The 70% Solution (In Which Less is Actually More)

 I recently learned a bit of Qigong wisdom.  The instructor said that when practicing each meditative pose it is beneficial to give a 70% level of energy to the process.  He claims that’s more beneficial than striving for 100% or stretching for 120%.  That actually goes along with my fitness training instructor’s pointing out that when doing weights or leg lifts it is good to move slowly to increase strength through resistance.  True strength is not in speed but control, to resist the tendency to let momentum do the work and thus let the muscles stay lazy.

In a way, that is great advice for aging mindfully.  With or without choice, we begin to enter a season when energy is not to be taken for granted.  I remember sighing even a few decades ago when an optometrist glibly informed me that all vision over 40 is a compromise.  And here’s another example: Atul Gawande dedicates a chapter in Being Mortal to a review of the way our bodies generally peak in strength and then inevitably begin a slow trajectory of diminishment along a downward slope.  That’s just how it is.  What is the message?  Give yourself a little kind understanding and work with this reality.  We can come to know ourselves during the trip or we can just keep kicking as fast and hard as we can believing that we’ll get the best out of life if we can push hard right up to a point where we’ll suddenly and magically lose consciousness, thus avoiding having to be there when we die. 

Our Western culture tells us goodness lies in “going for the gold”: more speed, most stuff, more excitement, more achievement.  In fact, containing energy consumption down around 70% sounds downright unAmerican.  In order to stop at 70% energy you have to know where that edge is.  You learn to recognize the point where there’s a tug to leap past the conscious effort.  That additional 30% can change the game, skipping the strength building and shortchanging the goal.  That kind of a leap for “more” reaps less, in a way.  Surely everybody knows we have a better chance of getting to the big stuff, (i.e., the good stuff) if we don’t sweat the small stuff.

But . . . what if it’s in sweating the small stuff that we develop the resilience—the stamina—to travel the downward slopes consciously and creatively?  What if the small stuff offers rich gifts too easily missed when we speed up and hope momentum will take us to the elusive “big stuff?”

When I think of trying for a 70% energy level, whether doing leg lifts orin any other part of life, my first question is, “How would I know what 70% looks or feels like?”  I’d have to recognize what constitutes 100% in order to adopt the discipline.   I’d need to have a range for defining how much is enough, what is enough, and then, what is more than enough.  I’d need to trust that enough is good.  I’d need to be aware of my full spectrum of needs and values in order to move from necessary to essential to meaningful to what is truly enough to give a sense of joyful abundance and finally, what is more impressive than substantive.  With a range like that we may come to see our top 30% is more like the empty calories of whipped cream on top, or that extra salt some people automatically shake out before even tasting their food.

What does it mean to apply the 70% solution to, say, living sustainably?  There is every indication that our culture rewards a near religious devotion to a belief in more.  With the climate crisis, the creed that there will always be more is coming apart.  We can only look with aching hearts upon the ravaged planet, imagining the impending pain our children face for living in an economy and society on the downward slope during what should be the upward slope of the first half of their lives.  It is time to break open the belief that there will and must always be more or all is lost.

If we as elders can learn how to live creatively and consciously in the increasing “less” in our physical (and often material) lives—if we as elders can confirm that true abundance resides in the 70%—that’s not a bad inheritance to leave our future generations.  I heard recently that Yale University offers a course in happiness based on considerable research.  What they are finding is that more money/achievement/stuff does not bring happiness.   Key elements of happiness are relationships, community, sufficiency.  People don’t need big stuff to find hope in one another.

If we can creatively and consciously locate the rich vein of hope in the 70%, we can show a way to travel our collective downward slope as full human beings capable of participating responsibly in the real world.  We can travel in a way that doesn’t run off in search of miracles.  Let’s adopt a new math in which 70% is greater than 100 or 120%.  Let’s be on the lookout to find the more in less.

Bring on the Shadow

As I was getting ready to write a letter to my “pen pal” today it was fitting that I found it necessary to discard an old pen from my desktop container before turning to use a blank card that I’ve kept around since I got it when I provided a staff training for The Perkins School for the Blind a few decades ago. 

