Friday, December 30, 2011

Welcoming New Experiences in Slow Time

New experiences make time stretch out. That's why time goes so slowly for children. Everything they encounter is all fresh and new. The heart and brain get a workout with new experience; it slows time down.

The more familiar and routine the world becomes, the more quickly time seems to pass, according to neuroscientist David Eagleman, who wrote about our perceptions of time in a fascinating New Yorker article published earlier this year.

Time goes quickly when we have no fresh unexpected, unfamiliar experience. I've been musing about this at year end. I've lived in the same area for over 30 years. My life does have a familiar routine. I don't make resolutions for the new year, but I am certainly willing to say that I am open to fresh, challenging, healing, invigorating, provocative new experiences that stimulate growth and engagement, while bathing me in the beauty of slow time. Does that sound good to you too? She grins. It does to me.


For example, take this image of a cobalt blue bowl and five bright yellow lemons. It made me quite happy when I found it. It's an image I never saw before and it's so full of light, color and chi. It makes me think of Greece or Mexico. It makes me feel alive. I like feeling alive.


Another thing that gets me going are images of sailing ships. I can smell the salt air! The feeling of the wind in the sails and the possibility of new waters and new lands invigorates me.

Sometimes I like to imagine taking a voyage aboard a sailing vessel with red sails like this Vietnamese ship. Or sometimes I muse about sailing in a dhow somewhere off the coast of Kerala in south India. Nothing out there on the open sea, thank you. Not until I have a little more experience anyway.


The celebratory use of color and pattern always livens me up. And there are times when I think it would be so delightful to spend some slow time in a country where they decorate their buses and trucks with all manner of fanciful patterns and ornamentation. They look so much more playful and festive than our vehicles. This is a picture of a bus in India.

Wouldn't it be fun to travel in a gypsy caravan, as I believe I asked in another post a year ago or more. My father had a persistent fantasy of doing that, so perhaps I inherited it from him. People do this you know, in England and Europe. I love the thought. It wakes me up.

Or how about visiting some eco-villages where people are living cooperatively and growing their own food in beautiful gardens? That would be lovely. We do have some beautiful farmers right here, too. I must remind myself of what is right in my own environment. You know it's sometimes seeing the same thing with new eyes.


This hot spring in Costa Rica looks rather wonderful to me, especially in the midst of winter. Ahhh, there is nothing like a hot spring to rejuvenate the body and soul. We have a hot spring right here in Ashland, Oregon where I have lived most of the time since 1977. And it would also be great to visit some hot springs farther afield. I'm open.

How can I infuse my life with new experiences in 2012? Will these new experiences come through travel, new people, new creative adventures? Will I seek new music, new ways of singing and new dances? New foods, a new language? How can I find ways to experience each day in fresh ways? What allows me to slow down into the magical attention of the child?

The truth is I have no idea what new experiences await in 2012. But I welcome them! So hark, ye new experiences, and hie thee hither into my life, which is ready to celebrate thy refreshment.

Thank you all for your interest in my work with creative, conscious aging.

Wishing for you that 2012 be a year full of delight, health, growth and profound enjoyment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What the heart knows

If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come. --Chinese proverb

Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.-- Saint Benedict

We think of the brain as the seat of intelligence. When my Tibetan friends talk about the mind though, they don't point to their heads, they gesture to their hearts.

The heart seems to be a big part of my end of year contemplations.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in our culture. A person who has a heart attack may be brought back to earthly life with the help of a fibrillator, which no matter what else you can say about it, is not a subtle instrument. Our attitudes about the heart are not subtle either. We often consign the heart to sentimental purposes, ignoring its profound energetic qualities.

Isn't it possible that the prevalence of heart disease has something to do with the way that we dismiss the real power of the heart as a source of inner knowing and guidance, relying instead upon the cognitive inventions of the brain?

I love this Carlos Casteneda quote. "All paths lead nowhere, so it is important to choose a path that has heart."

Thinking about a path with heart
naturally brings me to the Hopi prophecies. I first heard about them over 30 years ago and have reflected upon them ever since. According to the Hopis, humans undergo a continual struggle between their left and right sides-- the left being wise but clumsy, and the right being clever and powerful but unwise, forgetful of our original purpose.

