By Barbara Roth
“Getting older is great, you learn to let go of stuff, like yourself.” The Nualas from The Irish Women’s Quotations Book
I used to think the only way to cope with getting older was with humor, and that you truly did have to let yourself go as you aged.
October 1, 2020 is the two-year anniversary of my retirement and the two-year anniversary of heading out to the Choosing Conscious Elderhood Retreat! These anniversaries are giving me the opportunity to reflect on these first two years of retirement. It was serendipity that led me to head out the day after retiring to this retreat, a retreat I would share with my friend and colleague Gail Vessels. We both wanted to get away after retiring, both love New Mexico and Ghost Ranch in particular, and we were initially looking for a knitting retreat. What we found was actually way more life changing for me.
I feared aging, had no plan for how to deal with it, had no idea that I would encounter the physical struggles I’ve had. Post-retirement life seemed literally like simply wasting time until you die.
I have worked since I was 14 years old. One of the early batches of women to have it all, I was a working Mom, unaware until years later how the stress of doing neither my job nor parenting as well as I wanted took its toll on me. However, my life has been one of blessings, fears, love, losses, health, illness, and survival. I have two wonderful adult daughters and four adorable grandchildren. My career took me places I could never have imagined. None of the jobs I held after my first position right out of college existed when I graduated, so I could not have aspired to them. Moving from local to state and finally national positions, allowed me to use my skills and knowledge and have a positive impact on the world, which was my goal. My work provided meaning in my life beyond the personal and I felt I made contributions that were significant in my fields. I used to say I would never quit work, I loved working, and would not know what to do with my time. I need meaning in my life, and that came from my work.
In 2018, when my organization offered early retirement to my department, I thought it made sense to take them up on it as I was 65 and tired of traveling. This brought me to the precipice of my eldering. Several things contributed to my transition being much better than I’d feared.
I believe one of the biggest contributions to the positive nature of my transition into retirement was the participation in the Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreat.
Having never attended a retreat that was not part of my work life, I really didn’t know what to expect. I read the description and did (most of) the pre-work. It all excited me and piqued my interest. I went into the retreat with an open heart and mind, albeit with a few fears. Those fears focused mostly on the day of solitude and fasting. That seemed out of my comfort zone!
The retreat provided so many enriching experiences and served as a real and specific transition for me. The day of fasting and solitude was actually wonderful, as the preparation and instructions for it were gentle and helpful. The night before our day of solitude included a ritual to offer up something in our lives we needed to shed to be able to move on. The send-off the morning of the day of solitude was at once deeply spiritual and supportive. My day of solitude provided me with a new sense of time, a renewed comfort with nature, and a heightened confidence in my own physical abilities. These three things have been a thread throughout the first two years of this journey for me.
I never imagined what could unfold for me in this conscious eldering process. Much like the fact that none of the jobs in my career existed when I graduated, the options and freedoms for this last third of my life were unknown to me. That retreat at magnificent Ghost Ranch was truly a rite of passage for me, helping me to start the process of shedding what I needed to shed to move forward, to catch glimpses of the richness that life could now be for me, and developing practices that have continued to be crucial in this process.
My body and mind have changed as I’ve delved into the third wave of my life. I recognize the richness, growth, and opening that are possible. I know that my wisdom is important to the world, even as I struggle to find the right ways to share it. I now know that this is not a time of simply waiting for death as I’d feared in the past. It is a time to prepare for death, but also a time of inner awareness, of mining the truths in my soul, and a time of patience for myself and others.
Some of the practices that I started developing at the retreat are now effortlessly woven into my life, including: Journaling: Contemplation and Tonglin Prayer; Spiritual and other daily Reading; Connecting with Nature/ Forest Bathing/Learning from animals; Sitting with myself/Being Patient with myself (and others); Days of Solitude
There are of course even more, but what I want to emphasize here is that when this eldering journey began for me these all seemed like another list of goals, like my work had been, a check list of “to-dos”. But as a result of my conscious eldering journey my daily life has become more and more integrated and calm, and these practices aren’t a to-do list, they are the essence of my growth.
Wisdom from Sonny Rollins, jazz legend, at 89 when asked if he gets lonely living all alone, perhaps says it best: “I have a lot of spiritual materials I need to get with. I have to deal with myself. That’s what it gets down to for each of us. Understanding is up to you. It’s up to me. There’s no escape. I got pains and aches all over, but spiritually, man, I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I’m on the right course.”
Man, so do I!
Barbara Roth has been retired form non-profit work in child and youth development for a little over two years. You can reach Barbara through email at firstname.lastname@example.org