Are You Gradually Awakening?

The Internal Dialogue

One of my favorite authors in the world, Stephen Levine, writes in his book, A Gradual Awakening, about the conditioned, or survival based, mind. He said, “At the base of the conditioned mind, is wanting. This wanting takes many forms. It wants to be secure. It wants to be happy.” It wants to keep speaking the same old stuff over and over. Behind that internal dialogue, that internal voice, is some good intention you don’t always realize. But, because it believes it is right, it speaks with great authority.

For example, a couple came over for dinner last Saturday. Over wine, pate, cheese and crackers, Jeff spoke about his quest to learn about and deal with his new midlife status. At 50 years old, he regretted not keeping up with people he’d met –– people he’d enjoyed being with and talking to. At this point, he couldn’t remember some of their names. He said sadly, “I let them pass through my life.” Part of his resolve, at being over 50, was never to let it happen again.

Stop That Pattern

This is the nature of the conditioned mind. His yearning and desire for these relationships depressed him and left him feeling disengaged. He automatically repeated this thought and feeling cycle, and noticed it replaying over and over. He looked in wonder and curiosity at his behavior. Yet, he couldn’t stop the pattern.

I asked him why didn’t he make a future time with people? I mean, what happens inside of him when he knows this is a great person, but remains silent. He said, “I keep wondering if I am right? Maybe there are better people.” He complained, “I don’t trust myself. I question myself. I’ve lost self-confidence.”

He believed this internal dialogue.  He was compelled to listen to that old doubting voice. Yet, it isn’t only Jeff that has no choice. If you have a pattern of behavior that repeats in your life, you have the same thing with different circumstances. If you’re not sure you have an internal voice of your own saying things to you, imagine me telling you “you have an internal dialogue”. Then, wait! Listen to what you say to yourself next. Your inner voice might even say, “What internal dialogue?” Whatever it says, that’s it.

Remember, if you can observe it happening, you can disregard or re-choose your next step. What Jeff needs to do is to recognize his thoughts and feelings and let them pass through. He needs to stop resisting them. I find this easier said than done. It takes a lot of attention and focus on my part. It’s an internal skill that takes  practice to install. After all, don’t most Boomer’s want skills that will allow them to change their unwanted patterns? What pattern are you trying to change?

 

Afraid Life Has No Meaning!

The Basics Of Energy

Everyone talks about midlife as a time of creating a new sense of what life means. It comes up because most people seem to find themselves stepping back from how they have been living. They wonder, “What does life mean for me?”

For some reason that simple question confused me. Where does the energy to have life mean something come from ––  inside our beings, our inner souls?  I think I saw it today. I saw a my friend Alice, in the middle of a diabetic reaction. This reaction was not from having too little blood sugar, it was from having too much sugar and no insulin to process the food sugars in her body. As a type one diabetic, her life was threatened. She could starve to death. I spent lots of time empathizing with her inner experiences, as she went through different stages of discomfort.

At first Alice complained that her stomach felt nauseated and bloated. Then, her stomach and lower abdomen began to hurt, with a knife like pain, making it hard for her to walk. She moaned and walked bent over, circling the inside of her house. She had tested her blood for the amount of sugar it contained by this time, and discovered there was too much sugar. But she was confused as to whether the insulin pump, she usually depended on to give her the right amounts of insulin during her day, was actually working. Over several hours of this moaning pain, Alice determined that her pump was not working correctly. She was well educated about how to handle diabetes and had, in reserve, a supply of insulin syringes, so she could just shoot some insulin into her body. As she lay on her bedroom floor, on a pillow, the pain started to decrease and the insulin started processing the sugar in her body.

A Power Inside Us

I could see, in her behavior, an automatic, unquestioning internal drive, to  control the imbalance and attempt to override her pain. I was amazed that she could handle the pain and work to correct it, herself. But Alice just kept saying over and over, “If I go to the hospital it will take more time and I’ll feel worse.”  I was really impressed with her courage. She just kept going –– waiting and feeling the pain, to determine if taking the shot was the best solution for her problem.

On some deep instinctual level, she was driven to live. The meaning, the purpose, of her life was survival. Her plans for the day went out the window. Every other issue lost meaning. She focused on the steps, she needed to take, to nurture her body.

Honor You Drive To Live

You also have that primitive drive. You have that pull to create in life, or you wouldn’t be bothered by the question, “What does life mean for me ?” Animals don’t ask that question. Yes, by just being a person you get to ask. I believe, at midlife, we face that deep internal call to live. It’s clear our time on this earth is limited. It feels like being yanked to wake up, so we can be sure we are living the way we want to. Just look in the mirror and, there, are the signs of aging looking back.  Isn’t it valuable to honor the animal part of us that has worked so diligently to take care of us over the years? This may be part of the fuel, the energy, that pushes our inner self in the search to fully define life’s meaning. If this energy expressed itself as a sentence, it might say, “I want life.” Give yourself credit for the desire to create a new life in this one.

Regret Can Be Good?

Regret As Loss

I like Wikipedia’s definition of regret. It defines regret as a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors.  After committing an action or actions that we later wish we had not done, we experience emotional reactions including: sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance and guilt. Many people talk about midlife as a stage, where we become aware of and focus on our regrets. Some part of us believes if we think about what we should have done, magnify it over and over, we will get some value from it.

Regret As Learning

Yet, there is something important to be gained from learning from mistakes in the golden years. We do learn! The feeling of regret is a gift in that way. Watch this video from The Big Kahuna: Danny DeVito’s Monologue.

