Finding the Strength to Let Go of Self

I believe our lives are a process of finding and confronting our true Self, and then slowly letting go of it as we age. Some might prefer the word ego in this scenario. I have had this message on my wall for decades:

What is the ego or sense of Self?

ego: a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance, the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for a sense of personal identity.

The way I relate to my sense of Self is to know that as a child and young adult my ‘job’ was to develop my sense of who I was inside, what did I think and value? How should I treat others? How did others see me? This naturally leads to a strong sense of self-consciousness, sometimes painfully so. Then came the time to figure out what I planned to do in the world. How did I hope to change my world? These are the purposes of young adulthood up until our forties or so.

Developing a strong sense of self or ego is a good and necessary part of being human. There is nothing wrong with having a strong ego, but it needs to be regulated. Problems arise when ego affects your decision making process, turning you into a victim, or when it makes you feel superior to others in order to justify your bad behavior. A toxic ego is one that does not learn from bad behavior, but instead blames others, often descending into negativity, resentment, and even violence.

For the past twenty years, my spiritual path has been that of the second part of life. I have been searching for the strength to let go of self. A part of this process is simply getting comfortable with self compassion and death. Although we might think we have a strong sense of self when we are younger, if we are very honest we may find much self-criticism inside. This is all a part of the ego. Like we really did have the power to change any part of our world…

Being close to nature is your best path to realizing your place in the history of time. Please note, there are no other animals or plants that believe they are changing the world. There are no other beings that fear death. They know what their part is, to be born, to live and then die. I have found a gradual process of getting used to the idea of death is the best path for me. At first is was so hard to be with so I would push it away and deny its power. Since I started facing some powerful signs that I won’t be around forever (lung disease and brain injuries) in the past few years, my acceptance has grown like my garden outside my door, bright and beautiful.

Where have all the Boomers gone? And why?

I was reorganizing my retirement funds recently and that got me thinking: How are other retired Baby Boomers doing? In that process I learned about why we have fewer and fewer workers for highly skilled jobs…

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, make up 28% of the United States population, making them one of the largest living adult generations, second to millennials. In 2011, the first round of Baby Boomers—those Americans born between 1946 and 1964—turned 65.

From now until 2030, 10,000 Baby Boomers will be retiring every single day!

The COVID pandemic, shall we say, encouraged early retirement. According to the Pew Research Center, the rate of retirement for Boomers accelerated with COVID-19, with nearly 29 million Boomers retired in 2020, three million more than in 2019.  

Seventy-five million Boomers are expected to retire by 2030, paving the way for what is now being called “The Great Retirement,” as opposed to the “Great Resignation.”

Retirement Savings

“The Great Retirement” is an unprecedented flood of retirees exiting the workforce earlier than planned, triggered by the pandemic which heavily affected those 60 and older. Whether it was to enjoy life, health concerns, or a changing work environment, this part of the workforce has seen an uptick in retirement. In spite of these numbers, many Boomers find it hard to retire. Why? Many baby boomers are worried about their finances. Nearly two-thirds expressed concern about not having enough savings to quit their job. Shockingly, at least to me, the median retirement savings of Baby Boomers today is just $144,000 to $202,000.

Health & Death Rate Among Boomers

The largest generation in American history, Boomers are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. What wasn’t foreseen was how long Baby Boomers would live. When the first Boomers were born, the average life expectancy was 63 years old. Among Boomers recently that was 79 years, but that is falling.

Unfortunately we, as a generation, are not as healthy as our parents were at our age. Why? One culprit is obesity-associated chronic diseases caused by a gigantic dietary shift. Beginning in the 1950s we were introduced to fast, convenient, processed foods with plenty of additives and preservatives. Today we have increased deaths from chronic liver disease, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver, along with poisonings all caused by addiction. I’m sure you have heard about recent death spikes related to opioid abuse, alcohol abuse, and heroin abuse. The implications of this epidemic are massive.

As we all know, addiction is a symptom of bigger issues—the underlying causes of addiction need to be treated. Our generation, known for questioning authority and seeking equality, has lived through significant family changes brought on from two-parent working households, increased divorce rates, increased career mobility, increased technological advancement, and increased psychological awareness. How have these factors impacted our long-term well-being?

