Thursday, February 28, 2013

Old is Beautiful

 In the 60s, we saw broad social movements that demanded positive change in our attitudes about women and people of color. Slogans like Sisterhood is Powerful, The Personal is Political and Black is Beautiful were popular ways of sharing new perspectives about race and gender.

The word ageism was coined by gerontologist Dr. Robert Butler  in the 60s at the same time as civil rights, Black Power and womens' lib swept the country. But there was never a broad social movement to revolutionize our perceptions of aging and our attitudes toward older people. Not yet anyway. She said, smiling. But I think it is coming.

As part of my creative aging work, I visualize broad positive changes that create a social climate that supports positive aging and acknowledges the value and contributions of older adults.  Imagination is a very important part of any change, whether personal or social.

How do you imagine your own aging experience, and how do you imagine the social climate around aging? Do your attitudes and beliefs need to lighten and expand in positive ways to allow you to celebrate the experience of aging? 

I often find myself thinking about positive aging slogans. Slogans have a way of capturing our attention and they have the potential to raise our awareness and shift consciousness.

I was thinking about what a great slogan Old is Beautiful is the other day. When I did a Google search, I found a wonderful Pinterest site titled Old is Beautiful.  

 These three images are from that site. Angela Wheelock, a writer based in Vancouver, Canada has done a wonderful job of assembling images of older people that illuminate the beauty of age.

I love this image. I love this old woman's clothing and her cheerful smile as she stands with her garden tools in front of an old shed. She is a person who is unconcerned with what the mainstream fashion police might say of her unique and beautifully eccentric attire.

One aspect of growing older is becoming ourselves even more fully, and that naturally involves eccentricity. That's something that gives oldness its character. I am thinking of Jack Nicholson's appearance at the Oscars the other night. Nicholson's suit seemed a bit too big for him, and his glasses were definitely eccentric. All in all, he appeared as a bit of a character, which he is.

You can have character and also be a character when you grow old. It's part of the pleasure of aging.

And this is another wonderful picture, of an older man who decided to take up dance after he saw how much his granddaughter was enjoying it.

I love seeing how happy he is. Don't you?

Creativity, joy and celebration are important in all stages of life, but especially so in the later years, when we are presented with the choice between growing, integrating and moving into wholeness or stagnating, collapsing, giving up.

I feel invigorated when I look at this image, just as I did when I looked at the other two photos.

You may enjoy looking at the whole collection of pictures that Angela has collected at the link I gave above.

I also wanted to share a pro-aging video that photographer Vicki Topaz has created using some of the photos from her collection Silver: A State of Mind.  In this video, the dialog that accompanies Topaz' photos of women with silver/gray hair is quite wonderful.

"I feel that beauty is not about subterfuge; it's about authenticity" is just one of the comments from the women Topaz photographed. Take a few moments to enjoy this powerful and sweet film clip of women talking about how they are embracing aging and their silver hair, too.

On the home front here, I've been digging in my garden, adding compost, and getting ready for spring. The garden is always a place of delight for me. Yesterday I planted two kiwi vines, and am planning to move a BIG rosemary bush to another location, to make room for more vegetables. Gardening, dancing, walking in the park and woods, visiting with old friends, singing, writing, meditating, cooking---these are some of the ways that I celebrate and appreciate life.

How about you? What are your favorite ways to celebrate and enjoy?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Elder Beat: Books, Movies and Classes

Some recommended reading
I just finished reading two wonderful books on aging--Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying by Ram Dass and Old Age by Helen M. Luke.

In Still Here, Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher and best-selling author of the 60s classic Be Here Now, shares the radical changes he underwent after a disabling stroke brought him close to death. He had been traveling constantly, in demand as a speaker and seminar leader. Then he found himself needing round the clock care.

Ram Dass has had a life jam-packed with adventure and he is a delightful writer and storyteller.  In this book he debunks common stereotypes about aging and gives wonderful suggestions for working with common fears and anxieties about aging.  He speaks of encountering aging from the Soul's perspective, and suggests ways to engage in the spiritual opportunities that are inherent in aging, illness and loss. Highly recommended.

Helen M. Luke's book Old Age is a more demanding read, but it's well worth it to take the time to digest Luke's substantial insights about the inner tasks of aging. She investigates these tasks from a Jungian perspective, using as subjects some key figures from literature, including Odesseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's King Lear and Prospero from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. A beautiful look at some of the big themes of later life, including letting go and foregiveness.

First try at making candied violets
In the midst of the Elder Beat work, I made candied violets for the first time. Some of them are more beautiful than others, as I lack the finesse I may develop if I decide to do it again. Now I've made a chestnut cake and will put some of the violets on it as decorations. Old fashioned. I love the delicate scent of the violets in the kitchen.

