Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Elder Relationship

“two solitudes salute, border, and protect each other.”
                                                                                                      Ranier Marie Rilke

Recently I was at a meeting where a friend of mine (someone I admire) brought us to discuss one of the most important attributes of elders that is emerging today.  He had recently compiled a list of conscious elder developmental characteristics (see below), which he shared with us.

   Essentializing                                                Letting Go
   Embracing Paradox                           Embracing Uniqueness
   Facing the Unknown as a Way of Life         Increased Tenderness
   Increased Awe                                               Presencing Evolution
   Re-becoming Playful                                     Welcoming Death (as Ally)
This list prompted a discussion. It was a good thing Xan was there, because between the two of us, it was clear something was being left out. For us, relationship had changed significantly, and we now considered that attribute to be one of the most important attributes of elder life.

Here is my best recollection of what we added. It had become clear to us that aging brought with it, to some people, a decrease in the tendency to be emotionally reactive.  This increased relationship capacity mightily. In our case, it meant less conflict, greater emotional intelligence, and a much greater capacity to talk about what mattered. We found we could rely on the sharing of honest perspectives. We could also explore feelings and thoughts together, thus we knew a lot more about where each of us stood.

There was also a genuine intrigue into our differences; instead of being put off, we found these differences increased our sense of reality, and actually became something that would bring us delight and insight. We were constantly finding the world was much bigger, and more complex and nuanced than either of us thought. Relationship, for us, involved more engagement with each other’s “otherness” than we had ever experienced before.

Added to that was the fact that both of us could “hold onto ourselves” like never before. Life experience with our selves translated into a deepening capacity to relate to another. There is something heartening about the freedom to be oneself, and to be with someone else who has that same freedom to be them selves. We have never had a lot of power struggles, or anxiety about someone feeling forced to be some way.

All of these elements led us to have more intimacy than before, and they have created a relationship field like neither of us had experienced before. Some of these skills came because of who each of us is, but some have appeared unbidden, they are the consequences of getting older.

On a more general level, I think it fair to say, that older people, at least those that have kept themselves alive, have acquired  a capacity for interdependence, that is, a greater skill at relating with the complexity of Life. This is a development many old people don’t know about, despite the rising capacity they may feel in themselves. In my opinion, the Universe is a relational place, and now with  ripening, we humans  are also capable of relating, like never before.

The upshot is, that with aging I have become much more capable of understanding someone else’s need for solitude. I am also much more likely to admire and protect our mutual solitude. I now know that our uniqueness, our feeling of freedom, of belonging to ourselves, our place in the spectrum of things, depends on it.  Without trying, I have become a much more relational being than I have ever known myself to be, and that development seems to rebound to the benefit of everything around me.

The Precariousness of Life

I had to go down, despite all of the relationships that buoy me up, the careful support structure I am grateful to have around me. I sank somewhere into the darkness, beyond all the resources of love I knew. It was a descent like none I’ve known since my stroke.
And, it reintroduced me to a vulnerability I don’t want to know or feel. Yet, I do. 

Grief has carried me into the realm where I have become Lucky, and felt the enduring connection that calms and sensitizes me. Here, I am surprised by the vibrancy of all that lives, and by the incredibly precious precariousness of Life. This is a vulnerability that adds a great deal of poignancy to the vital connection that carries me, and is responsible for my delight in what exists. This level of vulnerability shocks me. It puts me into a state of necessary wonder. I share it with you now, hoping that as I do so, I can find a better way to be with this perception.

My knees begin to quake. I can barely stand this awareness. It takes all of my resolve to remain in touch with this level of poignant strength and fragility. For a moment I curse the paradoxical sensitivity that has come over me as I have aged. It allows me access to what seems too much. I don’t want to know the suspense of being. I like feeling connected, knowing myself as an almost insignificantly small part of the whole, but a piece never-the-less. I can, I have, lived with that. But this, the experience of how everything trembles before emptiness, this awareness, puts me on edge.

