As I sit here at my desk in our new (to us) home in Fort Collins, Colorado, watching an early Spring storm build from gentle snowfall to “Winter Storm” intensity, I find myself reflecting on inertia. The inertia that makes it difficult for me to begin writing an article for this newsletter and to make progress on my book project. The inertia that keeps me in bed in the morning when I have had plenty of sleep. The inertia that leads to my reading yet another “spiritual growth” book and feeling yet another temporary high when I know, thanks to the impact the many crises of these times have had on me, that what I really need is to do more of the difficult inner emotional and spiritual work I am seeing is certainly not finished It is inertia that many registrants tell me they hope to overcome by coming to our retreats this year after feeling numbed by the seemingly endless challenges of these past two years.
At times it is clear to me when I am giving in to inertia. At other times I feel confused about the difference between disempowering inertia and the life supporting dynamic of lying fallow—hibernating to restore myself for the season of growth ahead. I want to choose to experience and savor aliveness in each of my precious and numbered elder days, yet often feel ambivalence as I settle for activities that require little effort and produce little in return.
I know and teach that elderhood is a time for shifting from a primary focus on “doing” to a focus on “being,” yet I see so many people whose “doing” seems to give way to filling their days with shallow enjoyments that do not fulfill the human need for true aliveness and service. To my mind, this is not “Being,” but rather, “existing”, with the choice for aliveness undermined by inertia. So I reflect on question such as these: How can those of us committed to conscious eldering overcome such inertia while not feeling we need to constantly be efforting?; What is a healthy balance between living consciously and allowing ourselves to just relax?; and When we feel we need to bring more intentionality to our days, how do we overcome the inertia that stands in our way?
While I do struggle with such questions and bring them to our retreats to tap the wisdom of the elders there, most of whom have these same questions, here is what I do know about inertia as it relates to the commitment many of us have to growing into a conscious elderhood. At any stage in life, and moreso in our later years, fulfilling our potential for growth, fulfillment, service and aliveness requires effort— pushing beyond our current perceived boundaries and comfort zones. This is difficult, and as we age it becomes increasingly easy to tell ourselves that we are done efforting; it is now time to relax.
This is why it is such a critical element of our conscious eldering work that we focus on becoming more and more aware of what brings us truly alive versus what provides much less fulfilling distraction or enjoyment and helps fill our hours. A key to such awareness is whether our choices feel like they open our hearts to appreciation, gratitude and creative expression. And whether we feel we are contributing our life’s energy to the world and in reciprocity drawing in life energy, or not. The more we feel true aliveness as we make our daily decisions, the easier it is to make the effort to push beyond our comfort zones. The reward makes it worth it.
Another critical factor is making a disciplined commitment to engage in certain practices over a period of time that will support our aliveness, growth and momentum. We have all heard that establishing new positive habits requires that we engage in certain behaviors each day for at least a month, or 40 days, or whatever. By doing so, these behaviors become a part of us. It is so much easier to incorporate them into our lives, and the energies of inertia weaken. For this reason, making a long-term commitment to our growth that involves doing tangible work each day or each week to support our emotional and spiritual growth seems to be the only way, amid inner inertia and pervasive outer distractions, to bring forth the conscious elder that lives within us all. This is the reason Katia Petersen and I are writing a conscious eldering growth-book intended to serve as a year-long practice guide to the many facets of aging consciously.
Whether you use our book to be released early next year, or my book Conscious Living, Conscious Aging or other of the fine resources available, I encourage you to make a commitment to using practices that speak to you (and some that may seem more challenging) on a regular basis. On our retreats, participants often report that, in their experience the only way to assure that their commitment to their growth work is sustained is to schedule into their lives time that is used only for this work. It is not sufficient to tell oneself that you will do some growth practices when you don’t have other things to do. If your growth is truly your priority, make it a priority as you schedule your weeks..
Inertia thrives when we are isolated. Having the support of one or more kindred spirits who share our vision for what aging can be makes all the difference in the world. Sharing our aspirations—our challenges, our achievements, the personal growth work we are doing—with at least one other infuses our commitment and confidence with an energy that overrides disempowering beliefs about our potential as we age and the inertia that is fed by these beliefs.
Finally, with the arrival of Spring I remind you of the vital role the natural world plays in bringing forth the aliveness of the elder within us. Most of the people who come to our retreats, whatever their religious preferences, say that their deepest experiences of feeling in touch with the sacred, or spiritual, dimension of life have happened when they have been in nature, away from human-created structures and ideas about what has value, what is possible, what to strive for. The natural world opens the human heart and mind to what is most true and natural in the world around us and within us. Eldering is nature’s way of supporting our growth in life’s later chapters.
I encourage you to schedule time in a natural setting this Spring—perhaps a few hours or a day—reflecting upon what is most important to you to nurture as we emerge into the season of new life. In what ways do you need to bring healing to your past so that old baggage and stale energy (strong components of inertia) do not keep you from truly blossoming into your potential? When you think of the various dimensions of who you are, how can you intentionally act, in whatever life circumstance you find yourself, to support your need for good health; for community; for giving your gifts to a world in need; for spiritual and emotional growth; for learning; for adventure; for personal expansion, for joy. Allow yourself to get in touch with that yearning deep inside you to feel truly alive rather than settling for less.
Back to my challenges with inertia. I can honestly report that having written this article in spite of my inertia, I feel life flowing through me again. It’s like night giving way to day.
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