My thoughts

As someone who lives in a poor, rural county in southern Colorado, whose average age is 55, I can say I have known many more people who have died here in the past 9 years than I have ever known before. It seems a fairly regular event to hear of another person’s death. Some move here to retire and find the higher elevation too much of a challenge (kind of like me). Many came here to die and do. We certainly have our share of addiction problems and depression. I now see retirement as more of a quality of life challenge. It isn’t about money, addiction or even how long I live, but more about spending my last years in appreciation for what I have right here before me everyday.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

There isn’t a lot I can do to “change the world” these days, but one area that I have too much experience with is serious brain injuries and how they can change your world. So this month I will try to educate everyone a bit about what I have learned on this topic.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one where you lose consciousness for a period of time and often have a bleed in your brain afterwards. It is a sudden injury that causes damage to the brain and may happen when there is a blow, bump, or jolt to the head. This is a closed head injury. A TBI can also happen when an object penetrates the skull. This is a penetrating injury. In my case I fell head first off of my bike while riding downhill. I was unconscious off and on for hours afterwards along with fractured ribs, a thigh injury, a wrist injury, and spent 24 hours in the ER and the hospital neuro-unit under observation. At the time I could not stand up without passing out.

How long does it take to fully recover from a TBI?

Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery time for a TBI may vary from a few weeks to six or more months. Each person reacts differently to injury and illness. Thus, recovery time will vary between individuals. The length of recovery time for TBI depends on how long a patient is unconscious and what parts of the brain are injured.

Are patients ever the same after a TBI?

Moderate to severe TBI can cause permanent physical or mental disability. Because polytrauma is common with moderate to severe TBI, many patients face additional disabilities as a result of other injuries. Even patients who appear to recover fully may have some long-term symptoms that never go away.

My experience:

I would say it took a few years for me to feel “normal” again after my TBI in 2008. My main form of rehabilitation was writing books, reading a lot and maintaining my blogs.

Unfortunately, I have been prone to falls and further head injuries since then. I fell again with serious concussions in 2015, 2019 and 2021. My most recent concussion was most serious and caused permanent balance, memory and vertigo problems. I now use research, writing and game shows like Jeopardy to spur my memory and keep me sharp. I also love old movies, soft music, and nature shows on PBS. They really soothe my brain.

Does TBI affect IQ?

In the end, a brain injury does not make a person less intelligent. It does, however, make certain mental activities, such as learning, require more time and effort. This is because the brain works less efficiently after a brain injury.

My biggest pet peeve around my present condition is that others may look at me and assume I’m not quite all there. I am definitely as smart as I used to be, it just takes me longer to arrive at the answers. I do have trouble getting around because of my oxygen machine, but that doesn’t mean that I am someone to feel sorry for. I do not feel sorry for myself.

I think I have a great life here with Mike and my puppy Rasta, and this fantastic view of those beautiful Sangre de Cristo Peaks.

A Different Kind of Mind

Somehow I never pictured myself breathless and brain damaged at age 67. ‘Disabled’ did not occur to me ever, until things started happening to me. It took me an amazing length of time to believe that I was having trouble breathing. In fact, I didn’t discovery it myself. A very observant MD in Colorado City turned to me once when we were there for Mike’s health and said, “Are your lips turning blue? Let’s do a walking test.” For those unaware, a walking test is a simple walk around a doctor’s office where they test your O2 level before and after your block-long walk. I flunked, dipping far below 90 and yet I still insisted this could not be happening to me. Recently we went through the same test with my brother John, and yes, he denied it, and now he’s enjoying his supplemental O2.

My point is, unless you are literary hit over the head with a new disability (like a head injury?) it is very hard to accept that you may have a big new problem. I struggled against using oxygen at home for quite a while. I simply could not believe it, plus we Carters are known for extreme stubbornness. Now I can only go a couple minutes without it.

The head injuries started in my fifties and who knows, perhaps they were connected with shortness of breath. I know my most recent concussion were related to being out of breath. I went to look for something, forgot my oxygen, and ended up passed out for the floor. Unfortunately Mike was gone for a few days so when I came to I had to crawl over to my bed and get up there to lay down. I never forgot my oxygen again!

The aspect of disability I find both surprising and annoying is when others find it natural or even necessary to feel sorry for me. Some old friends have even stopped communicating with me. Talk about feeling written off! When I heard there is a new TV show called “Not Dead Yet” I thought, that’s me!

What I would like to share with all of you who think I’m done or doomed (aren’t we all?) is that, yes, my brain has changed, but sometimes it feels like it might be for the better.

I know I may have sometimes sounded pathologically optimistic here, but these days I rather enjoy my present state of mind. When I’m sitting staring out at our incredible views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which I do a lot of, there is a certain non-reality that is a bit like being high without drugs. That I like. I also believe that in some strange way I may have become less judgmental and more intelligent by exchanging certain parts of my brain for a less precise and exacting attitude. Call it more flexible or easygoing, but I find that soothing. Perhaps my brain got tired of holding grudges.

