Saturday, February 26, 2011

Late life adventures: high jumping at 91, crossing the Atlantic in a raft at 85!

I recently discovered that there's a team of sailors crossing the Atlantic in a raft. Aboriginal peoples probably crossed the Atlantic on rafts many thousands of years ago. That's part of the allure of it. It's a primal journey across a vast ocean in a small craft. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl led the Kon-Tiki expedition which was inspired by reports and drawings of Inca rafts made by the Spanish Conquistadors, and by native legends and archaeological evidence suggesting contact between South America and Polynesia. Heyerdahl built a replica of an aboriginal balsa raft. He and five companions left Callio, Peru and crossed 4,300 miles in 101 days, reaching Polynesia. His journey showed that the ancient Peruvians could have reached Polynesia using rafts.

In 1997-98 a colorful permanent dropout/adventurer named Poppa Neutrino sailed a raft named Son of Town Hall from North America to Europe, becoming the second modern person to sail a raft across the Atlantic. His raft was made entirely of recycled materials.

The current expedition is sailing on a raft they've named An-Tiki. Their captain is 85-year old Anthony Smith, a British author and explorer who wrote the best-selling book The Human Body. The An-Tiki team is devoted to raising awareness about the lack of clean water for many peoples on the planet. The expedition is raising money for WaterAid, a charity that works to improve clean water conditions in 26 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. According to WaterAid, "Mr Smith and his three-man crew of 'mature and intrepid gentlemen', aged from 56 to 84 years old, will use only the ocean currents and a sail to make the 2,800 mile voyage from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas."

The raft is constructed of blue polyethylene water pipes. The 4 main pipes are each approximately 39 feet long, and the raft measures 20 feet wide. You can read more about the voyage, see photos, follow their progress across the Atlantic and read blog posts from the team at their website

If crossing the pond on a raft doesn't do it for you, what about high jumping at 91?

I discovered Olga Kotelko, a 91-year old track star late last year in an article in NY Times As the Times article notes, "Masters competitions usually begin at 35 years, and include many in their 60s, 70s and 80s (and a few, like Kotelko, in their 90s, and one or two over 100). Of the thousands who descended on Lahti, hundreds were older than 75. And the one getting all the attention was Kotelko. She is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95." By studying Kotelko and other old athletes, researchers hope to understand more about longevity, health and physical capability.

These stories of late-life prowess are inspiring to me. There are certainly days I wish that someone would offer me a place on a cross-Atlantic adventure. I imagine that it would be very healing and invigorating to live on a raft in the midst of the weather, with the immensity of the ocean and sky filling the entire landscape. Since I have no sailing experience, there's not much likelihood of that.

I admire the mastery of Olga Kotelko and other late-life athletes. We will be seeing more and more of them, I suspect. And that's all to the good.

What are your ideas about late life adventure? Do they focus on travel to other lands or learning something completely new right where you are? I'm with Oprah when she says,"The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sexually Vital and Juicy at any Age

There's an unfortunate stereotype in our culture about older adults and sex. Popular belief has it that as people grow old they entirely lose their interest in sexual intimacy. This is simply not true. Nobody's done any studies about it, because it's not a hot topic (ha ha) for pollsters. Not yet anyway. With millions of people aging, that could change. And I hope it does.

Our culture is highly sexualized. Yet sexuality is not a topic that is easy or natural. Sexuality is highly visible in the media and on the street, but there's still a lot of shame involved for many of us. The topic of sexuality in the later years is even more charged and uncomfortable. Because of prevailing notions about aging, people get upset when they imagine older people as sexual beings.

When I learned that my medical doctor Howie Morningstar and his wife Sue Mauer Morningstar, a nurse practitioner and also a rabbi, were going to give a talk titled "Sexually Vital and Juicy at Any Age" at our wonderful Ashland Food Coop, I knew I wanted to hear what they had to say. Howie and Sue work together at Morningstar Healing Arts, a healing environment filled with color, beautiful art and vibrant plants.