Can it be that everything can exist in some improbable way that seems always as if it could collapse at any instant? That perception makes me tremble. I don’t know if it is the improbability of it all, or the miraculousness of everything being here anyway. I want to creep everywhere, so I don’t disturb this delicate balance. Still I am here, and I’m obsessed with the human pursuits that have been allotted to me.

I don’t know what to do with this awareness. There probably is nothing to be done with it. I just have to feel the queasy uncertainty it sets off in me. The combination of the strength of Life, with its fragility, is just so mind twisting, so flabbergasting I’m unable to really grasp it. I guess this is why the Mystery stays so mysterious. I know that if I were really advanced maybe I could just sit with this perception. I might not even tremble. But — I’m not enlightened — I’m just overwhelmed.

Life fills up the darkness. It holds on, I don’t know to what. Maybe the reason for all the suffering is because something is entering and filling the emptiness. And perhaps, when this occurs, there is some time of incredible vulnerability, when uncertainty prevails, and another foothold, another niche, is being created. The whole process is miraculously exquisite and, for me, unbearable.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m really grateful that I get to be here, that I get to participate in something so dramatic and suspenseful. It’s just that I don’t know if I can settle my self down enough, being in the midst of such an unsettling drama? Maybe that is the point. I am more alive now than I was a while ago. Knowing of this paradoxical drama, what appears to be the drama of creation, not only shakes me, but it makes me more vulnerably alive.

My next breath is not guaranteed. It never was. I didn’t know that like I do now. There is a huge gain there, but it comes with an even bigger loss. I’ve been stripped of sureness, and left with uncertainty. I’m more alive because I’m more uncertain of life. Oh, the whole thing is giving me chills, or maybe they are quakes of life? I don’t know. I don’t know.

I used to like good mystery novels. I don’t exactly know how I feel about being in the midst of a good mystery. Life is a whole lot stranger than I ever imagined. Life is a whole lot more compelling too. Well, one thing I am certain about, is that I am here to live through this uncertain hour, this messy hubbub. I have been taken on a thrill ride of major proportions, which seems to hold both terrible and incredible surprises.

I’m becoming a very twisted soul, by enduring the arduous and miraculous twists of this fragile and enduring precariousness. I’d like to ask you, how you bear this whole incredible and heartbreakingly beautiful mess? But then I’d be asking you to share with me the way you relate to it, and I know that that would be to ask you what it looks like down your rabbit hole.

I’m giving you a glimpse of mine, I hope it helps.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Indigenous Ways and Ancestral Voices by Lucky

I’ve been feeling a weight, a kind of yoke, a sense of being part of a lineage of responsibility. It is heavy weight, one that makes thinking hard. I want to pause and reflect, to use this Slow Lane opportunity to do justice to what I’ve inherited, and to serve the past best by going beyond it. It feels very daring, heretical even, to acknowledge the wisdom of the past, and to seek the unknown wisdom of the present.

There is so much I owe our ancestors. I am here, it is my time to pitch in, and do my part, to make my contribution to the journey of our kind. I feel a deep family obligation. It is a strangely joyful bond, filled with blood, darkness, hunger and awe —  and, above all, Mystery. As surely as my blood circulates, the ancestors give me Life. I am humbled before them, and their contributions, and encouraged to “keep going.”

So, it is not without sobriety and reverence, that I look into the travesty of this moment, and face the fact, that my ancestors, and the ones who came before them, didn’t live in a world/gestalt like this one. The wisdom of tradition offers us tremendous value, a sense of deeply reassuring continuity. Their wisdom, as good as it is, just doesn’t adequately address the utterly new challenges that assail us now.

Here’s what I mean.

I feel like I’m wandering off a high cliff when I host these notions, I mean no disrespect, but I have to live in this world. The world of my indigenous forbears was a lot larger than the one I live in. People in those days belonged to a place, and had some things in common with the folks around them. They didn’t have the good fortune, nor the challenges, that diversity presents this generation with. They labored, some might say benefited by, a single reality-construct. They were in it together, and for most, anyone else was suspect.

We still have some of those tendencies. The other isn’t always welcome around the fire now, either. But, in our world thankfully, and sometimes mystifyingly, others are crowded around us. Reality has become a calico cat, comprised of colors that have never been seen before. The Mystery, if one can believe it, has become even more complex.