I then remembered many of the different organizations that I had occasion to work and it occurred to me that I could write a book (IF I could write a book) called My Life as a Butterfly. After all my business was called the Chrysalis Consulting Group.  It’s fun to think of the many groups of people I’ve met with to draw forth their nectar to be shared with their co-workers.  It’s a very satisfying image for appreciating the way I tried to highlight people’s strength and beautiful desire to do good work. But then, overthinking took over and I decided it’s actually hummingbirds or bees that draw out nectar for themselves (leaving the flowers none the worse for it, it’s true).  So, maybe the book should be My Life as a Bumble Bee. Nah, I prefer to believe my beauty enhanced their beauty.

That pencil holder on my desk could be emblematic of many aspects of a person in my life stage with its curious collection of pens, pencils, scissors, rulers, a comb and even some dried up golden gum massagers.  The most “essential” thing in this lovely octagonal Asian box is a Malaysian shadow puppet, actually two of them: paper cutouts mounted on thin black sticks with additional sticks at the ends of their gold-painted arms. They are dancing women with colorful clothes, golden bodies topped off with intricately cut black heads of hair braided and cut for the light to shine through.  One of the women has a golden face that looks forward; the other has a black face and is looking down.  To tell the truth, after all these years I just now remembered this distinction.  In fact, the golden-faced puppet had slipped down out of sight almost completely until I began this reflection.

Every writer’s desk should have a set of shadow puppets.  I recently read a meditation on the shadow by Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr, in which he pointed out that both our personal and our collective shadow is the part we don’t have consciously in mind, the part we don’t value enough to give it the light of our respect or appreciation.  He suggests that in the United States culture, nonviolence, equality and mercy-based policies are in the shadow of this competitive, profit driven society.  Shadows aren’t bad; they just need to be kept in mind where they can perform their balancing act. So, he suggests, the shadow we need to bring into light and balance could well be the goodness that been kept in the dark.  

It is apparently time for me to bring out the wisdom of the archetypes and put dried up old tools to the side.  Time for the shadow sisters to dance together.  Bring up the lights so the gold can glow.    Huh, maybe It is time to write My Life as a Butterfly and let those hummingbirds and bees to do their own work. 

 

Can Fitness be Enhanced?

At the Y the mirror mediates my effort to enhance my fitness as a human being. 

Internal mutterings compare, contrast, and evaluate my looks.

I wonder if the mirrors make you look thinner, maybe fatter, but

I’m okayed by the many variations in the way people wear their bodies. 

 

I have come to know people at their humblest: clumsy in goofy exercise clothes

Instead of the usual uniforms that identify their personas and life purpose.

We offer snippets about our lives to people whose first names we keep forgetting.

Bad knees and quirky hips are easier to remember.

 

Sometimes I feel a wave of concern or a rush of love for someone in the mirror.

Sometimes--once in a great while--my internal muttering goes mute.

We merge, my body moving as one with the group behind me,

this step-together-stepping creature with 60 legs in the mirror in front of me.

 

Strength Training for Truth: STAMINA Stories September 23, 2018 

Note: This is a typical notice I send out to announce the the month’s STAMINA Stories event. Each month, a conversation prompt is given ahead. Some people stay on the list just so they get the announcements even if they can’t regularly make the meetings. C

The sharpness of summer light has mellowed so we can part with sun hats and sunglasses. It’s going to be great to get back together next week after a month off.

I was recently looking into the grim eye of a close friend’s health storm.  I yearned to hear your stories of how you live with life’s moments of “it-is-what-it-is-ness.”  It’s a beneficial area for strength training, it seems to me, especially as we age.   We all have times when we have to bear unbearable things. And they are hopefully made more bearable if stamina can be drawn from the deep truths to be found in dignity and compassion and honesty.

I’ve been struggling lately with the word and very notion of truth.  Rudy Giuliani’s 13th Law of Postmodernism may be “Truth isn’t truth,” but the prevailing Washington mentality shakes me.  This is no time for saying “It is what it is.” We need strength training for maintaining truth health.  Maybe the workout plan should include lifting the weights of paradox and compromise. Perhaps we could do truth crunches based on an anatomical understanding of community relationships that need solidifying.  How about a practice of twenty pushbacks a day?  Or running forty laps in someone else’s shoes? 

Anyway, we need each others’ stories about how they have found stamina for honestly seeking to live with what is and striving for what needs to be. 

Do come to the conversation.  And bring a friend to the September STAMINA Stories.

A Version of the Wisdom Prayer . . .

