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Monday, July 30, 2012

Contemplative Gerontology: Thank you, Gramma Goose


Feeling warm nectarine juice dripping down my chin; watching chickadees snatching seeds before the jays can monopolize the bird feeder; getting caught in the mingling sexy scents of the trio of tomato plants, I remember the bit of text from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that Isobel’s father and I borrowed to use on her birth announcement:  “…A single cell quivers at a windy embrace; it swells and splits, it bubbles into a raspberry…Soon something perfect is born. Something wholly new rides the wind.”  I can’t help but think about the raspberry shoots Simeon and I dug up from Fred’s overgrown garden two Sundays ago and then transferred into a newly prepared plot in my side yard. Fred’s gone, and his garden soon will be, too, but perhaps next summer we’ll be enjoying a new generation of Fred’s raspberries.

Before I ate the nectarine, I had been intentionally contemplating my ancestors. I was reminding myself of -- or, rather, I was trying to remember – the creatures from whom I’ve come, the creatures whose miraculous existences millennia ago preceded my existence and my daughter’s existence. I was day-dreaming about the spiral of development and transformation across time of which we are all a part. 

I was imagining how were I to draw my creaturely family tree, it would begin with multiple species of microbes, followed by worms and snails, then fishes, amphibians, dinosaurs, reptiles and (my favorite ancient family members) birds. Long before my Gramma Jewell shows up on the family tree, and long before her grammas and all the generations of grammas (and grandpas, and mammas and papas and all the other human kin) who came before her, there was Gramma dinosaur, Gramma sturgeon, Gramma tree frog, and Gramma goose. And don’t forget the plants! There are also a ton of plants in my family tree, because on this planet creatures and plants can’t do anything without each other.

What happens next is that I realize that the strong concepts I’ve been circling around in so much of my recent thinking, writing and praxis – legacy, kinship, elderhood, to name three – have transpersonal, cross-creaturely, and metaphysical resonances. When we think about the human journey – being alive at/in this time/place/space – let’s not forget the other creatures with whom, because of whom, we travel. When we think about our kin, our elders, our ancestors, and our descendents, let’s remember the resplendent living world of creatures – not just human beings -- with whom we are inexorably interconnected.  When we think about answering the call to become an elder – now or in the future – let’s expand our conceptualization of this sacred vocation to include a commitment to doing our part to heal the world and all its creatures, not just in the present or on behalf of near-future generations, but on behalf of far-future generations of creatures of all sorts (even sorts which don’t yet exist!) whom may never know we even existed.

Or maybe our far-future kin will contemplate our existence so long ago in the very distant past (which is our present, now!), perhaps they will imagine our special place on their family tree, and they will be grateful that we not only existed but developed and transformed in such a particularly perfect way that something wholly new could one day ride the wind.





Friday, July 27, 2012

Growing Pains


Mother and daughter both have some important things going for them. Their love for each other is deep and abiding (though not unproblematic). They are both committed to authentic – though different – spiritual practices. They share some good genes for health and longevity on the maternal side of the family tree (though the daughter has a father, of course, and the genes from that side of the family tree aren’t much in her favor.). Mother and daughter both eat beautiful food, they exercise, they engage in preventive healthcare, they volunteer, they read voraciously. They are curious about and engaged in the layers of the world in which they live. They are hitting many of the important marks for “Successful Aging,” and although they don’t have many material resources (and no back-up plan or rescue strategy), they do have just enough resources to get by, they have sweet little places to live in the same part of a fantastic city, and they know how to spin gold from straw – they are scrappy and they are survivors. And, for better or for worse, together they make a strange little family.