I have lived my entire 69 years, in a human world that knows, at least in some corners, that we humans now have the power to put an end to all complex life. Never did our ancestors have to face that kind of horrifyingly sobering and anxiety-producing awareness. Never. A part of my daily reality is unimaginable to them. Our existential apprehensions have grown.

We, so-called modern humans, have terra-formed a reality on Earth that has not existed before, and we can’t look exclusively backwards for wisdom now. The past offers us the tried and formerly true, but it doesn’t give us much insight into what faces us today. Our ancestral voices call to us with the same kind of innocence that our childhood was infused with. Growing up means letting go of the past.

But, what else does it mean? I don’t have answers to that question. Neither does my father’s father, or the many fathers and mothers that came before him. There is a new uncertainty loose in the world. 

I don’t have hope, just a deep regard for Life. I think Life, in what may take another billion years, knows what it is doing. Maybe, it’s going to educate us, in which case what we know will be helpful, but probably will not be up to the future. It’s what we don’t know, and how well we respond to it (the unknown) that will determine how long we stick around. In the end, I think it is unknown wisdom, which is going to give us a chance.

As I walk (or wheel) into the darkness of the unknown, I hear, most loudly, the call, not of my ancestors, but of those who want to come, for whom, being here, is a precious chance to exist.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Turning the Tide

There is something that distinguishes elders from those that are merely older. To me, this distinction is important, because I think it has a lot to do with the state of old people in this culture. Gray folks are treated like human refuse, when in fact, they embody what appears to me to be a central miracle of Life. The old ones, when they have escaped the de-humanizing clutch of the market place, are the fullest embodiment of Nature’s intentions for we humans.

I am referring to the organic shift inwards that takes place in old age. For those that already have an inner life (which some develop much younger) the transition to elderhood is much easier, than for those who have assiduously avoided the challenges associated with “inner” disturbances. Journeying through the looking glass, into a new, more inner-defined life is still hard. It is nearly impossible to those who have learned to sidestep inner stirrings.  The difficulties of metamorphosis are significant, becoming a wiser gray being is daunting, especially to those who have avoided the light within, out of fear of the darkness.

The drive for economic viability, for a favorable place in the herd, for fitting in to a dysfunctional system, makes looking within rare. The developmental tendency to look outside for cues about how to be — is hard to give up. The psychic cost of clinging too long to that strategy, is a reduction of confidence in the internal changes that accompany old age. When wrinkles and gray hair appear, interior alterations begin. For most, this natural flux is an exacting transition. Nature stimulates a shift that throws many people off.

Some refuse to adjust. For them, old age is a series of humiliating and undesirable insults. But for those with an inner life, or who are willing to develop one, the acquisition of in-sight is especially delightful. The winds of change are at one’s back. Nature assists, and Life becomes something else, something unexpected.  A ripening occurs, and a fresh set of possibilities, arise.

This brings one to the turning point. The tide turns, and living becomes more miraculous, and more assuring, when the stirring within is linked to larger processes of Life. The Earth turns on its axis. Human life also turns on an axis. Each are oriented by Nature, and in the case of a minority of humans (elders), happiness follows.

Elder life can be the most fulfilling part of existing. It is the era when one becomes fully. The gratification of completeness, of being in the flow, of becoming entirely oneself, of being desired by the Universe, is so satisfying that it should be known. Our kind could relax.

Being carried along, by the tide, is a heart-opening experience. It puts to rest all haunting uncertainties. The specter of not fitting in, of not having a home, of being born a mistake, goes away. Belonging is an organic reality. Life knows what it is doing, and elderhood is everyone’s proof.

The tide is turning — old people cannot help manifesting this important fact of existence. Culture prepares us badly — but Nature corrects anyway. Getting old is a chance to notice this from the inside out. The tide turns. 