God, give me the stamina to live gracefully when it is what it is,

to live proactively when it is something that’s just got to change,

the wisdom to know the difference--

and the imagination to do what I’ve got to do either way.  

STAMINA:   the result of building strength, flexibility& balance in body and soul with honesty, courage & a sense of humor. 

 

 

The Making Of Messiahs (Just a little post-modern humor.) Carol Rinehart December 2017

Advent is considered a time of waiting and watching in the Christian tradition.  Both Jesus and Rumi warned against going back to sleep, but we live in a post modern world where fake news is the new truth and brazening it out is the new definition of courage.  And going back to sleep is the newest guideline for staving off Alzheimers. 

The Judeo Christian tradition speaks of waiting for the Messiah, but that has not gone particularly well since leader/saviors messiahs have often been dangerous, delusional or at least disappointing.  So our post modern wisdom is, forget looking for messiahs, we are probably the messiahs we have been waiting for—as long as we don’t become bullheaded, single-minded or true believers in a doctrine of one kind of supremacy or another.  

So we must watch out and be on alert to the limits of limited perspectives while we wait for hope to rise.  Three things we must learn: new levels of comfort with chaos, new levels of confidence in the phenomenon of self-organization, new ability to glean for the gold in imperfect solutions.   We are called upon to what might be called active waiting.  We are probably the waiters we have been waiting for. 

Growing up a bit,

       we become more comfortable with discomfort (but not all that willingly);

       we watch for signs showing us that self organization is all around us;

       we stop believing in answers and start believing in the making good choices;

       we stop measuring everything and start loving immeasurably;

       we stop wishing and start anticipating;

       we stop holding our breath and let hope’s embers kindle.

 The wheel of time turns.  Another solstice has come and Earth has tipped back toward spring as winter begins.

       Deep winter: 

      Scarce signs of light;

       Long nights, fecund and fallow.

       Mind the moment of turning:

       Embers of anticipation catch fire.

       Shift happens.

 

 

 

Amazing Grace: A Day in the Life by Chaplain Carol Rinehart, November 2017

“They call me ‘Why Not?’ around here.”  That was her answer to my question about whether she goes to many activities at the nursing home where she lives now.  “I’m just as happy reading by myself but when they come to my door, I say ‘Why not?’” 

And why not keep a stack of books at hand?  Just about any book seems to do.  I find myself musing about what a Nora Robert novel touches in a 94 year-old woman. 

Grace (I’ll call her Grace) is a rare delight in my hospice chaplain rounds.  She is always up for a visit that promises to be filled with enjoyment of past memories of childhood and hearing tales that reveal her remarkable strength and independence as a woman in the early decades of her 94 years.  Slipping deftly over whole decades spent raising a family, she nevertheless always matter-of-factly mentions the death of one of her sons and the geographical distance of the other.  All is borne with acceptance.  Why not?  It is what it is.

Why not remember the good things if given the grace of good memories.  Why not claim and repeat them time after time?  If words are a source of joy, why not play with words?  And so we play and pray together.  “You know?” she says, “it’s kind of funny that people will say ‘Go to Hell!’ but they never say ‘Go to Heaven.’”  We play with scenarios of saying "Go to Heaven!" to people who come to her door to visit or care for her.  “Go to Heaven!”  Why not? 

I tell her it’s time for me to be going but before leaving I could sing her a song, or pray.  “Pray!”  No hesitation there as her two hands reach for my two hands.  She sits straighter.  We clasp hands and bow.  I offer gratitude and blessings.  In a way, we go to heaven and enjoy just of bit of heaven as Grace joins her strong confident voice to mine as we conclude with the Lord’s Prayer. 

And why ever not?

Co-Humming for Stamina

Make a circle, choose a tone, take a breath as you need.  Let’s hum together for a full minute and see what happens.

In a recent STAMINA Stories gathering we had a conversation about the number of times we are called upon to “stick with it” as we age and about what it takes to do this mindfully even if (or especially if) the unwelcome circumstances are non-negotiable.  We spoke of ways we’ve been called upon to stick with it as care givers, or loyal family members of relations who are suffering. We talked about times we’ve needed to dissolve denial and fear in order to ride something through.  At times we’ve been one-way lovers of people in our lives who may or may not ever realize or give thanks.  New levels of strength discovered in the process were duly noted. We talked about how much we have found hope and resourceful renewal from others in those times.