But mother is exhausted. When she wakes up in the morning she feels like she has barely slept a wink. And when her part-time work is over in the late afternoon, she’s completely wiped out, sometimes close to tears because the stress of her work exceeds not only her physical capacity, but her energetic and emotional capacities as well. She’s confused by how her life has turned out. How can it be that she’s already in the second half of her seventh decade? How can it be that she feels simultaneously “young” for her age (She is strong, fit, and giggles like a girl) and so “old,” a state she associates with being worn out, without resources, sometimes even without hope?  How can it be that she’s toiled so hard her whole life only to find herself in her later years working as a paid caregiver, taking care of people who are even older than she is, people who need more care than she can actually give them? How can it be that she’s alone, without a partner (she’s gone through two messy divorces and one messy break-up), with dreams for her “retirement” years that are incompatible with the material reality of her daily life?

She asks her “mid-life” daughter, whom she wishes she could talk to and see everyday, how it is that her life turned out this way, how it is that she has to work so hard, for so little, and spend the last part of her time on earth feeling lonely, anxious, exhausted, and worried. Her daughter struggles to know what to say (Her daughter rehearses different things she might say but the risk of unintentionally hurting her mother serves to censor her, restrains her speech.). Her daughter wishes she could do more to help her mother -- supplement her income; encourage her to expand her social network; entreat her to work with a therapist. Her daughter has her own set of life-course challenges with which to contend; her daughter is attempting to do better at her own self-care; her daughter must negotiate her own material conditions and a finite amount of energy with which to create a life for herself and her young daughter.  In not knowing what to do, or feeling bad about not being able to do more, or feeling resentful about being expected to do things she can’t possibly do, sometimes her daughter feels frozen and unable to do anything at all.

Most of the time, her daughter does what her daughter can do—pray in her own way that her mother’s broken heart can heal, that her mother’s loneliness can be assuaged, and that her mother’s disappointments can be counterbalanced by the great good fortune of being alive, now, here.

 *****
If my framing of “intentional aging” as “...a radical concept that has at its core the notion that there are always opportunities for deep development and new ways of thinking and being throughout the human life-course,” has any meaning at all, it must be meaningful not only to me, but to others, as well. What do these opportunities for deep development and new ways of thinking look like in the context of economic struggles, physical exhaustion, spiritual disillusionment, loneliness, serious illness and emotional suffering?  In other words, is intentionality a luxury, a practice to be engaged in only by those who are meeting the “successful aging” baseline, only when all conditions are optimal and we are feeling good, feeling positive about our lives?  If by intentional, “I mean to convey that as individuals and communities we can create together ways of thinking about and experiencing the challenges and opportunities of adult development and aging. Wherever we are in our travels through the life course, whatever our lives look like at any given time, we can choose to be present as fully as possible to our experiences,” how do I, how do we, bring this potential to fruition? How does this principle inform how I relate to and serve others, do my work as a gerontologist, and live my own precious unfolding life with as much agency and awareness as I can?

I’m still sussing what I mean by “intentional” when connected to “aging,” but I can say this for certain right now: Intentional aging must be a potential for all human beings, no matter what any individual’s life looks like or how they are experiencing their aging journey, or else it is a too precious, empty concept that while inspiring for some folk, is unobtainable for others.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The summer after Fred died, continued


Two summers ago as Fred’s grown children and I tended to his garden, we started talking about the possibility of turning the garden into a working urban farm.  We brainstormed about how to connect with the local community gardens program, about how to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with community organizations – schools, senior and community centers, and churches. Inspired, I began to dream about Fred’s garden – his future urban farm – as a potential space for intergenerational collaborative learning about localism, permaculture, food security, and beautiful food for all. We three we were quite excited about the possibilities, and we agreed to continue to work together into the future and committed to the principle that at all costs Fred’s garden plot and his house must stay in the family (Although I am not an official family member, I felt a sense of deep conviction that I had a right to weigh in on the matter, given my true friendship with Fred and my commitment to his legacy.).

I must say yet again that I imagined that the summer of 2010 was the first of many summers working together to continue Fred’s legacy, perhaps even re-visioning Fred’s garden and extending his legacy in new directions, though I’d have been quite thrilled with keeping his garden growing and going in the form and shape it had been for decades. And, as I’ve admitted, I quite innocently, perhaps even naively, assumed that the garden would continue at least for the rest of my lifetime, and that as long as I lived right across the street I’d be intimately involved in watching over it. So, I took all of these conversations with Fred’s family very seriously, even began putting feelers out into my own networks to see what friends and colleagues thought about the idea of expanding Fred’s garden into an sweet little urban farm and place for community-based education.