I saw two movies recently that I found wonderful. One is The Hedgehog, a French film from 2009. Wonderful characters and very good acting, with a splash of magical realism thrown in to allow us to suspend our disbelief with some of the action. There are two great older people featured, one a frumpy widow who manages an upscale apartment building and maintains a big library in a hidden room, and the other an elegant and somewhat mysterious Japanese man.

I also saw Quartet, which I loved. A great script, actors and wonderful setting. If one were to live in an old age facility, the gorgeous estate pictured in this film would be a far from shabby choice.  Gosh, Maggie Smith is finding so many roles these days and as usual she's doing an excellent job. The film has some of the same fairy dust sparkle that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel had--one critic calls it elder fantasy. And to that I say, we all can use some uplifting fantasy, no matter what our age. In the midst of the sparkle, the film takes a look at the importance of friends, community, creativity, forgiveness and reconciliation, all important themes of later life.

This week, I led two different gatherings. One was my class at OLLI on Retirement, Refirement and Successful Aging. The second was an elder circle I offer monthly at Skylark Assisted Living, where my long-time friend Kate lives.  I enjoy both venues, and they are quite different in many ways. At the OLLI class, I discussed some of the developmental tasks of later life and shared the perspectives of Erick Erickson and Carl Jung. The notion of life review and life repair was new to some in the class so I provided some thoughts on how one might start to engage in the process. I introduced a simple chi gong exercise, too.

At Skylark, we focused on the importance of attitude in working with disability and dependence. I used Ram Dass' book Still Here as a reference. Some of the group are using walkers or wheelchairs, so it was quite relevant for them.

Gathering with others to discuss aging and its issues and opportunities is always a great learning experience.  So many older adults in our culture still live according to the values of youth, pushing themselves to hyperactive engagement, filling their entire schedule with activities, not leaving time open for reflection and simply being. That's one reason why aging entails a lot of suffering for modern people. They deny it, ignore it, try to fend it off instead of getting curious about exploring it.

It is nearly spring and I am still in my escapist mode, dreaming of warmer climes. I found this image and put it into my visioning book because it felt good to imagine being in this place with a palapa roof and a beautiful pool nearby.

It is somewhere in Chile, I think. In my ideal year, I will spend a couple of months during the winter in Mexico or Thailand or Bali. is good to have dreams.

I am still working on the final song for A New Wrinkle, our paradigm-shifting musical revue on aging. Sometimes the songs appeared as if they were waiting in the vestibule but sometimes the Muse seems to be somewhere just out of sight.

Two other projects are still in the works--something I am calling Your Audacious Aging Kit will hopefully get done soon. It seems that Songs of the Inner Life may take a bit longer to produce, but it will get done, too. All in good time as the saying goes, though the practice of patience is still one I have not perfected.

I am having two dear friends over for dinner tonight, and I am looking forward to being with them. I am fortunate to have a bouquet of wonderful friends. On Sunday, I was invited to attend an Oscar party with some other friends. I even borrowed a sequined gown to wear. I don't think I've worn a gown since I donned an emerald green satin gown for my second marriage ceremony. That was when I was in my mid 30s. So there was a considerable gap in my gown-wearing history. I was much more slender when I wore the emerald green gown, and I definitely had a waist, quite a nice waist. Having a waist is lovely, but I find I am enjoying life even without one.

What next?  This is not a rhetorical question....

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Inner Work of Growing Old

Two years ago almost exactly--February 12, 2011--I posted an essay on the inner work of growing older. I want to share it with you again today. It's valuable for us to reflect upon and engage in these tasks. In them is the real harvest of growing older. The link to my earlier essay can be found at the end of this blog entry.

I will focus on the developmental tasks of aging in my OLLI class tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. Sharing with others in a circle or class setting is such a rich experience. I've got two groups this week--one at OLLI and the other at Skylark Assisted Living.

I am also readying to gather a 5-session class in March-April titled "The Adventure of Spirited Aging." It will meet weekly on Thursdays from 4-6pm,  in Ashland, from March 14-April 11th. Please email me if you are interested in knowing more about it, or registering.

This week I enjoyed being part of One Billion Rising at the Bellview Grange. It was a wonderful gathering, full of great dance, music and poetry. I shared my poem Forces of Nature, which expresses the elemental and sacred qualities of the Feminine. You can read the poem below. And right after the poem you will find the link to my post from 2 years ago. I hope you take a moment to read about these important inner tasks and reflect on how you are engaging in this important growth work.


Forces of Nature

Women like forces of Nature
   blue as the sky, their voices
in the streams and rivers,
their scent of the Earth after rain.

Faces from the wind
at the spin of the beginningless
   who have been born and died many times.