Not long ago someone sent me an email suggesting we use an experience in choral singing to remind us how we can sustain our focus longer and stronger through collective effort. Consider the role of staggered breathing when a chorus is singing a long phrase without a rest so that the sound remains strong and clear for the listeners. If some singers take a breath on “the” while others breathe on “river” and still others on “flows” the beauty of the sound is sustained.  The river flows smooth and strong when the voices are shared by means of what one of our STAMINA Storytellers called co-humming.

We decided to co-hum for one full and surprisingly long minute.  We discovered how our beginning sounds and breaths were ragged but then began to blend and mellow as our sense of confidence in each other unfolded.  Afterward, as we reflected, we noticed that this was actually a relaxing experience:  self-absorption became less important than watching for a good time to breathe for the sake of the whole.  We looked into what might be the co-humming muscles that can be developed and how we might practice more strength training of these co-humming muscles for those times when life serves up the non-negotiable moments, mundane or grand, when we find ourselves wanting to ride through those long hauls with generous grace and open hearts.

I love the saying “When things get tough, the tough do what they practice.”  We are living in a time in in our nation and throughout the world that is calling us to practice co-humming.    A silver lining in all the confusion and chaos is that we must turn to each other as we wake up to the thought of losing much of what we may have taken for granted.

As we walk in the grey zones of uncertain times we need to co-hum for dear life in hopes that a livable future can still be pulled from the fires of climate change, that new dimensions of technology can work for good rather than ultimately serving greed.  But just hoping is no longer enough.  Now we must keep the focus and sustain the energy necessary to stay awake and live with open hearts and courage and honesty.  Human habitation of the earth, our democracy, our health care, our children, our safety from careless flirtation with war and annihilation—all these and more call us to bring sustained light into the grey zones.  Perhaps we have been walking in these grey zones for quite some time and only now see this more clearly.  We are waking up and cannot with integrity go back to sleep.

It takes a village to stay awake and stick with it.  We need to see that each one gets to take a breath periodically in order to walk through the grey zones.  With the help of our friends we can flex those co-humming muscles for all the non-negotiable moments, mundane and grand, that call us to sing strong with generous grace and open hearts.

Occupy Elderhood!

How is occupying elderhood different from being elder, being older?  It is so important to know the role you want to own and occupy--and then hold it with a sense of clarity and authority.  Too many times in my life I have stood back, waiting to be sure I was “authorized” to take a role or a position until confident of receptivity to my overtures. I’m coming to believe that just as a secure parent benefits adolescents who are unsure of quite what they believe, the mid-life and young parent generations can benefit from elders who are securely occupying that role.  I’m suggesting that it is important to help them be who they are because we elders know ourselves and share ourselves securely in the give and take of relationships.   If I consciously choose the role to the best of my vision, I am a truly reliable voice and a good role model. 

So what does it mean to occupy elderhood, to sit right square in the middle of this life stage with pride and pleasure, with generosity and an open heart?  It means knowing your own value, valuing and honing the gifts you are able to give authentically, and offering them with an unflagging air of satisfaction with being able to give your best.  It means being an eager learner from the younger generations, understanding that give and take can be “measured” across a remarkable spectrum of age-appropriate options. 

Effectively occupied elderhood entails realizing the importance of being a cheering squad, mentor, believer, lover, caregiver and receiver.  It means knowing better than to take things personally, and  yet knowing better than to expect ourselves to be vulnerability-free.  So in the end, it means being willing to be embarrassed and how to apologize regularly with self-acceptance. 

Consciously practicing elderhood leads to noticing how short a full lifetime can actually be: 

ü  how five minutes ago events from 20-30 years ago can be;

ü  how actually limited are the number of Thanksgivings there are for getting together; 

ü  how incredibly short the endless years of raising children actually are in the context of a full life;

ü  how completely the opposite of what you thought was going on was actually going on;

ü  how vivid are the memories we make for one another – and what a difference random acts of kindness have made, life-long;

ü  how much of life must—and has been—forgiven if you think about it;

ü  how many “passes” have been offered through the gaze of love and kindness.

 

Occupying elderhood calls for being willing to give without counting the return—practicing faith in the long run of things, based on now having been at the wheel of a life with a long rear view in the mirror.  Hopefully occupying elderhood means seeing the humorous side of things, insisting on the essential importance of having fun, embracing joy, taking risks and being grateful for each minute. 

