Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Joy of Receiving Letters

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
I had had some contact with several of the folks that wrote. I met one of them some years ago through an international online community of older women. 

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."

"When as older adults we identify obsessively with our work role or with a youthful appearance, we find ourselves in conflict. The deep psyche wants us to harvest our lives, while our surface self keeps us obsessed with staying in the saddle."  

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

Full Moon, Summer Solstice: Contemplating the Archetypes

I find myself wondering who you are, reader. Who is it that continues to peruse my now very occasional messages here?

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.