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Monday, November 30, 2009

Sense of Place

"As we move into the second half of life, we inevitably confront the question "Where in the world do I belong?" Changes in relationships, work, and physical health naturally precipitate the need to reconsider our sense of place. And this means both our external place--where we live--as well as a more internal sense---where and to whom do I really belong. Fortunately, the second half can provide us with a unique opportunity for renewal; we cannot avoid the freedom to choose whether we stay, grow, or die." Richard Leider and David Shapiro; Claiming Your Place At the Fire

I am intrigued by the question that Leider and Shapiro pose above: "Where in the world do I belong?" In my retirement coaching practice I notice that this is usually the question that stymies and confuses many clients. Especially the implied second part "To whom do I belong?" Finding and creating a network of people who support our life and our continued personal, spiritual and psychological development is just as important as finding the correct address.

However, if it were just a matter of finding a specific place, our task would be easy. We might choose a place that is warm or near our favorite recreational opportunities or close to family. We might choose a place close to a major airport so we can easily travel or live in a city for the urban amenities. But "home" is more than the physical place. And as Leider/Shapiro say, the warm climate that we feel on the outside might just be masking a coldness inside.

A real sense of "home" involves more than just physical comfort. Having a sense that we matter in other people's lives and that we can be seen and supported for who we really are plays a bigger role in knowing where in the world we belong. Are there opportunities to be in-service to others and to do my inner exploration? Do I have people in my life who support me just as I am for who I am? Are there plenty of opportunities and resources to develop a new calling?

If you like, as someone interested in aging intentionally, sit down with your loved ones or friends and inquire about what is it about your sense of place that would make you feel most supported or at home? This is a great jumping off point for answering "Where in the world do I belong?"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creative Aging Pioneer Passes

As I get ready to attend the 3rd Annual Positive Aging Conference I am thinking about Dr. Gene Cohen one of the loudest proponents of aging creatively in the world. Here is an article from the Washington Post (edited for brevity):

Gene D. Cohen, an impish geriatric psychiatrist who championed the idea that people past retirement age have untapped stores of creativity and intellectually rigorous skills in their later years, died Nov. 7 of prostate cancer at age 65.

"The magic bullets are all blanks," he said in 1998, advising people to rely on "intellectual sweating" instead of pills and herbs for good mental health. "Make it a point to learn something new, instead of turning to hormones or ginkgo biloba."

Although the medical establishment tended to treat aging as a disease when he started his career, Dr. Cohen found that the later adult years can be a time of great creativity. Brains create new brain cells as long as people are encouraged to keep trying new pursuits, he reported, and people in the traditional retirement years have almost limitless capacity for intellectual growth.

"He wanted to move the paradigm from a focus on problems to a focus on potentials," said Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging.

Among his many research projects, a 2002 study showed that those who engaged in the arts late in life had fewer illnesses and injuries and more independence. Dr. Cohen, as a former federal employee with an eye on the looming national health-care debate, reported that arts programs also appeared to reduce "risk factors that drive the need for long-term care."

"Single-handedly he changed the image of aging from a period of senescence to a period of creativity," said Dr. Walter Reich, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University.

Wielding a light saber at his lectures, with a cherubic face surrounded by untamed curls, Dr. Cohen sought to re-introduce fun to those suffering from physical ailments and provide a way for younger family members to engage with those whom he considered "keepers of the culture."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fun and Humor

"Unfortunately, many people do not consider fun as important item on their daily agenda. For me, that was always high priority in whatever I was doing." Astronaut Chuck Yeager

If ever there was a time to have fun it is the second half of life. Most of us are better able to laugh at ourselves and we can also see the humor in life's journey.

And humor and fun are wonderful gifts we can give to the "adults" that are younger than us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Letting Youth Die

"Inside every seventy-year-old is a thirty-five-year-old asking, "What happened?" Ann Landers

Another way to look at this is part of a David Wilcox song, "In the years it takes to make one man wise....a young man dies." Our job as intentional elders-in-waiting is to embrace our older self and let our young woman/man die away.

Think about how the world might be changed if we all embraced age as something of value and honor...starting with our own self.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Be Outrageous

"Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week." Activist Maggie Kuhn

Intentional aging is about being authentic and giving the world our best. Sometimes our best is "outrageous"!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Developmental Aging

I'm personally intrigued by the different ways people seem to go about aging. In today's society aging is not one thing, it is many things and it is different for each person. And I would not want it any other way. The second half of life is when we are the most different.

Having completed our child rearing duties and perhaps our career chasing too, we are free to express ourselves in new ways with the diverse set of beliefs and experiences we have accumulated. Each person unique as individual snowflakes! Consequently, any single theory of aging is probably going to be flawed.