Occupying elderhood is best practiced by functioning with equanimity in a life where each day may offer the need to live with a “new normal” physically and maybe even cognitively.  It may well mean coming to see the irony of such statements as “I’m dying to do . . . “  or “I’d rather die than . . .”  or “This . . . is killing me.” 

How important it is to be dead serious about lightening up!  And it is important to be dead serious about holding the light, the light of hope for a good life for our upcoming generations, with all the creative energy we can muster.

 

It's an honor to re-post a recent blog by www.meetmarthajohnson.com

Where’s your STAMINA?

DATEJuly 25, 2016

POSTED BYMarthaJohnson

COMMENTS0

Aging is a challenge! And it takes STAMINA, according to Carol V. Rinehart, 72, founder of the Stamina Project. I love it when I happen upon other folks who who are engaged in their own version of what I like to call, “third chapter conversations.” Generating and holding space for the conversations that explore our lives as older beings, is Carol’s “gig”. Yesterday, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I joined one of those conversations.

As Carol explained: “One of the goals as we age is to develop the muscles that will sustain us, build our resilience, and yes, generate our stamina, for living in a world going crazy around us.” For Carol, the word STAMINA is also her acronym forStrength Training for Aging MINdfully Always. The question she returns to always, no matter how the conversation meanders is: “How can we build mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual strength as we age? What are those muscles?” No matter our circumstances?

Yesterday, we explored the pain of holding the horrific violence in our country and the world. What was also on the minds of women in our circle, ranging in age from 53 to 81, was the pain of the deepening political polarization in our own country. How we can hold all this pain without numbing ourselves out, surrendering to an invisible and powerless decrepitude of “at my age, there’s nothing I can do”?

What are those muscles?

At the end of this sharing of the truths of our lives, I felt more refreshed and eager to engage.

What we can do is maintain an open heart and be the elder who will LISTEN to those with whom we disagree.

We can balance the evil in the world, with our own conscious sharing of KINDNESS.

We can start the day with GRATITUDE, focusing on what is good and possible.

Having recently learned that gratitude practice has been scientifically researched to have a statistically significant positive impact on the health of older people, and probably people of any age, maybe that’s something I can start today.

As a mobility challenged person, I am grateful for what I can do, which is still to be able to get around to local area events that appeal to me. This was one.

Check out the staminaproject.com and especially note Carol’s definition of “stamina.”

I love Carol’s framework. I love the gentleness. I am intrigued by the upcoming conversation topics listed on her site. I love her commitment to be in “third chapter” CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER. No matter how we choose to label them.

Reflections on how being of service is fueled by aging mindfully

My most treasured role models have taught me that aging well is not a particularly laudable goal in itself; better when we make our aging process a vehicle for living openheartedly, a vehicle that is fueled by a practice of loving kindness and fecundity.  Theologian Henri Nouwen speaks of fecundity as a state of fruitfulness, rich with inner vitality and joy in being alive.  Simply put, aging mindfully is living mindfully.  No one is too young to get started. 

Although being an elder is not age dependent, the effects of physically aging do contribute opportunities to practice eldering--being of service to the needs of our era.  For many these years are some of the juiciest we have known—precious for their impermanent vitality, fruitful, and rich with places to offer heart and hope to others.  Here are some strength training exercises for open hearts.

We can exemplify living simply.   We begin to see that a lot of stuff really is small stuff.  Acquiring things loses a lot of charm as we begin to think of downsizing or discarding or even giving the stuff away (assuming our kids would even take it).  Ironically, more than merely material objects, the “stuff” that tempts people who are already privileged to hoard can be resources of time or public image as well.  We realize that having too much led to too much protecting the wrong things.  The less we have, the less time we need to spend tending our stuff.  This leaves surprisingly abundant time to notice and admire the beauty around us, more time to think about protecting the planet, for example; more time to pay attention to the high cost of our throw away culture, as Pope Francis put it.

We have time!  Oddly enough just as some might see aging as a matter of our time running out, many will find time on our hands.  We have time to reach out, time to pray for others, time to touch base with others, time for things the busy younger ones don’t have.   We are given the gift of time to give to others.