The Hopis say that the three worlds before this present world were destroyed because humans
chose the clever inventions of the intellect, the right hand way, over the clumsy wise innocence of the left hand way with heart. Now we're doing it all over again in the fourth world-- which is of course a big subject, and one that is on most of our minds--and our hearts.

So I do think about heart disease, in ways that are both collective and personal.
My father died of a heart attack and my mother died of congestive heart failure. Theoretically that makes me prone to heart disease. Whether I physically die of what is called heart disease is much less important to me than cultivating the deeper health of my heart.

I practice t
o become truly good-hearted. I want to free my heart of the real heart diseases --malice, anger, and hatred.

These long winter evenings, I light candles and set my heart at ease.
I set my heart at ease. Like this.

"I looked inward and the beauty of my own emptiness filled me until dawn." --Rumi

Did you know that the heart is the largest electromagnetic generator in the body? The electromagnetic field of the heart is 5,000 times stronger than the electromagnetic field of the brain. The heart is the real seat of consciousness.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was reading The Heart's Code by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. There is some marvelous stuff in that book. I love the stories that the author presents about heart transplant patients. Thousands of people have heart transplants each year. It seems that many recipients have heart to heart experiences of the person who donated their new heart. The new heart may bring personality changes, new food preferences, different kinds of sense perceptions and memories that belong to the person who donated the heart. Researchers say that this is the rule rather than the exception. "I feel the other little boy inside me," one young heart recipient said. Fascinating.

Sending a warm greeting from my heart to your heart. May your heart be happy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Artist's Life: Wearing a Bold Headdress

One of the things I love to do most is to lie on the grass and look up at the sky. Everything immediately slows down. Concerns, thoughts, feelings--it all relaxes in the face of that vast openness. During the day, I can count on the processional of clouds and at night the constellations of stars to align me with the beauty and pulse of nature.

It's too cold for prolonged skygazing these days as we head toward the winter solstice so brief sky glimpses must suffice for now. Very early this morning, while the world was still cloaked in darkness, I went out to take a look out at the dome of heaven. A moment after I stepped out onto the deck, a brilliant shooting star curved across the dark sky.

What a marvelous start to the new day. A new day. Each day seems quite a blessing to me. I enjoyed some coffee, did some meditation and then turned my attention to my To Do List.

I have a few big items on it. I'm planning to run a crowdfunding campaign through IndieGoGo and have to make a short video to introduce that. Have to develop the concept, write the script, plan the shots.

I'm searching for a keyboard musician who has a recording studio in order to record an instrumental soundtrack for 8 songs in A New Wrinkle.

I'm sending out letters and copies of our preview CD for A New Wrinkle to some folks in media and the field of aging as part of the effort to introduce people to the project, stimulate interest and get some of the songs from the revue played on the radio.

I'm preparing for some photo shoots in January with photographer Helga Motley. The resulting images will be used in A New Wrinkle's promotional materials. I am having fun imagining the costumes, poses and people needed to make this a reality.

In the midst of cooking this creative soup, I've been thinking of creating a headdress that says BOLD with the OLD a different color from the B.

What would you do wearing that, walk around on the street? my business consultant Gary Einhorn asks. I can't tell what he is thinking. Yes, of course I would I tell him.

But I know that if I am wearing a BOLD headdress, the experience will start to assume a life of its own. It will involve more than walking around on the street, though that is certainly interesting to consider in itself. By the time I finish imagining and creating the BOLD headdress, I will know a lot more about the persona(s) who want to be seen and heard while I wear the headdress. I'll know more about how to present the BOLD elder story.

I have to admit that I'm not 100% gung ho about this idea of the BOLD headdress, the way a successful movie star is when she has just signed a fabulous contract for what looks like a sure-fire movie. Because first of all I am not a successful movie star. I am a 70 year old non-celebrity writer/Buddhist/creative aging artist and activist. Sure I have the gift of an imagination that likes to run wild, and certainly I have some chutzpah and curiosity, but still.