So how can we think and talk about this stage of life? Is it just the physical and mental diminishment process? Is it the unlimited possibilities that the "longevity revolution" might offer? Is it someplace in between? I suspect that the real answere lies in each of us. And frankly that is what excites me so much about this time in human history; there does not seem to be a blueprint for aging! We are all going to make it up as we go...together, I hope! Consequently, I have come to really appreciate the concept of developmental aging.

The idea is that Developmental aging allows us to see the aging process as part of the ongoing wonder of human development. It connects all parts of our life span from birth to death as a continuum with different developmental tasks in each part. As a result perhaps we are creating the possibilities for the greatest cohort of elders ever.

"Developmental aging seeks the unification of aging and longevity, understanding that each needs the other, each informs the other. Our longevity grants us a magnificent opportunity to age. Aging brings depth, richness, and meaning to our longevity. Together, they are humanity's most treasured possessions." Bill Thomas, M.D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Is Community?

What is the meaning of community in the second half of life? Is it the city we live in? The church or organizations we belong to? Our family of origin (or choice)?

I recently gave a presentation on Community in the Second Half of Life to a group of fifty retirees at a local University. I was amazed that a topic of this nature could attract that many people. In the room people openly shared what they thought community was or wasn't and generally we had a lively discussion even though there was no consensus about the meaning of community.

Some participants thought it was the political climate, or being physically close to grandchildren or having good friends. For others it was more about the amenities that were provided by the country or city they lived in. Finally, a gentle woman at the back of the room chimed, "I guess community to me means that I'm free to be me!" Afterward I started to think about this and it's importance for intentional agers. And the more I thought about it the more I appreciated that wonderfully simple answer.

Maybe community is the particular set of relationships and physical and political attributes that support each of us to be authentic, to be who we really are in the world? If this is true our community should support our continued personal development by providing opportunities for us to explore the person we want to become in the second half of life. Such a community would foster a sense of creativity in life through opportunities for new relationships and experiences. The important factor for intentional agers is to remember that we are free to choose our community (or at least part of it). And If it doesn't support our continued emotional, physical and spiritual growth in the second half of life than we can choose something else.

This is not free, though, and here's the might require more risk-taking and a willingness to be uncomfortable with the unknown than we are used to. Being who we really are is that way, I guess! I think it is a minor expense for what it buys, though!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


"The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this: Remember. Remember who you are. remember what you love. Remember what is sacred. remember what is true. Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live." Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live? I want to notice everything. The rain falling and running off the roof, the soft light on the fallen leaves in the yard, the spider webs in the garden, the dust bunnies behind the door, how this key board feels under my fingertips, the tangy taste of sourdough pancakes.

Over and over I have confirmed that "attention" or "mindfulness" or "awareness" (whatever the word) is the most healing practice for me.

I just get off the path every now and again and need something or someone to gently guide me back. Thanks, Wayne!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wisdom and Age

Does wisdom really increase with age, or is it something we bestow to elders because we can't think of anything else nice to say?

Dr. George Vaillant inquires about this question in his book, Aging Well. He ask if perhaps we as a culture give too much credibility to the wisdom of oldsters. He poses the question "Do we endow the elderly with wisdom only as a good-hearted effort to jolly them along...or is wisdom a special boon that life bestows upon the elderly? Or were the wise always that way and in old age we finally notice it? Or perhaps the reason that we associate wisdom with age is simply that, unlike motor skills, sexual prowess, and memory, wisdom does not usually decline with the passing years?"

I don't claim to know the answer to this paradox and any or all could be true. And, according to Vaillant, there have been many scholarly attempts to quantify 'wisdom' with no real definitive answer. However, I do have a personal sense that wisdom is somehow associated with the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. I also have a belief that older people have the potential to be much wiser than their younger counterparts just because they have more experiences to draw on. At least I want to believe that.

I also wonder if there are a few qualities that are reflected in a wise person. These may include being empathetic, showing tolerance, being self-aware, having a sense of wonder about the world around them, displaying moral discernment, seeing the irony and humor in life, a well developed common sense, and a discernment of when to speak their minds at the appropriate time.

As I write this I am particularly drawn to the last item. A discernment of when to speak their minds when it will have the most impact. Wisdom is the opposite of being self-absorbed. I don't have scientific data to back this up but I have found this quality in 20 somethings and 80 somethings in about the same percentages. So what is it that we see in elders that we associate as wisdom?

How many of us have felt "trapped" in a conversation with and oldster who wants to tell us "the way it should be"? I have, and I admit that, at times, I have been the one doing the telling and have noticed the glazed eyes and the uncomfortable distracted stares as I tell "the truth according to DR". Somehow, I just know or feel in my body that this is not a quality of being wise!

