Content to Be Without a Bucket List
My official, full retirement is now 12 weeks away. When friends ask me what I plan to do next, I’ve come to realize I really do want to follow the advice of William Bridges Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. To honor the essential need for a neutral zone, trusting the time of letting go and not yet knowing. Possibilities, but not yet planning.
Similar to the experience of emptiness in the Buddhist tradition. Making room for the comings and goings of ideas, thoughts, desires, plans, but allowing them to sift through the spaciousness of not knowing. The welcome, welcome, but not yet.
Or the dormancy-fallow time of nature between a harvest time in autumn and a re-blossoming time in spring. Trusting the deep peace, silence, and stillness of “nothing happening” in winter.
As I explore the wisdom of indulging in openness and receptivity as preparation for new commitments, new structures, I’ve come to realize I’m actually quite content to not have a bucket list, not yet.
I’m still very busy helping my 20 clients transition to new therapists to carry on their deeply meaningful and transformative work. I’m still very busy with the last hurrah of teaching; blessed to be finishing a long run in person at some of my favorite venues to teach in person in – Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and Cape Cod Institute. I actually don’t want to distract my focus or my conscientiousness about those commitments to focus more personally, not yet.
And so I’ve been consciously cultivating contentment with not knowing, not needing to know yet. Trusting that when I’m deeply grounded in my own values and moral compass, the next steps will become clear.
Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s an exercise I created five years ago when retirement wasn’t even on the horizon. It’s remarkably fitting now.
Exercise: Letting Go of Control — Hanging On to Your Intentions
Letting go of control doesn’t mean letting go of the capacity to think, choose, and act: it means letting go of trying to control the outcome. Life is bigger than we are, and we can’t always see or understand the larger forces at play. Letting go of control is about finding the courage to persevere, to be as resilient as you can be, moment by moment, when you don’t have control of what’s going to happen next.
This exercise uses the practice of inclining the mind, using the intentional phrasing May I without adding the pressure or expectation of I will or I must. May I might seem overly gentle, inadequate for facing a challenge or crisis. But researchers have found that intentions phrased with May I, giving permission but not compelling, are more effective in motivating people to persevere.
1. Identify a challenging situation in your life right now where you can’t control the outcome, though you can hope to influence it and to manage your reactions to it. Here are some examples:
Your insurance company has denied your claim in an auto accident.
Your father was just diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The company where you have worked for seven years was just acquired in a hostile takeover, and your future there is uncertain.
2. Identify your intentions for coping with this situation, including your intentions to influence it and to manage your reactions to it.
May I quickly find someone in the insurance company open to hearing my side of things; may I remember to breathe and stay grounded in my body when I talk with them.
May I help my father find the resources he needs to cope with his treatment; may I be compassionate and caring toward my father and toward myself in the coming months.
May I quickly find out how my job will be affected; may I be aware of, accept, and manage my own reactivity (including anger, fear, or shame).
3. Bring your intentions to mind first thing every morning for the next week. As you move through your day, notice whether you are acting on your intentions. (“May I act on my intentions” may become another intention; “May I have compassion for myself when I forget” may be another.)
4. As the situation evolves, reset or revise your intentions as you need to. Little and often is fine here. The perseverance is strengthening your resilience.
Setting an intention, and then noticing yourself carrying out that intention, deepens your trust in yourself and in life, even in the darkest of times.
You hang in, you show, up, you stay engaged, you manage your responses. Because you are doing your part, no matter how things turn out, you rest in a deeper equanimity in the midst of it all. That deeper equanimity allows you to “look out on life with quiet eyes.”