Retirement Beyond a Comfortable Bubble

Retirement Beyond a Comfortable Bubble

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Travel. Grandchildren. Gardening. I hear these are what many folks do when they retire, if they are able.

I’ve traveled some, mostly to hike in wilderness. I thoroughly enjoy zooming with my godson as he goes through this process of applying to medical school. My garden is my sanctuary and I spend every waking moment working and worshipping there.

But now I’ve discovered a meatier, weightier curriculum for my retirement. Expanding my awareness and care about the world and my fellow human beings beyond the bubble of psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhist meditation practice that kept me so focused and so nourished for so many decades.

Truly a very nourishing, rewarding, hopefully contributory bubble. And in the transition beyond retirement to whatever is next in the way of engaging with the world with consciousness and compassion and moral integrity and personal strengths, I’ve been developing a curriculum of learning, as most of my friends and colleagues have always done, about the “metacrisis” of climate change, the plight of refugees, the inequity of our economy dominated by unregulated corporations, and how individuals and communities find their resilience in the harshest, most discouraging of circumstances.  

One thing leads to another. A discussion with NY Times opinion writer and podcaster Ezra Klein at U.C. Berkeley last week led to reading Poverty, by America by Pulitzer Prize winning Matthew Desmond. In my former days, I would write a 12-page newsletter to review such a stellar book, with reflection, stories, quotes, exercises. Now, I’m sharing the substantive review from the New Yorker and encouraging you to explore why the richest country in the world requires a substantial portion of its people to remain poor. And reading other Ezra Klein recommendations like the NY Times  best-selling Chip War by Chris Miller, tracing the history of the race to dominate the production of the semi-conductors in our computers and phones that are “the new oil” in the global economy.

Reading, reading, reading. As excited to be learning as when I was first an undergrad in journalism, or when I began graduate school in clinical psychology, or when I went to conference after conference in my early days as a clinician. For lighter reading, the delightful The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by the brilliant Simon Winchester. A historically accurate romp through the true story of the 30+ year correspondence/friendship of Sir James Murray, master editor of the OED and one of its main and most respected contributors, Dr. William Chester Minor, who for that entire time was a patient at the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

And then there are 30 films in the 2023 Mill Valley Film Festival, every year my window into the world of indigenous environmental activists in Latin America protecting their lands and rivers from damming, mining, and cattle ranching, yoga-mindfulness-resilience teachers in the Oakland, CA schools, fighting deep fake porn on social media, the impact of uranium mining on Navajo land back then on the radiation poisoning of Navajo people now, the resistance of the Taiwanese democracy against China’s intentions to control it, the lives of individual Iranians going about their daily lives in quiet resistance to their authoritarian regime.  

Some of these films, like Rustin, the story of Bayard Rustin organizing the 1963 March on Washington against the racism and homophobia of the day, will make it to national distribution. (Rustin’s executive producers are Barack and Michelle Obama; the film will be released in theaters and on Netflix in November 2023.) But most of these films will not be seen beyond film festivals. It’s up to me to learn, integrate, formulate how I can respond, how I can engage my skills and experience going forward, how I can still be an effective creator and contributor to the greater good, retired but not disappeared from the struggles of our suffering world.