Retirement: Dancing with Doing-Living-Being

Retirement: Dancing with Doing-Living-Being

A colleague sent me a card for my retirement: “Congratulations on your new office furniture!” With an image of a hammock in the back yard.

I do have a chaise longue in my back yard, and I do try to spend at least one hour every afternoon reading one of the 17 books I currently have checked out from the public library. And this transition into retirement is very much a practice of transitioning – gracefully – from so much doing to more living anchored in more being.

Part of the new discipline is sorting out the relevant from the irrelevant and the resonant from the dissonant. Hence the delicious plunge into reading one good book after another that opens my horizons to the larger world. (In my working life, part of my enjoyment in traveling to teach was that I could read an entire book on a 5-hour cross country flight.)

I read The Guardian Weekly or listen to Fresh Air to filter the growing dissonance in our larger world in ways I can tolerate without overwhelm. (I listen to podcasts while doing my physical therapy for my arthritic hip; the dual focus somehow makes both more tolerable.)

I’m learning how much time living requires when done consciously and conscientiously. Some time ago I identified essential elements of a very good day: time in nature, time with friends, time in creative, productive work, time in culture, time for exercise. 

Retirement means integrating those elements into the chores of retirement – delayed home maintenance and deleting 30,000+ emails (I’m not kidding; they have been stacked up for more than three years) – while continuing the creative productive work of writing these posts.

Here’s the text of my February 3, 2020 post on Essential Elements of a Very Good Day. Which still rings true for me today. As I say at the end, May I have the wherewithal to pay attention and take in the good when these days happen. 

Essential Elements of a Very Good Day

Even by 9am I had the inkling that the entire day two Sundays ago might prove to be a very good day.  By the end of that very good day, I really had to reflect on what made the day so good?  No vacation trip to Majorca or anything like that. (No big dramas or difficulties either, which certainly was a factor.)

I identified three elements that seemed to be the essential elements. Here they are, in case they can be helpful to you in recovering your resilience and well-being.

1. I did one thing at a time.  

* a long walk with a good friend

* a good three hours preparing for an upcoming workshop

* a pleasurable 2-hour workout and swim

* a lovely dinner with good friends

* an outstanding evening at the theater

All without interruptions. No emails, no texts, no interruptions by admin filing or worries about other things.  Presence and focused attention for long periods of time that seem all too rare these days.

2.  Every activity had meaning and depth

* the walk with my friend included discussing his experiences having a surgery that I might be a candidate for having in the coming year.  Not just the reassurance of a good outcome, but the offer of compassionate companionship if/when the time came.

* preparing for the workshop Caring for the Brain: the Neuroscience of Well-Being for the 2020 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington, D.C. in March.  That put me in a creative-productive flow that was nourishing to my own brain and, even though I was workng, deepening of my own well-being

* the workout and swim (to possibly avoid the possible upcoming surgery) helped me take pride in my showing up for my own self-care. And to swim outdoors on a sunny winter day in northern California is not only possible; it’s downright pleasurable.

* dinner with the parents of my godson, now a pre-med sophomore in college.  My godson has had his own 10-year medical odyssey dealing with Crohn’s disease. He is now stable, happy, and tremendously mature and wise beyond his years.  Catching up with his parents was a deep joy all around.

* Becky Nurse of Salem at Berkeley Repertory Theater was jaw-droppingly outstanding. Using the history-mystery of the 1692-1693 Salem witch trials and hangings as the backdrop to explore modern-day misogyny and witch hunts. Awesomely staged and so satisfyingly right on.

3. Every activity involved resonant connections with good friends. 

*Mark and I have walked the ridge trail every other week or so for 7 years, deepening a friendship that allows someone to sign up a year in advance for possible convalescent care.

* I’ve know my godson’s parents since before he was born, danced at their wedding, etc. A friendship deepened over years over sharing the good times and the bad.

* The friends I ran into at the theater before the play started I’ve known for the 20 years of our Gourmet Poets Society, Bonnie for years before that in our Year to Live group, exploring end of life issues in life-changing ways.  Friends I ran into at intermission I have known for 5 years from the Deepening Joy group that used to meet in my home.

Friends that have sustained me and I them through thick and thin for years.  Even preparing to teach a workshop at a venue where I will meet many dedicated practitioners and re-connect with colleagues I’ve known for 5-10 years. Even the friendly chat with the women I was sharing a swim lane with.  All of these connections reminded me that I am (we all are) held in shared common humanity, on days very good and very bad.

There it is.  To experience meaningful conversations with good friends, to engage in meaningful work/play activities. All without interruption.  Steady presence and flow.

May you have these very good days baking cookies for your kids and your neighbor’s kids, training with a team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s fundraising marathon, sorting out the next steps in a career change that will bring learning, growth, transformation and conscious, compassionate connection with the people you work with and serve. And may you have the wherewithal to pay attention and take in the good when these days happen.

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