The Green Fuse

“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”
                                                                                                                           Dylan Thomas

There is a force that hasn’t gotten adequate recognition. Elder’s lives are too easily categorized and dismissed — because what drives aging is so hard to perceive. I’ll say more about how this happens later, but for now, I just want to concentrate on the fact that the later stage of human life is infused with the energy of Nature. Dr. Bill Thomas is fond of saying “aging is growth.” I’d like to amplify that perception, by pointing out that what drives human life, the force behind it all, also drives the aging process. The force that created humankind creates old age.

This perception came home to me through a friend’s relationship with his new grandson. In his love for this new member of his family, he was touched by an awareness, which has tremendous application to the respect that elder life deserves. As he watched this newborn, and marveled at his growth, he could see the elemental energy that drives all development.

He noticed that as his grandson aged, he became more aware of the environment around him. He began wriggling, and unconsciously leaning out to touch whatever attracted his attention. Slowly he began to acquire the capacity to grasp. From there he learned he could pull those things towards his inquiring mouth. My friend was captured by the recognition that this was all happening naturally, without effort, much consciousness, or guidance.

To his credit, he connected the instinctive movements of his grandson, with what was happening in his own life. New awareness and capabilities were emerging.  As he aged, he was being changed! Unbidden, he was going through a maturational process. He was being altered! He could see that he, and his grandson, were related, by more than blood — there was something, a force — that caused them to unfold themselves.

This force, the life-force, has shaped old age. The greying stage of life is something intended. It is part of the pathway of Life, an element in the design of things, which we humans do not understand presently, any more than the infant knows why it is reaching out. Late life is not what it has been thought to be (decline and demise) — it is Life bringing about a new phase of being.

The general pressure that modern life has put on Nature, the mechanization of every aspect of living, the time crunch, all have supported a terrible conceit. Hubris has taken over human perception. The assumption that we know better than what animates us, colors what we make of life. Mistakenly, we tend to think it is our efforts, instead of this force, the force of Life, that makes us more human.

Old age has been viewed through a human-created lens. It has been misperceived — shrunken into a shriveled up caricature. It suffers from a limited viewpoint. Seen through the lens of life, something new is unfolding — a ripening of the human spirit is taking place — a flowering of wild energy.

An animating force moves us. We are it. We can cooperate, appreciate what we have, learn, be renewed beings, even have evolution at our backs. To do so, however, we have to give up the idea that we are separate from this animating Mystery. Life prevails, as it will. No matter what we identify with.

The old are evidence. Through stages of growth— We are continuously cued into what matters. 

Mystery Haunted by Lucky

Something is going on here. I can feel it. I always have. Early on, I thought of it as magic. In adulthood I thought of my recurring sensation as a kind of childish wish fulfillment, and wouldn’t let myself indulge in awareness of it very much. But now, as I’m getting older, growing more sensitive and aware, I can feel it more. It’s like a kind of soul-tingling. I know, though I can’t prove it, at least not in any kind of conventional scientifically acceptable way. Something is going on in my life, and it appears to me, that something is going on with we humans, here in this place.

I don’t know what it is, but as I’ve aged, the tingling has grown into a kind of satisfying unknowing. There is something delicious and totally odd about having this feeling grow with uncertainty. The less I know, the more convinced I become. This must be some kind of trick that is inherent to growing older. I think this sense has to do with my declining fear of death and my sense of happiness increasing. Something is happening!

I don’t know if others are experiencing it. It’s probably too vague a sensation to talk about, but my level of intrigue is deepening. I keep finding that the surprises in my life seem to be adding up, making a sum I can’t ignore.

I’m not very enamored of the world’s religions. I’ve experienced some very pious and humble practitioners of these religions, but all of the ideologies behind them have been too rigid and certain for my taste. Some weird combination of Buddhism and twelve-step wisdom has come the closest for me, but I find myself fonder of not-knowing. There is something about mystery that just sets the winged delight of my soul free. I seem to thrive with uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox.

And it is a paradox for me, to find myself enlivened by not-knowing, and a growing sense that something is going on. I’m enamored by the crazy miraculousness of this world, and the heartbreaking horror of it. I’ve been around long enough to have seen both of these facets of existence, morph into each other. And, instead of getting cynical about it, I find my sense of wonder and awe growing.
When people come to me with the tragedies they are suffering, I now have a guilty sense of joy. I’m not a sadist. I just know that growth all too often comes through those same tragedies. I’ve lost all sense of balance. Instead, I have something else — an unexplainable reverence for Life. Mystery just seems to be pouring through all of my broken expectations.

