The Fall season has finally come to the Pacific Northwest. What a beautiful time of year. My favorite. I look forward to the natural slowing in nature that occurs in the Fall. As the days get shorter the temperature drops the trees glow with yellow, red and gold I am reminded to take notice, to withdraw a bit from my daily busyness and go inside myself to prepare for winter.
As I get older I find that although I still love the activity of Summer and the abundant opportunities to be in nature to be productive in the garden, the house, my business, the fall is when I feel most connected to the universe and my community and am drawn to be more contemplative.
Yesterday, in a contemplative moment, I remembered a conversation I had recently with a colleague. My friend asked me a simple question “How are you enjoying your retirement?” and my response was to list all the things I have been “doing” as if the long litany accurately measures how much “Joy” I was getting out of life. Why do we do that? What I would like to say to her now is “I’m learning how to be” , which is the stronger pull for me.
“What do you do?” is the central question in a society devoted to production and consumption. The answer puts us on the social pecking order of success. In retirement, if you can’t produce economically surely you can still brag about your consumption as a socially acceptable substitute. But in the quiet moments I often wonder how much joy we receive from a life of consumption, even if what we are consuming is fun.
The years after sixty provide a unique opportunity to explore, learn and master new definitions and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. It is also a time to let our innate spiritual nature direct our lives through values and sense of purpose. This form of mastery is marked by slowing down and committing to a life of meaning-making, spirituality and character building. In short, to being authentic.
Personally, I feel the imperative to be more authentic now at age sixty-six than I did at 30,40,or even 60. Yet I have a struggle with the culture that only sees my value for what I can produce or how much I have to spend. I would prefer to be valued for my collected life’s wisdom/experience and perspective about how to sustain nature, each other and the world. I would like to be valued more for the questions I might ask than the answers I could provide.
The more appropriate question I would like to be asked is “What have you learned, David?” How might that question change our later years?
“Keep our eyes open to both the fading light and the blaze of the sunset.” James Hillman, April 1926 – October 2011