Of course living with Mike has helped me a lot. I am definitely the worrywart in this partnership. We Carters are first-class worriers, expertly trained by a number of previous generations. I will never forget a few years ago when I was sitting in the living room listing my well-established list of worries for Mike. He had heard this list too many times, and I guess he was tired of it, so this time he sat back in his easy chair and said, “Who cares! Is worrying about these things going to change anything?” That made a lot of sense to my bruised and shaken brain…

1883: “You have the journey – that’s it!”

I have been blown away by watching the Yellowstone prequel “1883” in the past week or so. I did not know a “western” could be so poetic, authentic and full of heart. I loved it so much I watched it again after I got back from Christmas and loved it even more!

First, a little background. I was raised in Kansas near the prairie where my ancestors arrived many decades before me. When I first started reading books, I loved stories about the pioneer West. The first stories I ever wrote were about Native Americans and their ponies. Then I started reading everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the personal journals of westward women. I only wanted to play “pioneer woman” as a kid. I guess you could say I have been unconsciously searching for the perfect “western” my whole life. I finally found it in “1883.”

First of all I love that the main character and narrator is a teenage woman. The whole story is told from Elsa’s perspective, with just the right combination of authentic and sensitively-written narrative and dialogue. I felt like I could see into Elsa’s heart, while also understanding the other characters’ inner lives as well. As the writer, Taylor Sheridan, explains in “Behind the Story,” he wanted this story to feel as intimate for the audience as reading a good novel, or even the personal journal of a young woman on a wagon train heading west. He does a masterful job of that, and yet I keep wondering how a man could have such an intimate understanding of a teenage woman’s worldview.

As I think about it now, the ever-changing landscape is the main character in this story, that and the silence. So many of Elsa’s observations remind me of my own after moving to rural Colorado eight years ago. My amazement at the silence and beauty of each sunrise and sunset, the comfort of the wildlife passing by our home each day, the glorious seasons we experience so intimately, this is what I love about living out here. Elsa’s story seems to authentically capture the beauty and the violence of the American West over one hundred years ago around the time the transcontinental railroad began changing everything. There is so much truth in some of her observations like:

“I think cities have weakened us as a species.”

Another profound aspect of Elsa’s story is how living in the West allowed so much more freedom for women. I enjoyed watching her relationship with her mother develop as her Mom tries to remind her of the limitations of being a woman in 1880s America. Elsa rebels every chance she gets. Elsa enjoyed the loss of rules and customs as they moved west. The big transition came when she decided she was a cowboy and got herself some pants to wear instead of dresses.

I loved the writer’s sensitive portrayal of the other characters, especially when it came to ‘race.’ Race is not a word I use, because I do not believe we humans are different ‘races.’ But back in 1880s America, blacks were treated badly as a general rule. Thomas, the old Civil War friend of Shea, played by the wagon train boss Sam Elliott, understood how badly others could treat him for being black, as he stated at one point, “You ain’t never been whipped.” Native Americans play an important role in this saga and mostly as sympathetic characters including members of the Comanche and Crow tribes. The true “bad guys” of this Western are “bandits.”

Suffice to say this is by far the best western story I have ever seen. It shows the beauty and severe violence of the American West in no uncertain terms, and I believe it may be more authentic as a story than any other I have read. I found the very last phrase in this story so vivid and relevant to my state of mind these days –

“There is a moment when your dreams and memories merge together and form a perfect world. That is heaven, and each heaven is unique. It is the world of you…”

Buddha & Me: A Few Of My Best Buddha Photos

I have had this Buddha statue for twenty years now, and taken many pictures of him in all seasons and at the few homes I have lived at in that time. I bought him for my 47th birthday, after I bought my very first home in Loveland Colorado. I had two great shelties back then, Mica and Calla.

A few years later I moved in with Mike in Fort Collins

He had a magnificent backyard with over thirty aspens in it. I placed Buddha under a big old Upright Willow tree and then planted flowers in front of him. I had Lilies of the Valley, Johnnie Jump-ups, Sweet Williams, Hosta and Bleeding Hearts. By then I had my dog named Rasta.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Oh how my garden grew! I called it my Peace Garden.

I took photos of Buddha in all types of weather back there. Buddha loved his coats of snow!

Then we moved to Walsenburg to begin building our solar home west of there… We rented a rundown hundred year old miner’s home there and Buddha was not so happy sitting out back in the weeds. I asked him and he said, “YUCK!” He said,

“Build me a glorious garden with a tremendous view of the mountains, so we did.”

The garden grew and grew and Buddha smiled.

Sometimes I could barely see him, but he didn’t mind…

…because he knew that spring would come again in all of its brilliant natural glory!

What kind of character do you wish to manifest?