Living in secret,
deep in the Mountain Home
rustling their leaves of gold and green
their scarlet hair blown out
      as a music to the autumn wind.

Just before the first snow.
In silence, in whiteness,
in knowing they remain
far ways from here
deep in great forests
       where the secret banner flies
      of the hidden world.

In great trees whose magic
is to elude the destroyer,
women like forces of Nature are hidden.

In fragrant dewy rains of spring
     the tender grass is born again.
Wildflowers appear
     the deer return
the bear awakes

It’s time and

you have what it takes
your face from before the time of mothers and fathers
your heart bright as the sun at midday
your mind of the original nature.

If you trust the way back over
you can go there
it’s not back over there
     it’s not back
                                        it’s not over there.

If you have wings to fly you can fly
You can walk there
      You can walk there
You can walk.

Women like forces of Nature
moving Earth
      moving and disappearing.

   streaming clouds and prayers of peace
women dancing in the midst of space,
their faces brilliant as a hundred autumn moons
  their diadems a thousand stars.
Jewel planets
   so deep time cannot touch them.
women of the wisdom eye
                     to die in their embrace is to awaken.

Rainbows stream from every pore
laughing their thunderous laughter
                             they walk through the measureless sky
with the cool hands of the healers
                          with the beauty of their diamond bodies
with their joyous armor
shattering every disease.

Living the great peace
     they live among us
they live among us.
They are in our blood.

Here is the link to my earlier post.

SAGE'S PLAY: 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 ide...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Greetings on the Tibetan New Year

Today is Losar, the day of the Tibetan New Year. It's the year of the water snake. I am sending warm wishes to you that this lunar year brings you joy, good health, prosperity and wonderful opportunities for growth and transformation.

Two days ago, I went out to Tashi Choling, the Buddhist center I helped to start in 1980. Every year, we do a spiritual practice for three days to purify obstacles from the current year and clear the energies for the coming year. This morning our sangha (spiritual community) gathered to do a puja ceremony to welcome the new year. I wasn't able to attend because I have a class I am teaching at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Center) at the university today.

Prayer flags in front of the Tashi Choling temple
 It was very sweet to take part in the practice on Saturday. Going out to Tashi Choling is often like going into another parallel world. It feels good to leave ordinary concerns and activities behind, and focus on meditation and prayer.

The temple is over the mountain pass south of Ashland, Oregon. Then one goes down into the Colestine Valley. It was a cold, brilliantly sunny day. The tall prayer flags in front of the temple were flying in the breeze.

I feel the kind of closeness with my Dharma family that one feels for real family, for old friends bound by a common vision and goals. I've practised with many of my sangha friends for over 30 years now. We've been through a lot together, because we are all in the same spiritual cauldron.

People who are entering a spiritual path or practice sometimes imagine that it will be blissful and harmonious and otherworldly. Yes, hopefully there will be those moments or hours or weeks, but there is also a great deal of tumult, irritation, conflict and difficulty because confronting one's habitual responses and obscurations is not the most relaxing thing. Is that one of my understatements? Yes it is. Spiritual inquiry and the inner work of transformation brings everything up that is hidden below the surface.  Not always pretty, especially since we have the habit of putting everything under the rug, and keeping up appearances.

The sun shines in one of the temple windows
Candles and colored lights on the altar
Some of the work involves disclosing one's negative habits and responses to oneself, and working to transform.

The sangha community acts as support, mirror and sometimes provocateur. The spiritual teacher is the conductor of the symphony. Sometimes the music is ecstatic, sometimes it is cacophony.

One grows to appreciate the entire display. I was very glad to have to opportunity to be with my beloved sangha friends two days ago.

As we age, it's natural to turn within. I remember reading an essay whose author portrayed aging as a natural monastery. One tends to slow down, to become more reflective.

Religious traditions recognize the importance of spiritual focus in the later years. In Hinduism, four stages of life are described--student, householder, retired person and sadhu or sunnyasin. The last two stages are especially involved in spiritual practice. The worldly responsibilities of family and career are done, and one takes up spiritual practice in earnest.

The retired person is pictured living as a hermit in a forest hut. In the next stage, the sadhu or sunnyasin becomes a wandering recluse who has given up home altogether, instead concentrating on spiritual release.

In Tibetan culture, older people are not expected to work, but are supported in spiritual practice. One sees rows of older people with their prayer beads and prayer wheels, spending hours in prayer and meditation.

How different these perspectives on aging are from those of our modern world, with its emphasis on proving one's value through continued productivity, engagement, encore careers, active and sometimes hyperactive aging and a retirement age that keeps creeping toward 70.

These are my reflections today, as I prepare to offer my first OLLI class on "Retirement, Refirement and Successful Aging."