Not only that but doing the BOLD thing out among the populace is not like signing a contract for a sure-fire movie. There's no contract. Instead it means stepping into unexplored and sometimes highly charged territory--the landscape of growing old, a place that many people fear, deny or find quite uncomfortable. It's not at all certain this will be a box office hit or what it will be.

Yes, sometimes I think what are you dreaming that up for? Yet I do notice how it perks me up to imagine stepping into the adventure of wearing a BOLD headdress.

What would it look like? Would it have jewels, sequins, feathers, veils, brocade, dried grass, seaweed or what?

I did a little research into headdresses and found some that I really liked, including these exquisite ceremonial headdresses from different cultures.

I love the pom poms on this one and the mirror up top center.

Wearing a headdress is like walking through some kind of doorway.

When you put on a headdress you are no longer operating in the confines of the mundane world. You have entered the surprising and more dreamlike world of theater, ritual and magic.

That is certainly one of the things that draws me to daydream about creating the BOLD headdress.

It's afternoon and I am making some sketches of possible headdresses just for fun. I am imagining what materials I might use to fashion one. That is as far as I have progressed. I have no idea whether I will get to this or when. The other items on my To Do List are making noises, talking to me about why I need to finish them first.

I am going to sign off for now. I'm cooking some wild mushroom soup and making some Italian swiss chard patties (there is probably a wonderful Italian name for this recipe, which I learned long ago from the mother-in-law of my first marriage). A few friends are coming over for some poetry and a potluck sharing of food....I'm looking forward to hearing and uttering some poetry tonight. And I know the food will be wonderful too.

Solstice blessings to you.

"Fortune befriends the bold." -Emily Dickinson

"Freedom lies in being bold." -Robert Frost

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When It's Too Late to Say Thank You

"Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind."--Lionel Hampton

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." - Meister Eckhart

I am a person who likes to say thank you to those who have helped me in any way. I think I am pretty conscientious about it. I have not been able to say thank you to several people who have been very important to me, and that has caused me to reflect on impermanence even more than usual.

I became motivated to write some songs about aging in 2009 because I wanted to debunk noxious stereotypes and illuminate some of the pleasures and richness of old age --with which many people, including older adults themselves, seem to have lost touch.

I had plunged into doing independent research on aging in 2000 when I began developing educational materials designed to teach caregivers of elders for Medifecta Healthcare Training. One document I read and reread was a report from the International Longevity Center titled Ageism in America. This is a thoroughly-researched, sobering look at the ways that tacit and unchallenged ageism affects elder's health care, longevity, work opportunities, economic status and representation in the media.

Robert N. Butler MD, one of the real pioneers of the field of aging, was a key figure in the development of that report. As the time passed and the songs accumulated, I wanted very much to say thank you to him and to tell him how much his work influenced the development of A New Wrinkle. I especially wanted to share with him the song Hip Hop Elder's Rant, a scathing indictment of the way we relate to elders, especially frail elders. I never got the chance to thank Dr. Butler though because he died earlier this year.

The incredible work that Dr. Gene Cohen did to shed light on the powerful capacity of the older brain and the links between creativity and wellness also inspired and influenced me deeply. Cohen's books The Mature Mind and The Creative Age are powerful and life-affirming ventures into the potential inherent in later life. Those books were like good friends. We talked a lot together and the conversation we had resulted in the song Scintillating Secrets of the Older Brain.

It was one of the first songs I wrote and I was looking forward to sending Dr. Cohen a recording of it, thanking him for his wonderful work. I didn't get the chance. He passed away in November 2009.

James Hillman's book The Force of Character and the Lasting Life has been and continues to be a powerful, provocative exploration of aging that draws me back to its pages again and again. Hillman's writing is extravagant, far-ranging, layered with myth and poetry.

In The Force of Character Hillman points out that in modern society, the longer we live the less we are worth. He speaks of our disconnection, the speed of our lives, a superficiality that we take for granted. He points out how even though we scorn and fear old people, we yearn for the deathless, ageless qualities of oldness--old cities, paintings, gardens. He speaks of the origins of the word old and its roots in the meaning "to nourish."

