift from a long career as a dynamic author, speaker and marketer into the territory of old age, and life in a slower, less wellknown lane. 
Orsborn talks honestly about her feelings when she realizes that she is losing the visibility and clout she has grown accustomed to. It's a topic many of us have to deal with as we age. She discovers a new freedom that arises as the intensity of her earlier career fades back.  You can download an excerpt of the book here.   I may write more about the book later, but right now I am full up with various projects.

The Artist's Life---Plethora and Plenitude

Much creativity and forward momentum---My memoir Songs of the Inner Life is being designed and formatted for publication. With any luck, it should be published by end of April or so.

I just got the booklet for Your Audacious Aging Kit back from the printer, so I will be heading to my studio out back soon to produce some finished kits. When I have them assembled, I will be making them available at the Sage's Play website. I usually call the studio out back the Kuan Yin Inn but for awhile it will become the Button Factory. This will be my first experience using the button making machine I ordered recently. I'm sure it will be interesting. I'm hoping to have one or more friends join in on the fun.

I've been working on  a song I plan to use to raise money for A New Wrinkle, our musical revue, and that song is nearly finished. I love it when songs just pour out. They are not always so cooperative. I've been working on this one for weeks. Now I am going to work on lyrics for a song that will appear near the end of the revue. Once I get that done, we will have 20 songs! Amazing, considering that not so long ago, we had only 12 songs. The past 2 years have been an amazingly fertile creative period in my life. That's what happens when you pull out the stops, it seems. Composer friend Laura Rich and I sent two songs to John Mazzei, a Bay area composer and arranger, so that he can create a musical soundtrack for them. Creating a soundtrack for all of the songs is one of our next steps. My dear friend Carolyn Myers is reviewing the revue's script, too. I am looking forward to meeting with her and hearing her comments on it.

In other words, things are moving forward. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Elder Beat: In the News, Movies and Real Life

Ultima teaches Antonio about healing herbs
 I went to see two movies recently, both of them excellent. Amour has received a great deal of publicity because of its slow, intimate grandeur, the beautiful quality of its acting and its severity.  I did not find it oppressive, as some have, but it is an unrelenting look at physical decline and death. It portrays one old couple, artistic and cultivated. When she has a stroke, and then another, he cares for her with a great deal of devotion and love. It was very well done. 

I also saw Bless Me, Ultima a movie based on a widely read 1972 novel by Rudolfo Anaya.  Ultima, a beautiful old woman who is a curandera or healer is the main character.  What a wonderful character she is. The film describes her relationship as a teacher, mentor and protector to young Antonio Marez y Luna. His innocence and her wisdom meet in a moving spiritual connection that changes the young boy's life. In the midst of their story, we see the age-old fear of wise womens' powers among the townspeople, witness the struggle of good and evil, and experience the life of people in a small village, and the whole feast is set in a big, marvelous wide open natural landscape.

 I loved this article on Babayagas' house,  a feminist alternative to an old folks' home which just opened in Paris. The women who created this model of retirement living have been working on the project for the past 15 years. The 5-story building they finally secured is centrally located to allow residents easy access to transportation. It  houses 25 self-contained flats. 21 are adapted for the elderly and four are reserved for students. "The project cost nearly 4 million euros and funding came from no less than eight different public sources, including Montreuil city council which is accustomed to investing in innovative projects," according to the news report I read. How inspiring, and what a great model for the rest of us.

I really enjoyed this Los Angeles Times article about Fran Miller, a 90-year old yoga instructor who started doing yoga in her 50s. Miller teaches three classes a week and she remains lithe and flexible thanks to yoga. I wrote about another yoga instructor in her 90s in this blog, perhaps a year ago. Tao Porchon Lynch has a yoga center on the east coast and takes her students on pilgrimages to India to soak up yoga in its birthplace. I am glad to know that these two nonagenarians are inspiring others with their yoga practice and teaching. Yoga is an excellent way for older adults to stay well. It can improve sleep, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and improve flexibility.  
This morning there was an  article in the New York Times about encore careers. It takes an enjoyable look at what a variety of people are doing for their second act, choosing new forms of work and engagement rather than reclining into the rocking chair model of  retirerment. 

