Retirement as Re-Calibration, as Metamorphosis
When I casually mentioned to several friends recently that I was experiencing my leaning into retirement as a time of re-calibration, we all nodded as though we knew what I was talking about.
Turns out, the dictionary’s meaning of recalibration pertains to when a system gradually drifts off course and periodically needs a fresh point of reference to re-stabilize the navigation system.
I do my mind mapping quite regularly to re-calibrate in that sense. To reassure myself that the values that guide my life and shape my actions, my moral compass, remain integrous and trustworthy, and that the counseling/teaching/writing manifestations of those values remain aligned and guided by that compass.
So my leaning into retirement feels less like I’m drifting off course than I’m setting off to discover new oceans and am willingly letting go of familiar shores, familiar destinations, charting a course into new territory (for me).
I’m busy enough with the “old” current life, transitioning my clients, wrapping up my webinars and trainings, reading books that become blogs, that I haven’t yet devoted much time to discerning the next ways to stay competent, creative and contributory. Nor do I feel like I need to yet. [See Content to Be without a Bucket List]
But another metaphor has recently become more salient, the butterfly emerging from the cocoon of the caterpillar. There’s a metaphor of the “green goo” phase of the metamorphosis process, where the cellular structure of the caterpillar dissolves into a plasma that re-constitutes as a full-grown butterfly.
That’s an incredible mystery. And I feel like I’m the caterpillar, about to choose to “let go”, dissolve into the unknown of the green goo. I’ve heard rumors that, if I trust the process, I’ll emerge soon after as a newly and completely formed, butterfly (flutter-by sounds like a more accurate description in English).
I DO trust that process. I can trust the periodic re-calibration of my navigation system, and trust also the process of emergence when I’m ready to fly.
Here’s an exercise from Resilience that is relevant to this process.
Letting Go of Thought Patterns
Letting go is not the same as dissociating or blanking out or becoming unaware. It’s simply becoming aware of any experience arising in your consciousness — you just sneezed, you’re fantasizing about a trip to Hawaii, you’re worried there won’t be enough money to buy a new car if your current car conks out — and letting it go. You anchor first in that larger sense of awareness that can truly hold anything at all, and then you practice letting go as an aid to disentangling from thoughts, worries, complaints, resentments that could derail your response flexibility, or at least don’t help you move forward. The letting go releases you from spinning your wheels and frees up the mental bandwidth you need to see clearly, discern options, and choose wisely. Letting go allows you to take whatever is happening less personally. You don’t have to shore up a personal sense of self (hopefully, the practices of chapter 4 have helped you develop a secure inner base, not easily derailed even by drastic shifts in circumstances). You can use your energy to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.
1. Sit comfortably in a place and time where you won’t be interrupted for thirty minutes. Let yourself come into a sense of presence, being aware of being in your body, in this moment, in this place.
2. Focus your awareness on your breathing. When you mind begins to wander into the thoughts you are practicing letting go of, you can always refocus on your breath and start again.
3. As you focus your awareness on your breathing, notice the awareness that allows you to know that you are breathing. Notice your awareness of that awareness, more open, more spacious, of the knowing (awareness) of what is known (your breathing).
4. As you rest your mind in awareness, notice specific contents of thoughts as they arise. “Oh, taking things personally — here I go again.” “Oh, I went all the way down the rabbit hole to the full catastrophe, yup, I did.” “Hmm, I assumed, and that assumption wasn’t correct. Back up and try again.” Simply notice, let then go, and return your awareness to awareness.
5. Repeat as you need to. “Simply” noticing and letting go can be a lifelong practice, and one that becomes easier over time. You persevere with noticing your thought patterns over and over again until you can relate to them as thought patterns, not as who you are.
There are no worries as you hang out in this larger awareness, simply noticing all thoughts coming, then letting them all go. Your nervous system is still on duty, unconsciously scanning the environment for impending danger. If it needs to, your prefrontal cortex will resume its guardianship of your attention literally in a heartbeat, allowing you to refocus your attention whenever necessary.
Even when your thought patterns are repetitive, stubborn, or stuck, your larger awareness allows you to relate to them in a friendly way — “Oh, fear of disapproval, I know you well” — without identifying these patterns as who you are. You strengthen your resilience as you shift from being what’s known to being the knower who can see clearly and choose wisely.