I am constantly overtaken, surprised by my innocence. Somehow, I’m way past naiveté, and filled with expectancy. I like it here, I’m often nonsensically afraid, and at the same time whimsically sanguine. I know it’s not me, and I feel somehow implicated. I’m probably as broken as a human can be, and strangely whole despite that. Life has served me up a mystery deep enough so that I can fall in, and drown, all while being buoyed up.
I don’t deserve any of it, but I feel like I am here to experience all of it — the wrenching pain and the unexpected joy. But, most of all, the sense of wonder, I am now endowed with.

There is something going on here. I don’t know what it is. Reality seems to be some kind of amniotic sac containing and growing me, through pain, inexplicable companions, and thrills I would never have signed up for. I am all too often too overwhelmed by the dizzying pace of all this commotion, to fully grasp how fortunate I am —  to be part of the something, that is going on here. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Sacred Symmetry

There is something woven in to the design of the Universe that positively captivates me. When I think of it, I can relax and rest in that awareness. Now generally, I would say that I have this feeling when I recall the web of Life that surrounds and includes me. And, while that is true, the realization that comes to me, when I recall how well prepared I am for the rigors of this journey through the Cosmos, tends to make me break out in a kind of thrilled happiness.

It seems, as I am getting older, that I am discovering that the Universe has supplied me with all the capacities I need to meet this life.  They are drawn out from inside me, by the circumstances of my unique existence. I experience this as a sacred symmetry.

Let me explain, if I can. I know that most folks have a hard time bearing this crazy and difficult life. There is more than enough hardship to go around. Loss is everywhere. Grief enters in to all of our lives, stealing our confidence, and leaving we humans vulnerable and aching. I’m not extolling a Pollyannaish belief that Life is totally benign. After all, I know in a very personal way, how much Life can strip one. Still, I find great relief in knowing that built-into this seemingly savage existence, is something so incredible that it balances all of the heartache it generates.

There is something inside of each of us, deep inside, that rises closer to the surface, when we are adequately challenged.  This something is mysterious and way beyond our control. It doesn’t seem to answer to our entreaties, prayers, hopes, and desperation. It seems to have an agenda of its own. We don’t get to have any control over its vicissitudes. In some ways, it is the inscrutable mystery of it, which is so infuriating and beguiling.

I don’t profess to understand. I just have had enough of a taste of it, to know I am “Lucky,” and to feel rather miraculously happy. The lack of understanding comes across in my inability to describe, satisfactorily, a phenomenon I know exists.  All I can do, is bow down, and acknowledge the unknown existence of something that has broken me into a greater wholeness.  I am more, because something saw to it that less provided.

I think it interesting that it took me most of a lifetime to even notice. Now, I think of this awareness as one of the gifts of aging. It appears that I had to have a lifetime of experience, and some of it not so good, to begin to perceive how lucky I truly am. I call it luck, but I know now, that it is the way of the Universe. I exist, and so, this part of existence, also exists within me.

I have long wondered how it is that we humans, in our scientific stupor, seem to have overlooked the remarkable intelligence that fashioned our bodies, and this incredible world we get to live in. We are just beginning to understand, that we don’t really understand much of what we have been endowed with. It is, as if the Universe, has some kind of immune system that operates through each of us. Evidently, Life has planned for the difficulties that besiege us.

Anyway, I live with a kind of re-assurance. Maybe, some hardship needs to befall mankind, to make more evident that something in the Universe has got our backs. It certainly seems like we have to get ourselves so thoroughly caught in a trap of our own making, to get, that this sacred symmetry exists between all of creation, and what mysteriously creates us.

Something wants us, enough to make us possible. It supports us enough, so that we get to live out our own perfect imperfect nature. I have come to see that mix of things as a sacred symmetry, a relationship between the whole and one of its parts.