As I write this I realize more clearly than I have previously that my vocation as the caretaker of Fred’s garden was for me a blessing and responsibility of such profundity that it became a significant part of my identity and lifeworld.  I began to write about my experiences, informally and formally, personally and professionally; I also began to participate more extensively in the local sustainable food movement.  I was discovering yet more ways to enact Fred’s legacy, as well as ways to do some legacy work in my own right. And, fundamentally, I suppose my relationship with Fred’s family and our shared commitment to his legacy was the way Fred continued to have a central daily presence in our lives.  Fred’s garden served as the location for us to continue to cultivate our individual connections with him, and to form new relationships with one another.

As I worked in Fred’s garden, as I dreamed about future possibilities, I was thinking all the while about him, about our relationship. Though he was back in the stars and I was still here on this planet, Fred was still very much present to me, and it felt certain to me that his garden and our relationship would continue to grow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Intentional Aging Redux



A couple of weeks ago, David and I (finally!) had the chance to spend some time catching up and dreaming together about our shared intentional aging aspirations.  The day after that meeting, two of my Gero-babe colleagues and I met to do some dreaming of our own. They asked me to articulate for them what my current thinking is around this thing we’ve been calling “Intentional Aging.”

One of the great pleasures of my life is the opportunity to collaborate with others, and one of the cool things that happens when you collaborate with others is that you find yourself inspired to participate in the creation of new ways of thinking and talking – provisionally, too-the-side, playfully -- about the human aging journey. To whit, “intentional aging.” What can happen over time, though, is that we fall into the habit of using our invented language as if we all have agreement as to what various words (and the conceptual or experiential landscapes they are meant to express or evoke) mean, or as if the meanings of the words are static and final, that what we meant two years ago, or even last week, is what we mean now.

So I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on where my thinking happens to be currently (And – are you surprised? – to ponder the new questions that are emerging as a result of reflecting!).

Some of the strong principles at the heart of my vision of Intentional Aging are:

Aging is a lived experience, a life-long journey that we are all embarked upon, though we are at different stages in the process depending on our chronological age and life-course stage.

We travel through the life-course together and we have much to learn by embarking on this journey together; we can develop deeper understanding by intentionally creating opportunities to interact and know each other, to discover our shared interests as well as all the ways we are unique creatures.

More specifically, we can think together about difficult issues, we can solve problems and create new ways of thinking and being in the world in order to make life better for all creatures. We are experts on our own lives, and we are teachers for each other.

And coming to deeply know each other, being present before each other, thinking together, is about telling each other our stories, as well as creating new stories together. This can become a form of shared legacy-creation.

Legacy is not only about planning for the future, but it is an activity that happens in the here-and-now, in the context of our present relationships with each other, it happens in all directions and amongst people of all capacities, not only from elders to youngers, but it goes in the other direction, too, and between age-peers, as well, and not only from the well-resourced to the less-resourced.  Creating legacy is about planning for the future, certainly, but it is also about how we care for each other now, how we are present to each other and share our greatest resources, ourselves, most especially our loving attention, with the wisdom that what we do now for each other shapes how the future looks for all creatures on the planet.

Intentional aging is a radical concept that has at its core the notion that there are always opportunities for deep development and new ways of thinking and being throughout the human life-course. By “intentional”, I mean to convey that as individuals and communities we can create together ways of thinking about and experiencing the challenges and opportunities of adult development and aging. Wherever we are in our travels through the life course, whatever our lives look like at any given time, we can choose to be present as fully as possible to our experiences.

