Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Take Your Time with Transitions


Throughout my life I have carried a certain social stigma that shows up at any group social function; parties, family dinners, group meetings.  When the event is over my first inclination is to leave, split, adios and go on to whatever is next.  This character defect once was so bad a close friend confided in me, 'what happened to you all of a sudden? You said good bye and you were gone.'  Uh, yes it was time to go.  What is not easy for me is the ambiguous nature of endings and therefore beginnings.  The party ends and now it is time to begin the drive home.  This was reinforced in a thirty year career in education where everyone's day is run by the bells, when it rings you go.  Period.  The shift in work focus as marked by so-called retirement has been a radical lesson on becoming comfortable with the meandering and gradual nature of transitions.

Transitions take a lot longer than we ever expect.  In this century we are conditioned to expect things to change rapidly in technology, politics, you name it.  We have become a nation with an epidemic case of ADD, which is fostered by our highly consumerist society.  Each new ‘device’ offers more tricks, features, and entertainment that we didn’t know we needed.  Reminds me of a piece I wrote about  about the 70s hippie commune, Taylor Camp, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  The kids (now senior citizens) were seeking a calmer, quieter, simpler life living in tree houses.  In the 21st century, life is a lot more complicated than in the 70s.  We live in a global village with instantaneous connectivity with friends, colleagues, and customer virtually anywhere in the world.  This rapid social and technological change has been seen as a factor in the ever increasing incidence of depression and anxiety.  The constant change in daily even extends to the stock market with its now regular mood swings. 

With this backdrop, the transition to ‘retirement’ or the next chapter after one’s original career, can seem excruciatingly slow.  Changing daily habits is the easiest.  I did not find it tough to learn to sleep in in the morning.  Staying out during the week to indulge in my passion for live jazz quickly resulted in a new sleep routine.  The more difficult change was addressing other aspects that drop away with the job; social connections, achievement, structure, and sense of purpose.  For myself and many others there is no possibility (or desire) of continuing the job in a modified form.  I wanted a clean break, a reinvention that would open the space for new passions and projects.  In a word: Reinvention.  Just as work acquaintances largely faded away, also unexpectedly former hobbies disappeared (couldn’t play my sport of 40 years, tennis, due to aging back issues), my spiritual community began to look tired and boring.  I chose to study the issue and read a bunch of books on retirement and completed the questions for self-awareness.  I even hired a coach for four sessions.  One night I did an elaborate burning ritual with documents, clothes, and photos from my past life.  All of it was good but no bolt of lightning from the rare blue skies in Santa Monica transforming me into a totally new character. The key ingredients missing were time and focused action. 
                                                 

Seeking Vision in Death Valley
Rather than patiently doing my inner closure, my impatience and anxiety led me to hitch onto a new lover as if she was a trolley to Mt Zion.  The weight of my major life transition was too much for our nascent connection and we imploded after a couple years together.    When the relationship came to its end, I was finally and truly on my own with full days to build my new life.  I even went on a ten day wilderness vision quest in Death Valley to find that instant direction.  Not so fast.  Faced with persistent questions for the introspective:  Who am I?  What am I to do? Where am I to go?  The urgency seemed much greater at 60 than at 25.  Time was no longer on my side.  If not now, when?  Rather than looking for the perfect career/ location/ mate, I shifted my inquiry to 'What is it that fulfills me now?'     

After tapping my decades of meditation practice and reading William Bridges' 'Making Sense of Life's Transitions', I decided to let it simmer and only when fully cooked...act.  Practicing acceptance ironically has yielded insights that were not attained by thinking and striving but by living here and now.  As they say in zen, ‘reach, don’t grab.’ It is a balance of living fully in this experience now and still growing, exploring, and inquiring.  I’ll always be a quester, but now I know there is no rush AND study and preparation can set the table but the repast must still ripen, cook, and be served in its own time.  Then taking action with the knife and fork, we are ready dine on the sweet nectar of this golden time of life.

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