Looking east first…
and then some beautiful light & clouds over the Spanish Peaks!
Looking east first…
and then some beautiful light & clouds over the Spanish Peaks!
As many of you know, I have been struggling to understand and express here how living close to nature changes you. Since moving into big sky country over four years ago, I have changed tremendously, to the point where living with a brain injury does not effect me half as much. Why is this? Because nature is slow and deliberate. Nature is in no hurry to explain or understand itself. Nature is so not like the predominantly human world.
This week I read an amazing interview with writer Barry Lopez in the December issue of “The Sun.” Here he explains myself to me well. As someone who grew up in small to medium-sized cities, I rarely experienced the wonder or intimacy of living close to nature. I experienced instead the loneliness and lack of opportunities for true intimacy in the human-made world. I did not even appreciate my own need to reconnect with the natural world completely until my husband Mike talked me into moving to a wide-open space in the high desert of southern Colorado.
As soon as we moved here I felt different. I felt myself slowing down and appreciating each moment much more completely. Each astounding new view took my breathe away. Slowly I began naturally letting go of my past and my future, feeling less alone than I ever have. Nature is deliberate and can be trusted unlike most experiences in wholly human culture. The beautiful silence outside my door each morning provided me with authentic contact with the harmony in a world outside of human existence. Living in such beauty awakens a sense of gratitude for all there is to experience in the natural world. There so much here that most will never experience directly.
Barry Lopez believes that if you asked anyone walking down a sidewalk in a city, “What is it that you really want?” Many would say intimacy. But “you can’t gain intimacy without vulnerability, and you can’t have vulnerability without trust.” Barry finds this lack of intimacy and vulnerability in human culture to be manifested by our lack of intimacy with the land itself. Cities create a kind of competition and divisiveness that can not be found outside of them in the natural world.
Sometimes I think about the darkest moments in my past, moments of depression and hopelessness. I now realize that if I had known enough to escape from cities at those times, I would have found the kind of meaning and peace I needed to find new hope for meeting my next future.
But then we are all on schedule to learn what we must to discover our best life. Trust in that!
This fall I am feeling my losses fully. My recent tumble in my garden surprised and confused me. My balance is so not what it used to be and I must accept this fact gracefully. In fact I am now realizing that I can no longer do more than one thing at once, and that includes breathing! I have always been one to take off in a rush to get things done. This has only gotten worse because I now feel I must do something before I forget what I’m doing! But this simply will not do for me anymore. My damaged brain (one TBI and three concussions) and my inability to breathe deeply now creates a situation where I MUST TAKE THINGS MORE SLOWLY.
I know. I’m not the first person to discover this limitation of injury and aging, but I see now I am taking things too far to my own detriment. I need to move slower and do less even when I’m anxious to do more. I get angry with this situation, but this is my reality now. As always I come back to my own truth:
Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.
I have always pressured myself partially because I was taught to be more and contribute. I now also see the flaw in that way of thinking. I am merely another human trying to find some truth and meaning in this life of mine. I am not worse or better than the rest, because in the end most of what we do does not matter. That is why I now laugh when I see this:
So I am letting go like so many do as they age, and as strange as it may seem, I sometimes see the benefits of my present circumstances. My head injuries have caused me to slow down, something I needed to do so I can appreciate each moment more. For example, I have loved Stephen Levine’s “Meditation on Letting Go” for decades, ever since I met him back in the 1980s in Boulder. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate its meaning.
So this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the life I have right now and can finally slow down enough to fully appreciate.
I spent a couple days with my elderly parents this past weekend. It was great fun seeing their old friends from decades ago, and reminiscing with them about our childhood. I LOVED my tap dancing lessons in third grade and running around the miniature golf course at Renfro’s in Emporia Kansas. Good times!
But I would be remiss if I did not also share some other observations I made while hanging out with Mom and Dad. On the second day I felt both of their disappointments with life, and not just with the physical failings which inevitably come with advanced aging.