For me, the promise of intentional aging is that is offers a pathway for deep and meaningful learning, development and growth throughout the adult life-course. Together we can explore the frontiers of human experience with curiosity and hope, we can transform meanings of aging and old age, and we can make a profound difference in one another’s lives.
 *******

Yep, that about captures my current, provisional nested conceptual web related to "intentional aging." But what I realized as I wrote this little discourse is that I am actually a bit uneasy with the concept "intentionality," that it has various meanings in Western history and culture, and that some of its strongest meanings manifest from a very particular set of ontological and epistemological assumptions, and these assumptions quite possibly aren't compatible with my framing of intentional aging, let alone my own experiences traveling through the life course as embodied consciousness. In a future post, perhaps, I'll write more about what I mean by "a very particular set of ontological and epistemological assumptions," but for now -- I hope you don't mind -- you'll have to take my word for it. I also realize -- yikes! -- that I still have yet to actually operationally defined what I mean by "intentional" when connected to "aging." 

(Thank you S.C.McC. and M.J for asking me to revisit the dream of intentional aging.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The summer after Fred died


Fred was my across-the-street neighbor, and then my friend, and only later in our time of knowing each other, the year before his physical health began to decline dramatically, my gardening partner.  Fred was about twice my age, and in the spring and summer of 2009 I began to notice that he was slowing down and getting dizzy climbing the tall ladder to pick figs from the uppermost reaches of the old tree. He needed some help, after so many years of being of help to so many others, in so many ways.  I like to think I tricked him into taking me on as his gardening apprentice by asking him to teach me everything he knew, posing as if I were a gardening innocent. But it has occurred to me more recently that perhaps he had been hoping for some time that I’d take a more active role working alongside him.  We lived across the street from each other, after all, and--even better--we were true friends, so how could we pass up time together doing something we both loved to do?

We never talked about it in any direct or explicit way while he was still living, but after he died in January of 2010 I knew with a certain conviction that he wanted me to do what I could to keep his garden growing. My intuition was confirmed when his adult children, son and daughter, invited me that next spring to join them in planning and preparing the garden, and then planting and tending the garden, and then – joy – sharing in the garden’s gifts: raspberries, red and blond; artichokes; asparagus (which I discovered hiding under weeds and for which I created a little protective rock wall); green beans; lilies and iris; figs; roses of all hues; lemon cucumbers; winter and summer squash; and many varieties of tomatoes and lettuces (including radicchio.). Oh, and concord and Muscat grapes.

That first spring and summer after Fred went back to the stars, the three of us gathered together at the garden almost every Sunday for part of the day to make lists of the different vegetables we wanted to plant, to prepare the soil, build the support structure for the green bean plants, plant and tend to wee seedlings, and, once the growing season really kicked in, water and weed and – best of all – harvest the fruits of our collective labor. In between our Sunday meetings, I served as the caretaker of Fred’s garden and yard – I mowed the front and back lawns, pruned the roses (and made some lovely bouquets!), plucked raspberries and picked figs. I also made arrangements with a local organization that serves meals to folks who are homeless to give them excess produce in exchange for their compostable kitchen scraps. Fred’s daughter, proprietor of a small Community Supported Agriculture farm outside of the city, sold some of the extra produce from Fred’s garden to her CSA members, along with unique treats from her farm (green garlic; homemade goat milk cheese).

What a great summer we had! Caring for the garden, working alongside his children, extending his legacy in new ways kept Fred alive and central in my daily life.

At the time I imagined it was the first of many summers working together to continue Fred’s legacy, a legacy that began many decades previously and involved not only nurturing what amounted to an urban farm started by his parents in the early part of the last century, but also continuing Fred’s practice of sharing saved heirloom seeds and the variety of fruits and vegetables grown on the large plot.  I must admit that I assumed the garden would continue at least for the rest of my life-time, and that as long as I lived right across the street I’d be intimately involved in watching over it.


Note: If you are interested in knowing more about Fred, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­please read the essays Fred’s Figs: A Legacy Tale, Part One; Part Two: Fred's Figs; and A Legacy Tale, Part 3. You’ll find it in the archives from 2010. And please stay tuned for future installments!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Traveling Together


For quite some time I have been thinking about the importance of my relationship with Happy-the-dog.

