I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mindfulness and aging

Glacier lilies emerging from detritus
One of the things I love most about hiking in the High Country is seeing how the seasons change the landscape. Those dead stalks were living, vibrant growth just last fall, and now they are sinking back down into the earth to sustain new growth. Glacier lilies emerge for just a few short weeks once the snow has retreated. I took this picture last month, and I suspect that this same spot is now covered with greenery, with no lilies to be seen anywhere.

This past week has been a real blessing in so many ways: first, the intense heat that we Pacific Northwesterners only occasionally experience is gone. We went from a high temperature of 90°F to a high of 68°F, with marine air finally scouring out the heat and giving us back our usual summertime temperatures. Yesterday, however, I could feel the beginning of the return of higher than normal temperatures, which are expected by the end of the week. After this lovely interlude, I don't feel the same dismay; my frame of mind seems to be rather fluid, and that's okay.

Second, I attended three wonderful yoga classes that helped me appreciate the ability my body has of recovering from the exertions I put it through. Although I hiked ten miles on Thursday and gained quite a bit of elevation, I woke on Friday feeling refreshed and happy. Very different from two weeks earlier when I could barely walk after a hard hike. I don't know what caused the difference, but it reminded me that if I give myself enough time to recover, lots of restful sleep and mindful stretching, even at 75 I am capable of more than one might imagine.

I know it's temporary, that the aging process continues apace, and that one day I'll have to change my activities, but that's not today. So today I'd like to consider the tools that help anyone to have Mindful Sustainable Aging. It's a thing, I discovered, actually, and that article I've linked will give you the whole story, if you're interested (and I hope you are). To sum up:
Learning to use mindfulness later in life can be important in terms of coping with the (psychosocial) crises of old age and the struggle to find meaning in late life. The fact that mindfulness spans both the normal and the pathological makes it capable of addressing a wide range of problems, something that this article has attempted to point out.
When I started taking yoga classes a few years ago, it was so that I might be able to regain some of the flexibility I'd lost over the past decade. Although continuing to exercise, I noticed that getting out of bed in the morning was always accompanied with myriad aches and pains, which I attributed to my age. But once I started doing the yoga poses, gradually I noticed a difference in my body throughout the day, starting with getting out of bed. Yes, there are still arthritic and achy moments, but they are much, much less. And my feeling about those aches and pains has changed to one of compassion. Last week I wrote about having compassion for myself, and just a simple change of attitude has given my days a happier perspective. Another quote from that article:
By engaging in things that demand both activity and spirituality, older people cultivate a mindful sense that is still vibrant with hope and meaning. However, older people also need time to cultivate their inner being by withdrawal from the outer realm of the doing-mode. Older adults who have made the shift from a doing-mode to a being-mode are considered to be spiritual elders.
Oh! A spiritual elder, can I become one too? That sounds like just the ticket for those days in my future when I can no longer continue to engage in my daily pursuits. I found another wonderful website from the Positive Psychology Program that gives 22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques and Activities for Adults, which should keep me busy reading and studying these techniques for quite awhile. I'll be sure to let you know which ones have worked best for me. I do know that writing this blog post on Sunday morning, my first activity of the day, has been very therapeutic and never fails to give me a changed perspective toward the day ahead.

Years ago, I meditated twice a day for at least a half hour, and I still remember how much I would crave to return to that state after a full day of hard intellectual work. I kept it up for what I remember to be at least a year, maybe longer. During that time I actually had moments of transcendence while meditating. I don't know why I stopped, but several attempts to take it up again have been disappointing. Part of me longs for the serenity I found back then, and maybe now that I have so many tools at my disposal, I can find my way back to that place. Or even to a new and more delightful one on my journey to become a spiritual elder.

There are so many twists and turns in one's life, and nobody can predict where a certain avenue might end up. I do know that, in my quest to regain my flexibility by taking those yoga classes, I've grown more willing to find mindfulness in everyday life. The best part is realizing that there is so much more to learn and so many ways to expand my horizons, even (or especially) as an older person.

I just looked at the clock and realized that I've spent more than an hour getting to this place, with all the reading of those two websites I linked above, and my attempt to capture it for you, and for myself at a later time. My partner lies sleeping next to me, quietly breathing, so I know he's fast asleep, not in a light doze as usual. And of course my tea is long gone, and a light grumbling in my stomach reminds me that I'm a little bit hungry. Time to finish and start the rest of my day.

Please remember that we are all surrounded by peace and beauty, if we just take a little time to search for it. Or at least that is what I desire for us all. Take a moment to think of what makes you happy and maybe it will come to you today. It is my most sincere wish that we have a wonderful day ahead. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.


Linda Reeder said...