According to the article, "Statistics from the AARP Public Policy Institute show that more and more older people are working — 18 percent of the population 65 and over last year as opposed to 10.8 percent 25 years ago. While the percentage of those working part time instead of full has increased in recent years, Ms. Setzfand said, it is difficult to say whether that is because of the sluggish economy or other reasons."

“But I get the sense that people don’t even want to use the word ‘retirement’ as much,” she said. “People will say, ‘my second act’ or ‘my what’s next’ and they aren’t just taking their pensions and riding into the sunset. That they would prepare for it before they retire from their lifetime jobs seems natural.” 

That's my news and views roundup for the moment. I will be posting soon about Carol Orsborn's new book Fierce with Age.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Radio, Poetry, Party and Viewing Everything as an Experiment


Yesterday I hosted a small brunch gathering to celebrate our friend Franny, who just finished a Master's program, while simultaneously teaching nursing students full time at Southern Oregon University.

I watched with awe as Franny persisted through months of grueling academic and teaching demands. I saw how difficult it was for her, and how she continued on with determination in the midst of her weariness.  I worried about her health and wellbeing. And when she finished the Master's program, leaving her with only a full time teaching schedule, I wanted to celebrate her significant accomplishment.

Our small group had a wonderful time together. We talked about healing, healthy food, teaching and learning. It is always so nourishing to gather with friends, and it's good to celebrate whenever possible, too. Celebrating lifts us up.
Here is the guest of honor with a gorgeous orchid that one friend brought as a gift to her. Those flowers suit her. She is a wonderful and amazing woman who worked as a hospice nurse for 20 years and now gives the benefit of her wisdom, caring and humor to nursing students.  And she really loves her work. How wonderful.


Our local OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Center) sponsored a contest focused on poetry about aging.  I won an award for "Sex after Sixty" one of the 20 songs in our musical revue A New Wrinkle. Here's my award!

Darn it, I couldn't attend the award ceremonies and another poet read my poem there. I would have loved to hear Patty Wixon read the lyrics as a poem. It is always so interesting to hear how others share one's work.

I wish I could have been there to enjoy the festivities and hear other people's poems. With any luck, this could become an annual event at OLLI. I'm really hoping that it will be repeated next year.

Not only was my poem recognized, I was gifted with a beautiful book of womens' poetry titled "A Fierce Brightness." I am looking forward to reading it.

You can listen to an mp3 of "Sex after Sixty" in its musical form by clicking the link here.


It was great fun to talk with Deb Reger the other day. Deb does a show called Moccasin Tracks at at Goddard College's community radio station WGDR.  We talked about social and personal attitudes towards aging, activism, the role of the elder, and more.

The conversation is available as a podcast. Here is the link:  podcast of the radio interview about conscious aging  in case you would like to take a listen to what we shared.


I decided to leave the crepe paper streamers up at home for a few days because my friend Anne will be returning soon after more than a month away, and I think she will enjoy being greeted with the festive feeling that the streamers provide.

I planted a few more seedlings yesterday. Now I have kale, arugula and spinach sprouting. Today I will add more compost to some of the garden beds.

I am also planning to spend some time working on two songs--the last song for our musical revue, and lyrics for a song that will be used in an upcoming crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. We almost got one of those campaigns going late last year, but then postponed it. So we still have that in the works.


It's freeing to look at things that way, with what one commentator calls a "growth mindset."  And looking at everything as an experiment is especially useful when dealing with disappointments, mistakes and failures. It takes a lot of experimenting to come up with successful responses, events, experiences, etc. It takes a fair amount of failure. As Winston Churchill once said:

"Success is not final,  failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."

My upcoming workshop "The Adventure of Spirited Aging" aroused no response in the local populace! Aw shucks.  I am cancelling it. I was sad about cancelling  it on and off for days, but now I am letting it go.  I love doing workshops, but the time has not yet arrived for this one, it seems.

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor," Truman Capote said.  I know that it is true. 

Hope that all your experiments are going well and that your life is opening up like a beautiful flower.