He has changed over time, I have changed because of knowing him and he has changed because of knowing me (and, so too, he has changed because of knowing my daughter Isobel, and she has changed because of knowing him.). Our relationships have changed over time.

I know this to be true because I am experiencing it, but the common categories or terms in my areas of study and practice for talking about the relationship between humans and other creatures are dissatisfying to me.

Happy isn't my "pet," nor my "animal child." He's not Isobel's "brother." I'm not his "owner," nor "master," nor "human parent." He's something beyond all of these categories and he's a singular being in my life. Our relationship is akin to the closest relationships I have with other humans (with my daughter, my mother, my brother, my partner, my best friend, treasured students and colleagues) but profoundly distinct, as well, because we don't communicate in the way I communicate with other humans or he with other canines, and because his consciousness and my consciousness have some significant differences (which I continue to discover).

As well, I struggle because I don't have language for what I mean by “changed” when I talk about all of this.  Or, rather, I mean that I do have language to describe the nature of the changes I’m experiencing and that I witness in Happy (and I happily describe to anyone who will listen, including his Veterinarian), but all of my training as a life-span developmentalist and gerontologist is human-focused. I haven’t any explanatory frameworks – yet – for sussing what is going on, for making sense of the changes I’m experiencing over time in the quality of our relationship, Happy’s and mine. (I wonder—does Happy have an opinion of all of this? Does Happy experience our relationship as changing over time as we know each other more intimately?)

Thank goodness that I don’t need an official explanation to validate my experiences!

I am traveling through time and developing as a being. Happy is traveling through time and developing as a being. We are traveling through time together. We are developing together, and not just together but because of each other. But our creaturely life-spans, while over-lapping, differ in length. We are both middle-aged according to human time-keeping (though Happy is a bit older than I am, but not until recently). Baring any unforeseen circumstances, I will most likely outlive Happy; he will become an old dog before I become an old human. And I will definitely not get to spend my ancient years with Happy by my side.

As I write this essay I see that there are questions here about mortality, about the life-spans of human beings and other-than-human beings, about how these life-spans overlap and diverge, and about how as traveling companions across time and space we watch each other (sometimes Happy comes into my bedroom at night while I am asleep and stands at the side of the bed watching me until I wake up), figure each other out as best we can, and make a precious little life together.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gero-Fragments (or time-traveling back to 2003-04)


I want to (I need to) synthesize biography, theory, methodology, pedagogy and praxis. I want to (I need to I might) write some little essays that are formed from a series of scenes, episodes or gestures.

Favorite words!
Intention
Embodiment
Enactment
Ineffable

How are these connected? (Don’t know yet.)

Life-span development—deep development
Life-long learning—transformational learning
Adult education—educating the whole person
Experiential learning—holism, constructivism
Structure—agency
Intentionality—Change

(It has to be)
(I believe it to be)
Not (only) about becoming an…a whom or a what? (And according to whom or what?)
…but about something deeper and bigger – about meaning and purpose; about imagining other possible selves and other possible futures, about curiosity and imagination.

(Why is it so difficult for so many of us to imagine our possible future selves when those selves are old? Our future older selves have so much to tell us…)

Traveling through the life course is about the passage of time – we are riding the arrow of time – and about the accumulation of experiences. We are our experiences, but experiences aren’t enough. Deep learning emerges from the intentional reflection upon our experiences.  (We can do this alone, we can do this together. I often think better with others.)

Development and aging happen throughout the human life span; they are inter-related, multidimensional and multi-faceted. (Everything that has a beginning, has an ending. But what happens in between?)

The human creature is flexible and “plastic” – from a thigh muscle to a neuron! – Cognitively, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Humans can continue to learn develop undo hold habits of thinking and acting but not if they believe the discourse which says they can’t the older they get.

But, to do so requires intentionality – a point of decision whereby the individual dedicates energy toward their own self-development (in what ever form this takes?).