Regret teaches a bitter sweet internal truthfulness. We learn that honesty builds our character, our moral strength.  Character is the gift that allows people to recognize and move beyond demonizing themselves for mistakes already made. It gives the power to balance inside, creating wisdom in the aging process. It allows us to have compassion for ourselves and others, so we can really be, starting over.

Mid Life Regret

Mental Emotional Cycles

For many, regrets can be compelling. The treadmill of the mind repeats and recycles whatever painful feelings and thoughts we have about life. It says: “I should have thought more about saving for retirement; I should have taken that job; I should have moved away from home; I should have listened to my father or mother; I should have changed my major; I should have gone to college, or grad school, or not gone to college. It sings in our ears over and over again. It is, in reality, too late to make any of these changes. The time for choosing has past.

We don’t know if this other option would have improved things in life now or not. All that we do know, is that we made the choices we made. Maybe you know the reason for it, and maybe you don’t. I don’t deny there can be value in learning what happened and why you reacted as you did. Sometimes this knowledge can make it easier to let go. But, ultimately, it  matters most to move on from the tyranny of this mental and emotional cycle.

Sinking In

For example, Paul, a man in his mid 30′s, became an alcoholic after college. Upon graduation, he worked as a bartender at an exclusive New York Italian Restaurant.  He had the prestige and status of working in a wonderful place and he could maintain his habit. In the short run, it looked like the perfect solution to his problem of making enough money to survive and drink. He could have gone on forever, except fate had other plans. When he was notified that his 25 year college reunion was approaching, he decided to go.  It was held at a ballroom near his small rent-controlled studio apartment in downtown Manhattan. People arrived from Long Island and even as far away as California. But when Paul walked in, he was confronted with how young everybody looked. The women and men were generally athletic and healthy looking. Then, he bumped into a guy he’d roomed with for three of his four years in college. It was sobering to discover that Jeff had become a successful real estate agent, who earned well over six figures. Jeff was all excited about his recent trip to France with his wife and kids. The comparison was too much. Paul had no wife, no children, no house. He was just paying his bills.

Paul’s mid life crisis bloomed as he sank into regret. He replayed “the waste of his life”, as he called it. He recycled his bad decisions over and over again in his mind. His daily litany became, ” I should have gotten a profession. I should have become a banker or financial planner, like my father. I should have stayed in contact with my family. I shouldn’t have moved away from Long Island.” It just made him feel hopeless and depressed. He drank even more.

Breaking Out

A year later, the owner of the restaurant, brought his daughter in to waitress. She had just gotten her degree in counseling and couldn’t help listening as he talked about his hopeless life. Eventually, she got him to an AA meeting. It was a rough internal shift, but a little over a year later he quit the restaurant and started a program to be certified as a financial planner. He still regrets his lost time. But, he’s moved on. He is starting over again

What About You ?

Are you regretting some of your important decisions? What happens when you start thinking about them? What have you learned form them?

Make A Difference After 50

What’s Next?

A friend of mine complained she was losing her job after 20 years at a large corporation.  She had money but nothing to do with her time left on earth. At 50, she was essentially forced to figure out what to do. Though it is always possible to be without your job, this dilemma opens up a desire or need to recreate what it means for you to be in this life. What are you going to do now?

I ran across this video hosted by Jane Pauley on a program called Your Life Calling on The AARP website. In it Libba and Gifford Pinchot spent their entire retirement savings to reinvent their lives. They decided at 58 to take the experience they had developed in business and combine it with their desire to make a difference in the world. Watch the video on this page link to see what they came up with.

You know you can make a difference after 50 too. The only question is WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?

Aging Into Possibilities

GOOD AND BAD NEWS

Is aging just about facing change and loss?  Examples abound, like loss of friends, family and passions. But in the face of all this, I notice I am still here. To continue functioning happily, I need new directions, new focus and to let go of old ones.  Aging takes true grit and internal strength. We may not be able to walk so far, see so well, or hear as well as we once did, but we are living longer than ever before.  The latest statistics report  the average life expectancy in the United States is 77.6 years. According to Hooyman and Kiyak, authors of Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, in 1900 forty percent of the population was under seventeen, and only four percent was over sixty-five. Now, ten percent of the American population is sixty-five and older. People are not just living longer but the aging population is also healthier. There is more access to and better health care. We have better support services. Baby Boomers can and are changing professions after retiring. A businessman becomes a teacher, a housewife, learns and teaches piano, a medical doctor takes up photography. These are just a few examples of people developing new or expanding old areas of interest. People are more able to live alone for longer periods of time. People just don’t seem to be as incapable, at these younger older ages.

AGING IS POSITIVE?

In addition, new discoveries about the way the aging brain functions have altered what we can expect from aging fundamentally.  Dr. Gene D. Cohen, in his book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of The Aging Brain, discusses the gifts and limitations of the aging brain. He mentions that much of the mental decline that has been associated with aging is caused by “micro-strokes”, not aging. This can be true for Alzheimer’s disease and mental illnesses, like depression. He points out that the healthy older brain, if managed by some simple activities, can maintain its ability to the end of life. He states that the brain has embedded neural pathways, developed from repeated use.  In other words, research indicates that with repetition the brain exhibits increased functioning that stays with us. As a matter of fact, the more complex the knowledge base and the more brain areas developed in daily use, the more it resists deterioration by injury and disease. Senior health is better than anyone ever expected.

With all these findings, why would anyone give up the next opportunity to live well into the end of life. There is so much more left of life to live. The questions become: What are we going to do with these years? How can we take this new path and make the most of it? How are we going to start over?