Howie and Sue have known each other since they were 4 years old! Think of it! I often do. They have known each other their whole lives and they have been married for a long time. I was interested in what they had to say at their talk "Sexually Vital and Juicy at any Age" because it seemed to me that they would bring a unique perspective from their many decades of connection and partnership, and from the adventures of their individual life journeys. Nobody is typical and that is certainly true of Howie and Sue. Sue has been a nurse-practitioner for many years. She recently became a rabbi, which has given her another avenue to share her gifts. Sue has been in a wheelchair for many years. A more uplifted, loving, inspiring person would be hard to find. Howie describes himself as a Jewish pagan. He loves dancing, drumming and fire circles. A recent Phoenix Fire brochure gave this as part of his bio. "...loves playing with fire and has been creating magic, mayhem and sacred altars--for a long time!" In 2010 Howie trained as a certified tantric educator.

The talk drew a large audience, composed mainly of older couples with a fair sprinkling of single folks. Most of the audience was well over 50, and many of them knew Howie and Sue already as either patients or friends. The atmosphere was warm and relaxed. Howie and Sue's talk went right to the heart and soul of intimacy. They discussed the healing and heightening powers of sex, describing shared pleasure and ecstasy as a way of connecting with the divine and with the partner as an emanation of the divine, a god or goddess. They talked about the chakras and kundalini energy flow, ejaculatory choice, prolonged orgasmic states and the importance of masculine and feminine polarities. They spoke about why it is important that the woman climax first, and recommended the book She Comes First. They talked about how important it is to make time to be with each other without other concerns or activities interfering, and pointed out that the intention of these special times was not necessarily to focus on making love physically, but on reconnecting with each other's souls. Sue spoke about Jewish texts that refer to the mystical importance of sharing pleasure. I found this link to the subject that I found fascinating.Jewish mystical texts Howie and Sue plan to present two more talks on the subject of sexuality and wellbeing. I'm looking forward to hearing what they have to say next. Sex, intimacy and the erotic life are topics that continue to magnetize me, and I know that a lot of other older adults are just as interested.

Because I am in a crystal ball kind of mood, I'll make a prediction. I think that late life sexuality will become a hot topic as the age wave crests. Late life sex and love are the topic of one of the songs in A New Wrinkle, my musical revue on aging. The song is titled Sex after Sixty and of course it celebrates the erotic impulse. There are many things one can do with sexual/erotic energy, from making love to creating art to engaging in spiritual practice. No matter how one chooses to engage that powerful erotic energy, channeling it allows one to tap into union with the One, and that is a profound blessing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Growing Old: The Inner Work

Fifteen years ago I was 55 and I was drawn to begin some of the inner work of aging. I didn't think of myself as old then. In fact the idea of being old scared me terribly. I knew I was unprepared for it. It occurred to me that I should begin some kind of investigation that might increase my self understanding. So I started an archeological excavation into the beliefs, patterns, conflicts, aspirations and dreams that have formed my memories and my ideas of myself.

I didn't know it then, but I had begun one of the tasks of aging--life review, part of which is seeking the meaning of one's life. The artifacts I've unearthed in my digging have borne quite a bit of scrutiny and reflection over the years. I've traveled through a lot of difficult territories. I'm sure you have your own versions of these places in your heart and soul and you know as well as I do that some rivers can be rather difficult to ford, some shadows hard to face and befriend. I've found that this work has been full of healing; it's led to the softening of long-tied knots, with the help of the waters of empathy, forgiveness and compassion. Life review is a practice that continues to be full of blessings, insight and surrender. I'm a believer.

According to Carl Jung there are 7 tasks of aging:

1. Facing the reality of aging and dying
2. Life review
3. Defining life realistically
4. Letting go of the ego
5. Finding new rooting in the Self
6. Determining the meaning of one’s life
7. Rebirth – dying with life

As you can see, these are serious pieces of earthly business. Letting go of the ego, for instance. Not exactly a Bingo level activity, though I'm sure it could happen playing Bingo, especially if you'd done some prep work.

