Semi-Retirement: New Challenges

I’ve had time this week that isn’t filled with work-related projects. This is new to me. I am accustomed to having something to do, a presentation to prepare, a book to write, emails to answer or calls I need to make. This still exists but to a lesser degree and it raises questions of identity. Who am I? Is it OK to read a novel, take a nap, really do nothing? People yearn for retirement but I have always loved teaching and exchanging ideas or creating new programs. Work is an act of love and teaching mindfulness has always been fulfilling and brought me joy.

I have always appreciated the space between commitments but now there is a different feel to this space. Rather than it is in-between my “to do’s” it’s beckoning me to expand my interests and allow myself to not know what brings satisfaction. There are freedom and expansiveness to this lack of structure and there is also anxiety and grief. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School now has the next generation of teachers and the structure itself is changing. I can’t go there and drop in on a friend and talk “dharma” anymore. Instead, I need to schedule a lunch date. This is still meaningful but it needs planning and is different.

In the mornings now I take a walk with my husband and our dog. It is spring here in New England and each day greets me with a surprise. There are new blossoms on the trees and the leaves are moving from bud to leaf displaying different shades of green. The azaleas are bursting with bright hues of purple and pink. Each day there are surprises. Our backyard is an urban meadow the grass strewn with violets and hyacinths, dewdrops and dandelions. With the rain, we’ve been having there is a fresh scent to the air. Each day is different...and I can take it in and savor the ability to experience with all my senses and have it shared with my spouse. It is a wonder. I’ve been working with back pain, arthritis, and a narrowing spinal canal. I am learning to walk, “like a ballerina”, pelvis forward, shoulders back, gaze level and forward-looking. Even as I shrink a bit I feel taller. This too is different.

Home to my heart/mind is my meditation community. This continues and always goes with me but it is time now to expand beyond the meditation community. It surprises me to discover that older women are interesting and even fun—and I am an older woman. My goodness! How did that happen so quickly? I can’t do the strength training at the gym that was hardcore and tough anymore. I used to be so proud I could do push-ups like the younger folks and feel comfortable with “jocks” but working out rapidly with heavy weights (for me) is no longer wise. I was forced to stop because of pain and now I need to build muscle mass again. This is humbling and requires patience and persistence (like meditation). I can’t rush it. Darn.

As a result, I discovered exercise in water and the Burdenko method. Igor Burdenko works with people who have been injured and have disabilities. His approach includes land and water, diet and meditation. The local Y has a group of women who practice this technique in the Y’s pool for 45 minutes three times a week. It is called “beginners water exercise”. They are not beginners and the youngest person is in her early 60’s. I didn’t think I belonged because everyone looked so old. Then I discovered I was one of the older ones: surprise. Each person was so welcoming and helpful that my eyes teared up...and it is both challenging and fun. It has also helped me realize that I have been prejudiced and a victim of ageism making assumptions that are just not true. There are life, energy, and love. There is no competition, only cooperation. Hmm, is this a consequence of aging?

So, blog reader, let’s see what’s next. I no longer am humming to myself, “the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be...” Let’s see what song pops in next. Perhaps, “Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day.”