Then maybe wisdom has something to do with knowing the right time to speak up? When to ask questions and when to pull out an example from the past that adds perspective to a discussion or maybe solve a problem in the present. I wonder if this is the quality that is most affected by maturity, knowledge and intelligence and as such is what we see in oldsters that we think of as "wisdom" that maybe is not as developed in younger "wise" individuals? Perhaps it is this quality that has the best chance to be on display in the second half of life.

I'm really curious about this topic. What do you think? What is it to be a wise person?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Being Young At Heart

"I want to die young at an advanced age." Journalist Max Lerner

I notice young children a lot! How they see the world. How they live in almost constant wonder. I'm also curious when they stop? What is it that we do to them that forces them to lose that wonder?

Ever notice when a child comes in to a room where there is a parent and grandparent together. The child immediately zeroes in on the grandparent and the parent becomes almost superfluous. In fact the grandparent usually becomes more child-like. Maybe that is the attraction!

Try to find that sense of a child's wonder in yourself in each day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Song

One of my life's secret desires (Besides finding the World's Best Cinnamon Roll!) has been to write songs. I love quirky lyrics about life, love, and maturing and felt like I could do that too. But after many attempts over the years I was drawing a blank. I just did not know how to spark the creativity I thought I had inside to get anything on to paper and guitar. So I did what many people do, I gave up!

My reasons were: too old, too uncreative, and too silly! Sound familiar?

Well then came Zoe! A 77 year old woman who I met last summer. Zoe had sparks in her eyes and fire in her belly and she had just taken up playing the ukulele last year and was also writing songs. Not the kind of songs that would ever make it to the "Top 40" list. Just songs about her cat and her garden and her favorite places. Precious songs that only meant something to her.

When I told her my tale of woe about my trials with songwriting. "Well listen Mister", she said "you just get going and get your songs out! The world is a better place when it hears your song!"

I was inspired and motivated by Zoe and last weekend attended the NW Writers Workshop where one writing opportunity was song writing. And at the end of the weekend I had my first song. Imagine! Ol' "too old, too uncreative, and too silly" me! (A little "country and western" ditty.)

I feel rejuvenated and somehow happier maybe even a bit "giddy". I have been walking around with a little more "zip" in my step and my brain feels like it is getting used in new ways. I'm even half way through my second song and ideas are churning up to the surface during the day and in dreams at night. But most importantly I feel that with this one success I can have others and I am seeing more room for opportunities in life in general.

Imagine, all as a result of this old guy taking a little risk to write one uncreative and silly country song!

Bless you Zoe!

Now it's your turn! What is your secret desire that has gone unfulfilled?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Advice Is Cheap!

"Advice about life is now so cheap and abundant, it floods us from email greetings, tea bags, coffee cups, and the sides of city buses..." Richard Leider, Something to Live For
(...and blogs like this one, too! :-))

I wish I could just take someone's advice from the side of a bus or a tea bag and be successful in this time of life. My life challenges these days come from not knowing where to turn to get support to be different than I was in the first half of life.

When I was younger and on a career path I knew what I had to do to "succeed" and I gathered resources and advisers to help me. But, you see, I had a blueprint of things I needed to be, do, or have to be successful. I also had people in front of me who had walked a similar career path who I could observe, lean on and learn from.

It isn't the same for this time of life. There is no checklist, map or blueprint for how I can be successful in my life after age 60. Each of us is making it up as we go! There is no other person who I can look to who understand exactly what I need to do to be successful. This one I have to own and create.

So where do we turn for support, nurturing and unconditional love in the second half of life. I many cases it is not our family of origin as they have a comfortable vision of us as we have been in the first half as provider, nurturer, cook, teacher, healer or just Mom. They are reluctant to let that go. Even our old affiliations (church, community, schools, etc) don't always bring the type of unconditional support essential to being true to your self in the second half.

So I guess we must look to new and different and maybe nontraditional places. For me this has included joining an "Elders Council" group where 6-10 people come together once a month and share and discuss the whole aging process. Physical and mental health, spirituality, finding meaning, passion, volunteering etc. are often the topics of discussion. I also have joined two organizations which bring together the younger generation and "olders" in community service projects. I learn something from each and also feel like I can be my true self in these situations. Which helps.

However, I have discovered that the most important thing for me at this time of life is to listen to others. In the first half of life I got paid for solving problems and having the answers for the organization or family. Frankly I didn't have time to really listen deeply. Now I listen more and answer less. The wisdom from the "20 somethings" to "80 somethings" is all around us. There is amazing wisdom there that I can apply to my own life. Like the meaning of modern relationships and family and community. What is important to them is not so different from what I value. It just comes packaged differently.

If you want to create this time of life differently than your earlier life, then do something different! As the saying goes "If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten!". Get inspired and engage your community in new ways that reflect your values and passions. And in my opinion the world can use all the intentional agers it can get!