Monday, April 23, 2012

SAGE= Set a Good Example

Lilacs are blooming on the west side of my cottage! I had to pick a bouquet to place near my desk. I am a woman unabashedly in love with flowers.

In proximity to the lilacs, roses, clematis, lilies, daisies, pinks, tulips and other flowers in the gardens here, I am in a recurring state of delight thanks their effusive displays.

Certainly, this cannot be anything but good.

It is restorative to let my eyes rest on the  lilacs as I work at my desk. And it's wonderful when their scent wafts through the room, too.

Do you have memory or sensory associations with different flowers? I certainly do.

This is a necklace I made last week at Wendy Gell's Sunday class.
BOLD. It's my sense that one must approach aging with boldness and a willingness to engage in the process as an adventure, rather than a sentence of some sort. Boldness to me encompasses both inner and outer explorations.

I plan to make more icons like this to extoll  boldness. I want to inspire others to live fully as they age, and not cave into prevalent declinist stereotypes about aging.

I'll keep you posted about the development of pro-aging icons and talismans.

This morning, I was thinking back a year to last April 23rd, when I produced an event titled A Celebration of Aging in order to preview some of the songs in A New Wrinkle.

I really wanted to create an energetic space that would allow local folks to acknowledge aging as a potent time of life. The event was also my way of celebrating my 70th birthday. It turned out to be a standing room only event,  marvelous in many ways, and exasperating in a few, as things can sometimes be.

I was remembering the talk that Dr. Rick Kirschner gave at the event. It might be on YouTube. Rick is an engaging, nationally sought-after best-selling author and speaker and he made a lot of great points. One of them was suggesting that the word sage might stand for "setting a good example."

I wholeheartedly agree. Yesterday I sat outside in the garden with Elaine Cornick, a woman I am getting to know. She and I are kindred spirits on the subject of positive aging. "We have to create models of how to age," she asserted. Yes, we do. Our society provides little guidance in that regard.

It's odd, because we have in our midst many examples of older people whose accomplishments and activities enrich and inspire us. I know I mentioned some of them in my last blog post. Somehow, we continue as a culture to focus on the negative though. So setting a good example is quite important. It would be important even if our society had a wonderful pro-aging perspective, which I hope it will cultivate and rather soon, too. Setting a good example, leaving a meaningful legacy, being oneself fully, following one's mature moral and spiritual impulses to create and participate in ways that benefit others, this is some of the work of aging.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Fulfillment of Character

"Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character."
--James Hillman

If you have been reading my musings for awhile, you know how fond I am of James Hillman's writings on aging contained in his wonderful book The Force of Character and the Lasting Life.

Character is described as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, the particular attributes, traits or abilities that a person develops. The word "character" is derived from the Ancient Greek word "charaktêr", referring to a mark impressed upon a coin. Later it came to mean a point by which one thing was told apart from others. It does take time to develop one's character and to engage it fully. While some people fulfill their life expression early, for many of us it takes what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls "the gathering of years" for our particular genius to come to fullness. I often think of the many older people who contributed so richly in their later years, engaging their accumulated character in very creative ways. Frank Lloyd Wright. Anna Halprin, Arthur Rubenstein. Albert Einstein. Ethel Barrymore, Imogen Cunningham, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, to name just a few names we recognize. These and many others who have lived long enough to develop their character also sometimes "become characters" displaying themselves in a unique way, because they are free from the confines of convention, the trammels of commerce or the concerns of fashion.

That gorgeous image of the rainbow-radiant clouds in the high mountains is for me a visual picture of the real fulfillment of character. It is astoundingly beautiful and not really of this world somehow, but a liminal image, connecting the earthly with the divine.

Beings who have given themselves up into a radiance of character deeply provide great light to all of us. I think of Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama. My own growth and development has been supported and influence by the Tibetan masters I began to meet when I was in my early 30s. It's impossible to imagine what my life would have been had I not begun to encounter, study and meditate with them. I was fortunate to help found Tashi Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center in 1978. Those early years were heady and full of levels and dimensions of instruction that continues to resonate.

Buddhists are not prosleytizers and in fact I usually keep my spiritual life rather private because it is a very intimate and important aspect of my life.

Yet how can I not recognize and acknowledge the tremendous impact that my root teacher Gyatrul Rinpoche and the other great masters I've met have had on me? I admire them so deeply. I want to mature into that level of refinement, compassion, vision, insight and lovingkindness. That to me is the most marvelous manifestation of innate creativity. Over the years, my Tibetan teachers have given me the gifts of their presence, their rarified understanding and their great kindness. They have been and are wonderful mentors for me as I continue to work on developing and fulfilling my character.

I am entering into my 71st year next week, and I sit here regarding the alchemical work that remains to be done. Is this work ever done, this work of distilling, purifying, transforming the lead into gold? Yes, I imagine that it is done one day.

Meanwhile, I swim along here in this river of existence, floating sometimes, smelling the flowers, tasting the water, looking up at the vast sky. Sometimes I'm just minding my own business perfectly comfortably, when life turns up the heat, reminding me of The Work. This blessed Work in every breath.

“We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it.”
Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Seven decades. Amazing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jazzy National Coverage, Plus a Profile of Laurie Evans at the Ashland Y

This is Laurie Evans, the Health Enhancement/Older Adult Director at the Ashland Family YMCA. I am writing about Laurie later in this blog but introducing her happy face to you as a preview.

Spring, and the lilac bushes are bright green with new leaves outside my window. There are tulips and grape hyacinth and daffodils blooming in the front garden. The white clematis is emitting its fragrance on the side fence. Spring is such a beautiful season. I love watching everything come back to life day by day. I've included two photos of the front garden.