Our dependence becomes a lesson in interdependence, asking for and receiving help with practiced humility rather than humiliation.  Our vision widens to find a much wider sense of what makes gestures and actions meaningful.  Our dependence makes for gentle reminders of what it means to be human.  The full spectrum looks quite different than the illusion that being swift and strong is only what is worthwhile. 

We can step forward to speak and stand for justice and mercy and give courage to those who follow in our path.  As we lose things like hair, beautiful clear smooth skin, employment for money, a community of friends we can take for granted, we actually have less at stake.   Worry about being acceptable on someone else’s terms drops away as well.  There are fewer demands to go along to get along.  With empathy for the demands facing younger people in a conformist culture, we can take risks and show them we are there standing up for our beliefs and they can take more risks than they may believe they can.  

We can share our important life histories for the nourishment of the young.  Our life experiences are not simply our own--we know now how much we have been fed by the fruits of those we now follow, how much we have stood on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  It is now time to very intentionally and mindfully put our shoulders into service.  Throw false humility and fear away; we have life lessons to be shared, mistakes to be learned from, passions to be acknowledged.  The lives of others depend upon us. 

Thus we need strength and stamina and resilience beyond anything we may have taken for granted when we were younger.  Strength training should include the exercise of activities that keep us resilient and capable of living with vital and open hearts.  Mindfulness is similarly a consciously chosen practice of exercising the heart.  Body and soul stamina alike grow as a result of intention.  Eldering is an art form; simply put it is living mindfully.  No one is too young to get started.

An Exercise Program for Open-Hearted Eldering

Listening

Asking

Observing

Wondering

Learning

Forgiving

Standing up for what is important

Aligning

Supporting

Staying

Grieving

Dreaming dreams for the young with no strings attached

Hoping

Healing

Risking embarrassment as well as safety for future’s sake

Walking on water

Leaping tall buildings in a single bound

Offered in peace,

Rev. Carol Rinehart

 

 

 

Flexing the Surprise Muscle

Are you someone who likes or dislikes surprises?  This isn't usually an either-or question.   Dealing with the unexpected can slow down efficiency but pushing on without self-awareness can result in a bad case of, "We may be lost but we're making good time!"   The real question is, how nimble do I want to be with the unexpected? What have I learned?  My Tai Chi teacher has us chant:  “I am flexible!”  All together, now.

Today I had a chance to use these STAMINA Balance Scan questions on a surprising start to my day:

How did this little surprise throw me off balance?

How did I respond as a first reaction? 

How did I achieve a new level of balance? 

How would I rate my surprise muscle?

Here's the story.  

I recently upgraded my computer; therefore I now have a steady flow of new tech surprises and puzzles to solve.  All this improvement is slowing down my efficiency.  Passwords are a fact of life for all the new bells and whistles.   Recently I had the bright idea that I would put all my passwords in a Word document to which I can refer whenever I need to--a crafty memory management strategy.   This morning when I restarted my computer I was surprised to find I now needed a password to get into my own computer.  Oh no!  The crafty new document was on the computer, the one I couldn’t get into without a password. 

How did this throw me off balance? 

I was dumbfounded.

How did I respond as a first reaction? 

Yelping ensued, along with an instant list of worst-case scenarios.  Along with a good pinch of self-criticism for my short sightedness I enlisted my husband in the panic.  (Note to self:  irritating husbands may point out the same flaws.)  

How did I achieve a new level of balance? 

I have been grinding through quite a few new computer challenges lately, so I figured that, with patient determination, I could slog through every password I’ve ever scribbled on my desk blotter until I got the right one.  Groaning, I scanned the jumble.  I started with my best guess and voila! Lucky me.  First try was a charm.  Back in  action.

How would I rate my surprise muscle:  a) Pretty Darn Good, b) A Little Wobbly, c) Sluggish, or d) Wilted?

Wobbly but flexible, I guess.  I did meet surprise with my old friends Shame, Blame and Panic.  Not great.  But as I think about it, I did draw upon my increasing experience in tech problem solving and that gave me hope and patience.

How can we build strength or more flexibility with surprises?

Instead of fighting the need to deal with these onerous cognitive skirmishes with my computer, we can take on new computer projects with the attitude that they can provide strength training in patience and build our muscle strength for meeting the unexpected.   (It is also called reframing an irritating 21st Century fact of life.  Might as well meet it with a grin.)