His writings on oldness sparked me to write a song I titled Reclaiming Old. It's a very lyrical, even mystical piece, sung by a chorus. It praises oldness and suggests that we reclaim the word old from the trash heap, that we embrace being old and oldness rather than continually trying to pass for young.

Rescuing language and reclaiming it from perverse and stereotyped uses is always part of raising awareness. Old is one word I definitely wish we would reclaim. Composer Laura Rich created a wonderful score for the song and I was happy with it. Wouldn't it be great to send a copy of it to Dr. Hillman? I mused. I didn't get a chance to do that as a way of thanking him. He died two months ago in October.

I am sure that all three of these men knew how valuable their work was and recognized their role in promoting an expansive, vibrant view of aging and later life. They had no need to hear my songs and recognize in them the resonance that came from their work. Perhaps they would have loved the songs, perhaps not.

The moral of the story is: we are mortal.

How excellent to have the opportunity to thank those who influence, help and love you while they are still around to have the conversation. If it's too late to say thank you to them while they are still in the flesh, then thank them in spirit and by carrying forth in your own work and life whatever life-enhancing, beneficial connection drew you to them.

That's what I tell myself.

Hmmm, to change the subject ever so slightly, did you see the lunar eclipse early this morning?

Thank you for your emails on these blog posts and my creative aging work. It is always great to hear from you. Here's to this precious moment and this precious life.

"Behold the turtle: He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out."

James Bryant Conant
1893-1978, Educator and Diplomat

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creativity is Ageless: Peaks and Long Planes of Light

"If you would be a poet, discover a new way for mortals to inhabit the earth."

--Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. The Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity adds, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.” These quotes appear in a wonderful article titled Late Bloomers written by Malcolm Gladwell for the New Yorker. Why do we assume that genius arises only in the young? Gladwell asks, fueling the conversation with observations about artists whose genius peaked early in life and others who continued to create marvelous art later in life.

The presumption that brilliant creativity ends in youth has a hollow ageist ring to it.

W.B. Yeats wrote gorgeous lyrical poetry in his later years. Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is till going strong with creative work and life in his 90s. What about May Sarton? Her book Coming into Eighty is a classic work by an elder poet delving into the themes and issues of age.

Stanley Kunitz said something wonderful about the difference between writing poetry in youth and age. Kunitz won a National Book Award at 90 and became poet laureate of the U.S. at 95.

"In youth, poems come to you out of the blue," Kunitz told Mary B. W. Tabor in the New York Times. "They're delivered at your doorstep like the morning news. But at this age," he added, "one has to dig." He dug most beautifully. Here is a film clip of Kunitz reading his wonderful poem Touch Me. I highly recommended taking a couple of moments to experience him reading this poignant, sensuous poem.

I have contemplated the vividness of some older poets for years now. My interest in the subject was revived when I read Ruth Stone's obituary. Sometimes one learns about people only via their death. It's better than never hearing of their work at all, certainly.

I just bought two of Stone's books and have been getting acquainted with her work. Stone wrote poetry her whole life, but did not become recognized for it until she entered her 70s. She won the National Book Award at 87 and died very recently at 96.

Are you a lover or writer of poetry? Do you read poets who wrote marvelous poetry in their later years? If you haven't done so yet, there's still time. Older poets often impart fascinating insights into the aging process. As Plato said, "Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history." Or the daily news.

I wanted to share something else with you today. This Old on Purpose trailer describes the work of David Carey and the Aging Film Project. Carey's film explores the importance of meaning and purpose in later life. He investigates forging a new paradigm of aging through the lives of a variety of very alive elders. Take a look-- it's well worth it.

Carey is raising money to complete his film via the online fundraising platform Kickstarter and if you care about changing the stereotypes our society has about aging being an airless cul de sac rather than a vividly potent time of life, consider sending his Kickstarter fund some money so that he can finish this important work.

Third day of fog and hoarfrost here. Yes, the hoarfrost is very beautiful, and yes the fog is rather dank. Hope you are staying warm and happy.