Life in the fast (and slow) lane

We just took a trip up to Denver for a few days, and I mean “a trip.” I never get used to the many changes that happen as we drive up there. As far as Pueblo, the highway is pretty mellow, but north of there we quickly get into “get the fuck out of my way” traffic. That’s how I differentiate city traffic from life down here. Suddenly everyone around me is in a gigantic hurry, swooping down on me and sitting on my bumper. This just doesn’t happen much down here, especially on the county dirt roads…

My Mom is doing OK in her senior patio home, although she misses Dad terribly. She says she’s lonely and a little depressed. I get so nervous when she drives in Denver. It’s beginning to be too much for her now. She’s looking forward to moving to assisted living after Covid restrictions lift. Soon I hope. Even going to the store is stressful and exhausting for her.

For me, being with my Mom is always a reminder of the environment and rules I grew up with, especially because she seems to think I’m still ten years old. Heaven forbid I might make some choice or decision on my own! Sometimes I really can’t believe that I’m 65. I’m sure she never believes it. We also have to remind her ever few minutes what day it is and what she’s doing today. It’s sad and yet she is quite comfortable with no real health issues besides a slow dementia.

Yes, it is difficult to see my Mom this way, and yet in her more coherent moments she sees that she has had a great life and appreciates that fact daily. She says she is ready to downsize her life and have others around to help all the time. Thank goodness she can choose and afford the help she needs.

What, Me Worry?

Ever since I wrote this post about taking a worry vacation, I’ve been thinking more about why we worry. Of course there is a reality to why we worry. When I watch the tiny birds outside my window, I think about their worries. They need to be ever vigilant or some other animal might eat their food or even eat them!

In the history of our ancestors on this planet, it would seem the hyper-vigilant of the species must have survived longer than the lazy ones. But in this day, I have very little to worry about.

I realized yesterday that I live in a time and a place where I have less to worry about than just about anyone else in the history of planet earth. I’m warm, I’m safe, I’m well-fed and I’m happy. Yes, many of us have hit the sweet spot, and yet still we worry.

I wonder what percent of why we worry is based on completely faulty reasoning. Some say we worry to feel in control because our attention is turned to solving a certain problem. While we think we are solving the problem, we have the illusion that we have control over it. Worry can be reinforcing. We think due to the fact that we worried properly, we got the desired outcome.

The faultiness of this logic became far too obvious to me when I recently learned that I could not live without supplemental oxygen. It had never occurred to me that I would ever have trouble breathing. I had maintained a healthy lifestyle at 5,000 foot elevation and certainly never smoked. Then, after a few years living at 6,500 -7,000 feet, a doctor observed that I might be hypoxic. Very observant. But it still took a couple years and too many different medical tests to prove to me that I needed to live on full-time oxygen.

See how that theory about worrying properly worked out? Ah humanity! How we labor to convince ourselves that we’ve got this, and yet we still all have to die of something…

Since then I have tried to keep my heart open to change, because it’s coming whether we like it or not. These are my watchwords now:

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”

Can you risk a whole afternoon without worry?

Sometimes it seems like I was born with a lot on my mind. Starting with the “terrible twos” I have been perpetually asking why. I think too much, I worry even more, and I can still never figure out what may happen next. I guess I was raised to expect the worst, or else this is simply the human condition – more brains than we know what to do with!

So on this blissfully relaxed snowy day, miles from almost all human beings, I wonder what might happen if I stop thinking and worrying and embrace the peacefulness of this moment in time.

Should I risk this level of non-vigilance? What might happen if I stop thinking for a while? What if I feel as free as the falling snow for just one afternoon? There’s always tomorrow to get back to my worries…

Boomer Regrets?

I imagine it is a rare 60+ year-old who doesn’t have a few regrets about some stupid things they did earlier in their life. It appears the most common regrets are financial mistakes that are catching up with them now. For example, poor planning for retirement, not saving enough, early withdrawals from retirement accounts, and underestimating how long we might live.

I never made much so this saying worked for me:

“The amount of money you have has got nothing to do with what you earn. People earning a million dollars a year can have no money, and people earning $35,000 a year can be quite well off. It’s not what you earn, it’s what you spend.”  ~Paul Clitheroe

Other regrets are health-related. Obesity is a common problem for Boomers. The approximate prevalence of obesity is 40.0% among American adults aged 20 to 39 years, 44.8% among adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 42.8% among adults 60 and older. Over 40 % of baby boomers are obese, up from about 29 % of their parents’ generation. This epidemic of obesity is the primary health concern for boomers today. Why are baby boomers so unhealthy? One culprit in there being so many obesity-related chronic diseases in Boomers, could be the big dietary shift that began in the 1950s to fast, convenient, processed foods with additives and preservatives. This generation also felt the need to overwork and were generally too busy, making the pull toward fast food even stronger.

Another strong regret? That they didn’t travel more when they were younger. I was brain-washed from an early age to save, save, save, but also belonged to a traveling family. I had a free trip to Bangkok at age 19 and I took it. Then it was trips to Asia regularly until I lost interest. I also enjoyed a number of trips to the Caribbean and Mexico, and a trip to Paris and Italy in the 1980s. I also took another free trip to Cuenca, Ecuador before we moved down here.

My regrets lean more towards some of the relationship choices I made in my 20s and 30s, ones that set me on a path of destruction for decades. Put simply, I trusted the wrong people because I was young and stupid. Even my first marriage at age 39 was stupid, but lucrative 🙂 Which brings me to a few of my favorite quotes from that period…

Sometimes I sit and wonder, what was I thinking? But then I try to give myself a break and summarize with live and learn. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?

WE MUST LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES!

I finally got marriage right at age 50, and when it’s right, IT’S RIGHT! After being hard on myself forever for not producing more or having more to show for my life, I met a partner with a great attitude. His opinion?

Get to it! Embrace the imperfection and enjoy the ride!

The irony is that he is a perfectionist and yet he chose me! I have never figured that one out, but we are committed for life now, come sunshine or rain. My revised opinion of regrets is very similar to what Willie Nelson said in his interview yesterday:

“If I changed anything in my past, I wouldn’t be where I am now… and I love where I am now!”

Courage is the mastery of fear

Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.

Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.

Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.

There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:

“Take each breath as if it were your last”

I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.

I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.