The human life course is lengthening – what an opportunity!!-- we are living longer, but it remains to be seen whether we will live better. (And there are multiple and contradictory definitions of what constitutes “better.”) (And there is inequality in the aging experience – we don’t all have the same long-life and well-later-life chances.)

We need to imagine a holistic model of the human as a life-long becomer...And create the conditions that support as many creatures as possible to flourish as fully as possible…

(What does it might it would it will it look like if I take all of this really seriously?)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thanks for the compliment, but I left some stuff out...


So, evidently there’s more to say about my last blog piece titled “We ain’t no puppies (but thanks for the compliment.)".  It has been made known to me by my number one fan that it may not have been apparent enough to the reader that the title was meant to be ironic. I admit, had I thought of the title sooner than after I’d written the piece and was itching to post it, I may have spent some time further exploring the irony contained in the title.

What’s the nature of the irony I meant to capture in the title? Well -- and this won’t surprise you, probably -- but I have a bunch of questions to pose, rather than answers. 

For starters, why is it perceived as complimentary when one is told that one looks younger than one’s age, particularly when one is at one’s mid-life  (such as Happy and I happen to be)? How is a compliment about our surface – how we are perceived to look in relationship to our chronological age or life course stage – related to the our inside self, to a deeper vibe that has to do with our embodiment, our vital singular energy, and how we move through the world? Is the outside a proxy for the inside? Does the outside reveal something about the inside? What about when there's a disconnect between the outside and the inside? What about when an assumption is made based on the outside appearance rather than getting to know all aspects of the being in question, body/mind/spirit-in context? And why are certain qualities – curiosity, audacity, flexibility, openness, and innocence, a particular style of enthusiasm -- often associated with youthfulness, rather than humanness or creatureliness?  

Think about and honor your own experience and measure what I say against it, but no matter where we find ourselves in our travels through the life course, moving through the world with openness, curiosity, and vitality feels good to one’s self and is appealing, even irresistible, to others.  This vibrancy is attractive whenever and in whomever we encounter it, no matter their age, stage, or species.  But because this vibrant vibe gets conflated (that is, confused) with a socially constructed notion about age and stage, rather than being complimented for being the best creature we can be at present, we are complimented for looking younger than our age. (And as I've written in other essays, it is good to ask: what is age and where does it exist and what does it mean?) Such compliments, I believe, are well-meaning compliments, but they are compliments shrouded in layers of largely unexamined and unconscious ageism and sexism (and probably other forms of oppression as well). 

(And, I must ask: what happens when the compliments change to,  "For someone her age, she’s still doing pretty well." What happens when the complements stop altogether?)

Alas, it is hard for me to take such compliments straight, whomever the giver and whomever the receiver, though in the moment, before critical reflection kicks in, compliments meant well, especially given by a loved one, go down quite easy.

I just realized as I write this post that along with the tangle of meanings associated with such compliments, meanings about which we might be suspicious and about which we might think critically, there is also sweetness. I mean, what is as sweet as being beheld and appreciated by another creature? Not much.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

We ain't no puppies! (But thanks for the compliment.)


On our walk this evening Happy was once again mistaken for a puppy.  When we found him at the Oregon Humane Society in 2006 he was thought to be at least one year of age, which means that by now he’s at least seven-going-on-eight. This makes him older than I am by a few years, and I ain’t no puppy!

Happy is routinely mistaken for a puppy, and when this happens I always respond with something along the lines of “Well, he certainly seems to act like he is! But he’s actually not a puppy.” Today, I responded by saying, “He’s not a puppy, he’s middle-aged, like me!”

If  you’ve met Happy, you know that he has a little gray soul patch on his chin, which I think adds some gravitas to his countenance, but apparently no one else even notices his gray hair because of his overall vibe. But I wonder, what is this overall vibe that strangers are picking up on, and why do they almost to a person associate it with the status of puppy-ness, e.g. youthfulness?  

