When life (or retirement) doesn’t go as planned, I have found that you can mope away your life or you can make adjustments. That doesn’t mean you have to go all Pollyannish. There is nothing wrong with taking the time you need to grieve. But even when you are grieving, I have found that it is possible to also be making adjustments and get on with life the way it presents itself to you today.
I find peace in having a predictable pattern emerge to my retirement days. Without a job to drive my schedule, life syncs up more closely to nature’s rhythms, which are built around sun risings and settings, moon phases and seasons. Like clockwork, I show up to write in the morning. Then, to counteract all that sitting, I go to a yoga class or do some other kind of movement. I walk the dogs and draw in the afternoon. I spend time reading in the mornings and evenings. Occasionally, I have to give in to doing laundry, going grocery shopping, mopping up the dust that’s collected throughout the house, and cleaning a few sinks. Appointments or events sometimes change my timeline, but for the most part, my schedule fits with what I value at this stage of my life.
I notice so much more when I’ve got no reason to rush on to something else. Clouds moving and changing, how the wind dances with the trees, how the outline of a maple against the sky is more feathery than the gnarled-finger-like branches of an oak or the dense triangle of a blue spruce.
“When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and the arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.” ~ John O’Donohue
It’s fitting that my drawing class, which lasted throughout April ended as May began. May is about things coming to life. Mainly we think of these things as flowers, plants, tree buds — greening things. But I am thinking of it as all the things coming to life within.
Without a job to define me, I can be anything. Although, my age at this point clears its throat and whispers, “If you haven’t noticed, there are some things that are now out of reach.”
“I’ve noticed,” I say, “and yes, I’ve been a bit angry and frustrated about it.”
“A bit!” she snorts.
I ignore her sarcasm. “I’m making adjustments,” I say. “I’m finding things that are like what I had planned to do after retirement. For example, driving to a campsite and taking my bike out for a day ride on a trail is like spending a day riding my bike, all packed down with camping gear, to a campsite.”
“Hmmm,” says my age, with a shrug, “I guess you have it all figured out.”
“Ha! Not hardly,” I say. ”But I’m coming to peace with who I am right now. It’s either that or mope around until I die.”
“Hmmm,” she says again and goes back to sipping her tea.
My intention, I tell myself each morning, is to live each day as if it’s the most important day of my life — that everything and everyone in it is significantly valuable. That may sound hokey and impossibly tiring, except that it isn’t or even if it is, it’s a good tired. I’m sleeping peacefully for the first time in my life.
I’ve given up exerting my way through the day. There’s no reason to resist what is, to fight it, to wear myself out trying to make things be something they aren’t meant to be. I think of it as relaxing into my life. Accepting all of it — all of myself.
I’m not perfect at this. I still have days where the losses that come with age pull at me. I feel too exhausted to follow my usual routine. But I don’t want to go down the slippery slope of telling myself “It’s okay if you miss a day of drawing or writing.”
Instead, I say, “Do something easy. Just spend 15 minutes at it.”
Once I start, sometimes my energy returns. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Since I still need to fit in some movement in my day, lest my body stiffen and ache even more, my off-days can be good days to clean the house or Marie Kondo my office. Putting some physical order into my surroundings declutters and organizes my mind as well.
I’m still working out what exactly I’m doing with my life right now. When I was dreaming about retirement, what I thought about was bicycling, camping, and road trips and flights to visit friends and family. Drawing never came into my mind. Writing, oh yes indeed! I dreamt of finishing the book I started and moving on to other books and stories for which I have ideas. But drawing? No.
So I’m a bit surprised by how important daily drawing has become. I think it comes down to what Hannah Hinchman said in her book “A Life In Hand,”
“The natural complement of writing and drawing provides the breadth you need to capture just what it is that makes a place, a day, or a moment ineffably unique.” ~ Hannah Hinchman
To that I would add that it’s a way to thank the day, to show reverence, for what it offered me.
One More Word About Adjustments
I sometimes listen to the “Broken Brain” podcast with Dhru Purohit. I can’t imagine what attracted me to it with such a title… Anyway, the most recent episode was “How to Redesign the Subconscious Mind from Limitation to Freedom with Peter Crone.” At one point, I jotted down the question Crone stated, “Who would you be and what becomes available in the absence of all your concerns?” I think it’s a good question for everyone to ask themselves. If you let go of all your concerns and stopped spending time looking for ways to manage and control your circumstances, what else could you be doing with all that mind-muddling, worrying time?
He also spoke about the stories we’ve created and continually tell about ourselves — “I’m clumsy.” “I’m not creative.” “I’m unlovable.” Every time we repeat these stories internally or out loud we are telling our brain to confirm and create this truth in our lives. Let’s not do that. Starting today, please create for yourself the story you want to have for your life.