Defining life realistically--what does this mean to you? I read it as the task of adjusting to the current situation of one's body and mind, which may be different from what it was at 25 or 45. Facing the reality of aging and dying, now that is something much denied in our society where so many people continue to try to pass for young into old age and live in denial that they will ever die.

To me finding new rooting in the Self means going deeper, spending more time in contemplation and reflection. I have to confess that I've never really understood the phrase "dying with life" described in the 7th task. Maybe I am just not old enough yet.

I had a visit with a good friend last summer. She is a keenly intelligent, very spiritual woman who now resides in an assisted living residence because of neurological difficulties. She describes aging as "an exercise in letting go and accepting."

"It's moving into a different state of being," she tells me, "shifting the focus from the outer world, releasing the worldly cuccoon, just unzipping and stepping out. It's very liberating, coming to some level of essence and finding contentment with what is."

My conversations with her remind me that the tasks of later life are quite spiritual in nature. Even if a person continues to be active and engaged in the world, there's a natural turning within as one ages. Unless of course, one remains infatuated with activity as an end in itself which seems to be such an obsession in the modern world. Then one can miss out on the harvest opportunity that the later years provide.

In his book Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin comments "True adulthood, or psychological maturity, has become an uncommon achievement in Western or Westernized societies, and genuine elderhood nearly nonexistent." Plotkin describes our society as pathologically adolescent, divorced from nature and soul. To Plotkin, real maturity is not based on chronological age; he defines maturity as living in a profound, ecologically aware interconnectedness with nature.

Living a long time is a blessing, and those who live a long life and also enrich the world with their wisdom, patience and balance bring an even deeper blessing. Maturation takes inner work. Inner work requires spending time in reflection, contemplation, healing, meditation and prayer. Quiet time. Slow time. Time in Nature. Which our society, so obsessed with production and materialism, both longs for and disdains.

In her book Slow is Beautiful Cecile Andrews describes how slowing down and living simply encourages community and individual happiness. That sounds and feels just about right to me.

I like to imagine/visualize/feel a society filled with elders who are slow and deep as beautiful old rivers, slow and rooted as beautiful old forests, elders who are deep, loving, firm, wise and fierce when need be. Sending blessings on your head and heart. May your inner and outer works flourish.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A good book is like a mandala of flowers

I don't read novels often. Memoirs are usually my preference. The urge to read a good novel does come over me once in awhile. It often seems to happen when I am traveling or visiting somewhere else. While I was in Hawaii, I picked up A Simple Habana Melody by Oscar Hijuelos from the bookshelf in my friend's living room. I was enchanted by it from the start, and found myself musing over some of the book's passages several times. That's a sure sign of love for me. Like this passage, which precedes the start of the story.

"Every sea wave was a clanging bell, the wind blowing from the west like a great and sonorous section of one hundred and seven violins, the sun at dusk was a glaring crimson cymbal, and the earth a kettledrum. On the horizon, beyond the water's edge, a choir had gathered--a million choristers in long silk robes singing from the balconies of a palace, hidden in a maze of distantly humming sea mists, and in the waters beneath the currents, a hundred dance halls, and a hundred pianists, and rooms and rooms filled with instruments and musicians at the ready..."

From that I knew that I was in for some heady music, both earthy and metaphysical. Set in Cuba in the 40s the book tells the life story of Israel Levis, a popular Cuban composer, from the vantage point of his later years. It's a marvelous evocation of an era when Latin music suddenly magnetized America and Europe. The main character is complex, a corpulent creative genius whose music has won him wide acclaim in his country and abroad. He is a man devoted to his mother, one who endured a life-long unrequited love because he was afraid to declare himself.

His late-life reflections on his own character, fears, accomplishments and difficulties are quite wonderful. All in all, this is a splendid, lushly written novel. Oscar Hijuelos is best known for his book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which I have not read. And I probably will not read it for awhile, mainly because I am still enjoying the resonance of A Simple Habana Melody, and re-reading parts of it again.