Jazzy national coverage!
I was interviewed by Rachel Black from the National Center for Creative Aging for their Beautiful Minds Campaign and the interview was posted on their blog the other day. I was pleased to have the opportunity to share news about Sage's Play and the development of A New Wrinkle, our musical revue. I think Rachel did a nice job. You can read the article here.

I have interviewed a fair number of people myself -- I made my living in NYC as a magazine writer when I was in my 20s. I enjoy the interview process, whichever side of it I'm on.

I interviewed Laurie Evans at our local YMCA recently. I got to know her on my regular visits to the Y, an organization that definitely makes you feel welcome when you walk in the door. Laurie has worked at the two local Ys for close to 30 years. She's been at the Ashland Y for 14 years.

The first thing I noticed about Laurie was her cheerful openness. After observing her classes and interactions over a period of several months in the course of my Y visits, I decided to interview her about her work with older adults and exercise.

Laurie loves working at the Y. "Our programs fit the needs of the community," she told me. "We're oriented to be sensitive to participants' age, capacity, pacing and signals. I'm very aware of safety and medical issues in my work with older adults. And I appreciate the culture of the Y personally, too. My job description has changed over the years. I feel respected and appreciated for the knowledge I have and the relationship I have with baby boomers and others in the older population."

I asked Laurie whether sometimes older adults are hesitant to use the Y because they feel intimidated by the presence of more fit, younger people. (I know I was at first.) She told me that the Y has many teachers 55 and older whose age and teaching style provides a sense of ease for older adults.

"Baby boomers are the fastest growing population," she said,"and our generation is demanding progressive classes that are not only good for the body, but also are fun. People don't just want the physical workout, they also want to have a good time. That's why Zumba, water fitness and the senior circuit classes are so popular."

Laurie has seen a great deal of positive change in people as they take up a regular exercise program with guidance from staff. "I had a cane. Now I have no cane," one man told Laurie happily. When he first attended the Y, he could hardly walk. "He walks on his own. He talks more, too," Laurie said. And there have been many others whose physical and mental condition has improved thanks to exercising at the Y.

"Exercise stimulates the brain. You're getting more oxygen. Also, neural pathways are helped by engaging in new activities. Exercise stimulates appetite, helps with sleep, helps reduce stress levels and depression," Laurie said.

Social connection is another important aspect of the Y experience here for older adults. According to Laurie,"Members help each other. They become friends. It's a positive atmosphere, creating a small community. We have Friday coffees so people can meet and talk and also have a monthly birthday party in the lobby."

It's obvious that Laurie is a big advocate for the Y and its programs and it's clear why she is. She loves helping others and seeing their lives improve. Then there's the Y itself. "We have an amazing board of directors and a great CEO and a great staff," she smiled.

I know that my own experience at the Y is always upbeat. Staff are friendly and welcoming. The facility and its equipment are wonderful. It's a good place to keep fit, meet friends and make new friends.

I hope that you have a regular exercise program. Exercise, healthy diet and a life saturated with positive emotions are all great supports for healthy aging.

That's the story here on this Friday the 13th!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Welcome to Casa des Flores, Where My Newsletter is my Blog Today

I just finished my April Sage's Play newsletter which spotlights playfulness and healing and gives an update on what's going on with A New Wrinkle. I hope you will take a look at it. It is a creative adventure to put together each month. You can subscribe to the monthly news at

It's Monday morning and I am waking from a collection of vivid dreams--I was sharing a photo album of many journeys with someone and the pictures sometimes came alive. There were images of a beautiful white horse running during a journey to mystical temples --and in another dream sequence, several of us were preparing to go to a play and in order to do so, a lot of climbing up venerable old buildings and in through high windows seemed to be required--illogical and puzzling, but it seemed it had to be done to get to the theater for the show. Sometimes dreams are an awful lot of work and we don't always know what work it is when we wake up. At least not right away.

I have an ACN (Artist Conference Network) coaching session in a couple of hours. I told you that I recently re-joined ACN, didn't I? My current ACN vision is I AM THE VOICE OF THE OLD ONES. The vision and goals one creates --and also the stands one takes in each weekly coaching session are helpful tools for moving forward with confidence and inspiration.

My 3 month goal is to write and produce a 5 minute fundraising video for A New Wrinkle and post it on IndieGoGo. My year goal is to produce a fully staged version of A New Wrinkle.

ACN is a community that helps artists develop breakthroughs in creative focus and momentum. It is also very tender to share each other's artistic life in a supportive, nonjudgemental way. Tomorrow afternoon our ACN group meets at my casa. That will be fun. There are chapters of ACN in various parts of the country. More information available on the website.

I was interviewed the other day by Rebecca Black from the National Center for Creative Aging and her article will appear on their blog and website. I'll post the link when it is available. I used to do a lot of interviewing myself when I was a journalist in NYC and the SF Bay area, and it was enjoyable to experience being the interviewee this time.

I'm having dinner with my dear friend Frannie tonight. She went back to school to get a Master's. She had already been a hospice nurse for 20 years. Now she's teaching nursing at Southern Oregon University and finishing her Master's at the same time. It's rare that she has time for dinner, and I'm looking forward to it.

I have another friend who dropped a successful career as a clothing distributor to become a successful energy worker. I'll write more about Melani and her work sometime soon. Both of these women are great examples of following one's bliss. Hope you and your bliss are having a nice dance together. This time of life gives us the freedom for new explorations and deeper understanding.