Disappointment comes with life and the deeper you dig into life, the more likely you will eventually see how disappointing the human race can be.
When I look at my own life, I find the human race disappointing in its lack of intelligence and loyalty. I abhor its cruelty and just plain craziness. My greatest disappointments have been with friends and lovers that I thought I could trust and their failures to be true friends. I believe the world could be such a better place if we led with intelligence and loyalty instead of judgment, selfishness and cruelty.
But in the end, we all may find disappointments with how things have turned out. The trick then is to cope in some healthy way with those disappointments by giving everyone a break. After all we are all only human, frail and flawed as that condition implies. I know I have also treated others badly at times and I apologize now for my human state. As we age, coping with disappointments is our job. One of my goals is to forgive everyone including myself by the time I die.
One great tool I have found in reaching this goal, is replacing disappointments with GRATITUDE:
As someone who grew up around a lot of male rage and anger, there are two psychological concepts I have known for what seems like forever. Men in our culture own anger, while the women generally get scared and depressed. Number two: underneath anger there is always sadness. But it is rare when I see a film that captures the issue of men and their deep, violent anger with such quiet beauty and grace as the film “The Mustang” produced by Robert Redford.
If you don’t believe there is always sadness under anger, stop yourself after feeling extremely angry sometime, and allow your true feels to emerge. You may find a reservoir of sadness you have not allowed yourself to feel perhaps for decades.
In this film the star, named Roman, is incarcerated for twelve years after leaving his domestic partner permanently brain damaged in an attack. Aware of his short temper and violent tendencies, he has resisted efforts to be reintegrated back into society. He is then invited to participate in a rehabilitation program centered around training wild horses, an actual prison program today in Nevada. At the same time he receives counseling to understand where all of that rage comes from and…
...how powerful saying “I’m sorry” from the heart & soul can be in healing damaged relationships.
This film is very quiet for most of it, as it slowly sneaks up on you. At first of course you dislike this damaged man who cannot control his rage. How can he be so angry? The rancher in charge of this program, Myles, played masterfully by Bruce Dern, knows how to work with men like Roman, the throwaways of our society. The entire story comes together wonderfully with some amazing cinematography and sensitivity to the prison environment. Roman is finally redeemed to some extent from his anger and sadness as the audience gains compassion for the life he has lived. Up to now, he was not given any tools to work on himself and change.
In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.
|U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010|
|Birth Year||Both Sexes||Male||Female|
|(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)|
It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?
Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise
From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.
Elder Suicides Continue to Increase
Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.
Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?
It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?
I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.
Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and happy perhaps for the first time in your life. Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.
Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!
This and many other lessons are available in my book:
After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers. If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.
If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com
More and more studies are coming out now, reinforcing the idea that time spent in nature is so good for us. Big surprise there! For centuries we spent all of our time living in and with nature. What could be more, well, natural? But I must say I did not have a full understanding of the importance of nature in my life until I moved away from towns and cities altogether. Most importantly I missed natural silence while living in cities. My entire soul longed to NOT hear cars and other people around me. This longing became more strong as I grew older, and finally Mike and I reached the age where we were no longer forced to live near others for jobs and financial reasons.
It seems now that I learn a new lesson everyday by living close to nature. First I realized I could finally begin living in the present. Meditation and mindfulness seem so natural here with so few distractions. And now, as I observe and contemplate the loss of many loved ones, I can’t help but think, “What could be more natural?” Of course that does not ease the pain of loss, but it does make it feel quite a bit less personal. And what could be more natural than grieving? We humans have been doing that since the beginning of our species.
Living close to nature requires our full attention, that is what I’ve learned as I begin displaying my photos at the local Space Gallery this July. Look away for a moment and you have missed the most incredible sunrise or sunset, changing second by second…
…or the arrival of a Road Runner right outside our glass door. There is so much to be missed!
That is why this quote speaks to me everyday. I wish the same for you!
“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.” — Arthur Rosenfeld