By the time I was ready to leave Hawaii, I was wondering if I could find a book to read on the plane. Knowing that the books on the living room bookshelf were fair game,I started browsing there. This time I found 13 Moons by Charles Frazier who is best known for his novel Cold Mountain. The book's first lines grabbed me with their ferocity and resignation. "There is no scatheless rapture. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals yearn to travel. We're called to it...It is the last unmapped country..."

I could hardly believe my luck in finding a second great book right after finishing the first. Isn't there something grand about opening up a book at random, reading a few lines and knowing from the depth of the writing that yes, this book is going to be well worth reading.

13 Moons and A Simple Habana Melody are very different from each other, almost like yang and yin, one set in the tropics, the other set in the wilds of the American West. 13 Moons brings the world of Indian Country, the politics, lifestyle and natural landscape of the old American West vividly to life. The book has an epic scope, in terms of descriptions of nature, history and culture. As protagonist Will Cooper begins to tell his story, we learn that at the age of 12, he being an orphan, he was sent off by his relatives as a "bound boy" to run a remote trading post in Indian Territory. To help him along his way, he was given a horse, a map and a key to the store. Will Cooper's adventures are many. He lives quite a life, becoming a vital part of an Indian clan, acquiring a great deal of land and a fair amount of prestige, and witnessing a lot of changes. He also maintains a life-long love for a woman named Claire. This is a masterful, compelling book, melancholy, provocative and beautiful. I highly recommend these marvelous novels both of which tell their stories from the perspective of old age.

Meanwhile, it is still wintry here, though we have escaped the severe weather that some parts of the country have been enduring. I saw promising signs of spring the other day in a friend's garden where some purple violets were blooming.

Friday, February 4, 2011

New Year, New Moon, New Moment

Happy New Year--again! Now we've entered the year of the rabbit, according to Chinese astrology. It is predicted to be a more peaceful year--ah may that be so in both the outer and inner worlds. I always feel surfeited with new years because I have 3 of them in my world. To begin with, there's January 1st, then the Chinese New Year, and finally the Tibetan New Year or Losar, which for who knows what reason never coincides with the Chinese New Year. This year, Losar is on March 5th. So I will continue to be in the new year mode for awhile.

It's the middle of the night here, and I woke up thinking about quite a number of things, including two wonderful books I read while I was in Hawaii recently, which I want to write about here. My mind was also full of my fundraising efforts for A New Wrinkle, ideas about costumes, staging and script changes I want to make, and some public events I'd like develop to catalyze support and fundraising. It was obvious I should get up out of bed and here I am. It's a wonderful time to be awake because it's so dark and still everywhere.

During the past 2 weeks, I've been sending out fundraising appeals for A New Wrinkle, my musical revue on aging, which debunks stale ageist stereotypes and promotes a vivid age-positive perspective. I sent out a letter via snail mail, and then had fun adapting it to send out via a program called Mail Chimp, which I really enjoy playing around with. I invite you to take a peek at what I created.

I was delighted to receive a donation of $1,000 from a kind individual philanthropist a few days ago. Then some smaller contributions arrived from other folks who believe in the uplifted vision of aging that A New Wrinkle portrays. I feel encouraged by this support. My current fundraising goal is $15,000 which will cover stage production and filming of A New Wrinkle.

We've made some changes to the Sage's Play website. Now the lyrics for all 12 songs in A New Wrinkle are available there. We also have installed a DONATE button that allows visitors to give a tax-deductible contribution online or learn how to do so by snail mail. Be an angel and take part in the adventure as we create a new vision of aging in our society! Your contribution is most welcome and needed!

(At the website you can also subscribe to receive my newsletters, which usually appear monthly.)

The two books that have so mesmerized me recently are A Simple Habana Melody by Oscar Hijuelos and Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. They were books I happened to find on the shelf of the house I was visiting in Honolulu. Both are gorgeously written. I found it interesting that each book described their main character's lives from the perspective of old age. I want to write more about both of these books, but not now, because this night has begun to move into early morning. I think I will take a bit more rest before greeting the day. And tonight, dancing! Tell me, what's new in your life?