There’s no doubt that I have a heightened sensitivity to discourses about human development and aging. I’m especially sensitive to the words we use to talk about age and aging and stages of the life course, and in particular to how the concepts of “young” and “old” are associated with other concepts. For example, how many times have you said or heard someone else say that during a period of illness or recovery from a serious injury they felt “old”? What about the statements that are so much a part of normative age discourse as to be almost beyond questioning? “You are only as old as you feel.”  Or, “He’s young at heart.” Or, “She looks really good for her age.” When we say these things, what do we actually mean, what are we actually communicating? Do we even think about what we are saying before we say it?

I’ve thought quite a bit about why Happy might be mistaken for a puppy, and I think it has to do with the way he inhabits his body, the way he moves through the world. Happy is always looking around, checking things out, in addition to pissing on what seems to be every single light post and bush.  As we are walking, he often pulls on the leash out of his exuberance and desire to be out in the world; he also periodically looks back at me and smiles as if to say, “We are together taking a walk and it is my favorite thing and you are my favorite person!”  He never forgets that I’m there at the other end of the leash—it is about both of us taking a walk together.  When Happy comes upon strangers, he does so in an open, friendly, casual way – I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I get the feeling that he’s just so darn pleased to be alive, to be himself in the world and to hang out with his people and anyone else he happens to meet.

But why are all of these qualities associated with youthfulness?  He’s not a puppy. And yet, and yet....

On a related but to-the-side line of thought, in an episodic, meandering way, over the past several months I’ve been turning my mind toward questions about interconnectedness as we travel through the life course. Not just the connections between human beings, but more broadly between human beings and other creatures.  My curiosity about this is specifically connected to Happy and our relationship (which is intimate and has changed over time and is in need of care as are my relationships with my human companions). My relationship with Happy, because of its close-in-ness to my daily lived experience, and because our relationship is cross-creaturely, offers me opportunities to ponder questions about how our travels through the life course, our deep developmental journeys, are inter-related.  

I’m still working this out, and I’ll write more once I have more to write.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Contemplative Gerontology, continued


After a walk in the park with Happy-the-happy-dog, we return to our little house. As I walk through the front room, this thought comes to the front of my mind: There will be a point in the future when I no longer live here, because I live somewhere else or because I am no longer alive in my current form.  This jarring moment of awareness – awareness of my present state of being (where I am located in time, space and place) alongside awareness of some certain future state of un-or-altered-being (the timing and circumstances of which I cannot know) -- is an opportunity for spontaneous contemplative practice. It is also an opportunity to engage in one of my other favorite related practices, the practice of pondering “What happens next?”

(I don’t always take the opportunity. Today, I did.) 

Here’s how it works. As I have the realization of impermanence and transience that comes with the thought “At some point in the future I will no longer live in my precious little house either because I live somewhere else or because I am no longer alive,” I am having not only a mindful, spiritual experience, but I am having a profoundly embodied-consciousness experience as well. So, I intentionally behold what happens next in my body, which is a feeling I have learned to call nervousness or even anxiety—my heart rate speeds up and my guts feel turbulent. I feel scared of and shocked by the certitude that everything that has a beginning also has an ending.  Including my precious little life.

I wonder next how I learned to have this embodied experience of the thought that I will at some point no longer live in this house, and, more to the point, no longer live in this particular body. And then I make myself really feel these feelings, amplify as fully as I can stand at this particular moment on this particular day this feeling of anticipatory grief at the passing of a phase of my life, at the passing of myself as alive in and to the world as I am right now.

And then, what happens next is that I start shrieking (though using my inside voice): YIKES! I don’t want to leave here – I don’t want to leave this house, I don’t want to leave this life,  I don’t want to leave me!!

And then, what happens next, and what becomes the antidote to my existential anxiety, is that I intentionally shift my awareness back to the here, the now.

I think I’ll finally paint the kitchen walls some happy hue. I think I’ll mop the wood floors and give them a lemon oil massage. I think I’ll plant some lemon cucumbers. I think I’ll weave new prayer flags through the backyard bamboo.