I'm happy for you that you find these physical and mental exercises helpful.
I have encountered the concept of "mindfulness" often, but upon investigating, I find that as an introvert, I have always engaged in mindfulness, perhaps overly so. I'll settle for being able to walk a few miles in the neighborhood, do my stretching exercises, and find joy in a peaceful August day, with a little puttering my my garden, a bit of newspaper reading, some lazy lounging with a book, and some monitoring of local SeaFair activities. Oh, and maybe a bit of photography. I've never worried about the meaning of life. For me, life is to be lived, as best one can.
Thanks for a good Sunday morning "think about". I slept until 8:30, unusual for me, but catching up from some short nights lately, so I guess I should get moving into my day.

Galen Pearl said...

A Buddhist teacher was asked in an interview about his mediation practice -- when did he meditate, for how long, etc. He replied, "I am never not meditating." I loved that! It reminded me of the Bible verse to pray without ceasing. Mindfulness makes our whole life a meditation, doesn't it? Even so, I will say that I do have a regular practice of sitting on the cushion (or by the creek if I'm at the cabin), and that does feed my spirit.

Elephant's Child said...

I love the idea of becoming a Spiritual Elder. And your Sunday posts in particular show that you are well on the way.

Carola Bartz said...

I feel encouraged in reading that you started yoga a few years ago. I've been considering taking up yoga for quite some time now and have always been discouraged by 1) my age (can you still pick it up in your late 50s?) and 2) my body shape. All the yoga people I see pictures of seem to be young and very slim - I am neither nor.
Becoming a spiritual leader is such a beautiful thought. By reading your post I have the feeling that you are well on your way.

Glenda Beall said...

Aging sneaks up on us and suddenly we feel we must face some major changes. In my case, I have to accept that my body can no longer keep up with my mind. I am full of ideas for the future but am brought up short when I face the fact that I can't physically perform activities I once did and that I want to do now.
I like spiritual elder - At times I find myself talking to younger women and realize I am not the person I was at their age. Good for you, taking yoga. I am trying to go to the heated pool as often as I can and doing my exercises there. But lately I am overwhelmed with projects as well as having some health problems that slow me down.
I try to imagine what a summer temperature of 68 degrees is like. We are burning up in the SW part of NC, in the mountains where I moved years ago so the summers would not be so hot. Anyone who doesn't believe we have major climate changes taking place, should look at what has happened this year.
Have a good week.

Rian said...

You mentioned "... moments of transcendance"... well, years ago I experienced (what I called) 'out of body' experiences' - not many mind you, but several. It felt so positively "free". I don't know how else to explain it. But the other night I was thinking how it's been years since I've felt that. I wonder why. I liked that response from the Buddhist teacher than Galen mentioned in her comment, "I am never not mediatating". I feel that way about prayer... and I'm not religious. When I hear people say, "I don't pray", I think how can that be, my life is a prayer...
And I do believe in mindfulness - at all ages, but especially as we get older.

Trish MacGregor said...

Beautiful Sunday post, as always!

Red said...

We must look after both body and mind. Too many people forget the mind.

Arkansas Patti said...

You always give me so much to think about but you also give me hope. You make me want to try a little harder, do a bit more, and dig a little deeper. Hum, does that make you a spiritual elder? I think so.

Linda Myers said...

I try to be mindful, but sometimes I need to pull away a bit and look for meaning, or a pattern. I have found meditation to be especially valuable, particularly during times when I can stay focused on my breath rather than following my brain into random side roads.

Marie Smith said...

Lots to think about in this post Jan. Wish I could live mindfully rather than just the minute glimpses I have of such a life. Those moments are wonderful though..

Gigi said...

Living mindfully is something I really need to do - life is so busy and hectic. I need to slow down and pay attention. We are at the beach for a few days, while we are here, I know I will slow down and be more mindful. Now to keep it up when we get back home!

Have a wonderful week, DJan. And yes, I agree with the others, you are a spiritual elder.

Rita said...

Lovely, lovely post. I do so look forward to our Sunday chats...even if I don't get them till Monday. You are one of the spiritual elders. :)

Serena Lewis said...

A wonderful post with great advice, Djan. I have opened the links you provided into new browser tabs so I can check them later. I so need to get back to daily meditation.

troutbirder said...

Most interesting and thoughtful post. My own mindfulness these days is focused around my 24/7 caretaker role supplemented by a few close and caring friends, reading and gardening. Physical come from exercise classes we do together and reasonably long dog walks. All in all we keep on trukin...:)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I went to both of the sites you offered us and bookmarked them so that I'll be able to read them later today or perhaps this weekend. Living in the present is something that I've been enamored of for about sixty years. Often I am there, in the moment with this body--right now--and this mind and heart and will and spirit and soul--all right now. But at other times, I'm thinking of the future and my goals and dreams and expectations. When I recognize that, I try to gently draw myself back to this room at this moment as I'm writing you these words that once again try to express my gratitude for your Sunday postings. Peace.