It does help to strengthen the grin muscles at every opportunity.  It’s a vital element in maintaining flexibility and balance.  Surprising people can be even more fun.  How about making a pact with yourself to do something out of character every day?  Take Wendell Berry’s advice in his poem called Manifesto of a Contrarian.   You  can hear himself reciting it here

In fact, surprise yourself as well as other people.  If you're mindful you can take time to spot life's surprises:  enjoy the pleasant ones and roll with the others.

                  Surprise

Sunlight      glints on leaves.

Clouds        amaze the sky.

Wind           howls in awe.

Birds           sing just because.

Actively Growing Older Gracefully

This past year we took out a membership in the local YMCA.  We discovered that we can each get in 2-4 exercise classes a week there in their Active Older Adults program.  At first we looked at all those grey-hairs convinced we definitely don’t look as old as they do—until we got into the studio with those darned mirrors. 

But that studio with the mirrors turns into a packed expression of joy when the Tuesday-Thursday exercise class teacher puts us through our paces with old time rock and roll and I can just time travel back to what we were probably like at parties in our teens.  It’s a real experience in community.  People greet one another with pleasure and many share a cup of coffee in the little lounge area after class.  The women sit with the women and the men sit with the men, the latter hatching up their next plan for lunch out as the ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Out). 

Although I gave up maintaining my tone and curves on a circuit of ladylike equipment at my beloved Curves after nearly 10 years, I have taken up stretching in some interesting new ways through water aerobics, cardio exercises, and Tai Chi.   Strength training takes on new meaning for AOA’s as we work with weights, build our biceps, keep the quads and ham strings vibrant, and generally work up a sweat.  Or as we stretch toward the ceiling and bend low like wild geese, getting to know our own points of balance and fluidity, repeating after our Tai Chi teacher, Janet Aalfs, “I am flexible!” 

From this new adventure in finding just the right stretch points for active older adult bodies for both maintaining but also gaining strength, I have come to think about the many ways this can be a season of strength training for mindfully aging always.  As a metaphor, strength training is great way to think about how to prepare for and move around in the closing and probably most challenging marathon of our lives—aging as gracefully as possible with the least suffering possible for ourselves and our loved ones.  Opportunities abound for strength training in the area of balance, bowing fluidly and gracefully, sweating out some tough stuff, keeping the heart, hands and brain vibrating, having fun and seeking community, and--perhaps most of all—being able to stand and face the mirror with acceptance and a good sense of humor.

For about a year now our co-housing neighbors have been meeting monthly to talk about aging.  We spent several sessions on advance directives, dying wishes and fears about a future that may be outside our control.   Even though we laced the conversation with poetry and jokes some of us wondered whether we could ever grow up enough to face these last challenging years with the grace and courage to which we aspire? Living the last years of one’s life seems likely to be a kind of marathon that will call for true fortitude.   Wherever we are in the aging process, I propose seeing every part of life as an opportunity for preparing for this marathon. 

“Let’s talk about how we are living right now and how we want to live in whatever time we are given,” we said to each other.    “We may not be able to control our ending days since by definition life is no longer in our control, but we can know one another more and more deeply and we can know ourselves better and better; we can know one another’s desires and dreams.” At one of these Gracefully Growing Older gatherings we collected our thoughts about what we want in our remaining time.  Collected into four statements, here is what we found we held in common:

“I want to exercise, learn, connect, feel useful, and make the world better.”

“I want to remember how fortunate I am and enjoy life more.”

“I want to grow to have more compassion for myself and others.”

“I want to be kind, creative, and leave a legacy of love for my loved ones."

Strength training for aging mindfully can be a rich, life-long practice, never begun too soon, never something anyone can graduate from.  We can look in the mirror, build our mental, relational and spiritual muscles, keep the old heartstrings and sense of interest in life vibrant, and we can generally work up a sweat as we exert ourselves to keep making this a trustworthy world.   We can stretch toward the ceiling and bend low like wild geese, getting to know our own points of balance and fluidity, repeating, “I am flexible!  I am alive and I am the only one who is me.  In the end, it is the only gift I have to give.”

The secret to being eternal is love.  

Thornton Wilder said,  ‘and we ourselves shall be loved for awhile and then forgotten

but the love will have been enough, even memory is not necessary for love,

for there is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love.’

Love teaches us how not to perish. 

Bernie Siegel, Spiritual Aspects of the Healing Arts, Kunz, Ed.