On Inertia, Aliveness, Nature and Spring

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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  1. Wow Ron! Such a well written article. I can relate to everything you have articulated so accurately here.
    I’m finding that having the support of others during this time of such expedited change requires that I self reflect and self regulate.
    I, too, feel this inertia deep in my bones, yet purposefully push myself beyond my own self limiting notions of who I think I am or should be.
    Recently I let myself purge in my own witnessing into birthing a new cycle for my life and service that compels my spirit into my souls destiny. I bellowed, cried, drummed, sat quietly, and drank some wine, asking myself:”How do I turn this deluge of water flowing through me creatively into wine?” I had to sever some ties that were binding me!
    I love the questions you ask here, a foundational platform to launch through the inertia to infinity and beyond.

  2. Ron, you are posing a dilemma here with which I’ve been struggling lately. Like you and Barbara, Karen and I moved this past year to a new state and a new (and downsized) home. Our goal was to re-connect with kids and grandkids after over a decade of going our separate ways. That piece was a success, we are family again. We have granddaughters visiting us today. Hurrah.
    But… The move also had a problematic side to it: It disconnected us from many of the long-term life-affirming relationships we had established with friends and groups, with our church circles and Sage-ing circles and Elder Climate Circle, with exercise and walking routines that kept us vital… Landing in this new community means re-connecting and re-building the sacred relationships and sacred practices that give life meaning and direction. Which takes effort, and a sense of purpose and intention.
    So I find myself struggling now within myself… Into what new relationships and rituals will I launch, and why? If I agree to start volunteering in the community, am I doing that for life-affirming reasons (affirming both my own vitality and others’…)? Or am I seeking new roles just for the sake of busy-ness, to avoid boredom?
    You bring forward many good questions here: The tension between unhealthy inertia and healthy fallow-time-keeping, the competition between “doing” as service to self and others vs. “doing” as a cover for avoiding my own hollowness within and grief over the losses inherent in aging.
    Good questions. Thanks for them. You’ve given us all good stuff to chew on here.

  3. Ron – Thank you for this article, like the other respondents I found it thought provoking and relevant. At this stage of life, we all have moments, days or months perhaps when we feel this inertia that you talk about. I think we are meant to sit with it and see what it has to teach us about ourselves and life. To try not to be judgmental of it but rather welcome it as another teacher. I have had several experiences with it this past year and when I could pay attention to it (which I can’t always do) I learned more about myself. The other thing that helps me in times of inertia (or liminal space) is to simply be open. When I am open rather than striving, I have found amazing new possibilities find me, rather than me finding them. These are never on any type of timeline that I would have chosen, but they are always rich with exactly what I needed to move forward into the elderhood I desire. They are usually also not what I had envisioned. But staying open is a key for me.

  4. Oh, yes, Ron, I think we can all relate to what you have written. I think it best we do not resist these in-between times. Simply, we dance with them. We see them as blessings, and not detriments. For it is within these times, that we look at ourselves, that we perhaps recognize the conditionings, the delusions and illusions we have been living under. And we come to realize that there is nothing wrong with simply Being. That it is in the silence, the pause, where we heal. Doing, in its extreme form, is that of rabid busyness, which is the Ego telling us we must Accomplish, we must have Goals, we must be Ambitious. Busyness has become an addiction for many, a way of escaping. It is often an avoidance of facing our true self, which includes our shadows. When we can become authentic, know and live our truth, and strip away all the avoidances and cull the distractions, we will find that place of peace, where we can observe and witness the surrounding chaos, but always hold our still point, and stand in our Centre.

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