Archive for September 21, 2018

Travelling Alone

1 florenceI once had a yoga teacher who travelled a lot – and always alone. She wouldn’t travel any other way. Why? Alone she met such interesting people. If she’d been with a friend or part of a group, these friendships would never have happened.

As I write this, I’m on a ten-day guided tour of Italy ALONE. Did I choose my single travel status? Certainly not. It’s just that I had nobody to go with. I had a choice. Go alone or stay home. I chose to go. And so I joined the Story Land and Sea small group tour of five major Italian cities. Maybe, I told myself, there would be another compatible single man or woman.

My plane from Toronto landed at Venice’s island airport.  True to their word, the Story Land and Sea representative was there to meet me. This was definitely a reassuring sign. Landing without a travel companion was, for me, a daunting experience. If no one had met me, I’d have been really shaken.

All 1 florence bof us passengers walked out onto long wharves and piled into low motorized launches, the sort you saw in cottage country a century ago.  The airport is on an island. We were en route to the city of Venice which I learned is made up of 100 islands. Nearer land, the motor launch slowed and we made our way through a network of canals. Surprisingly, our boat docked at a wharf that turned out to be the water entrance to our hotel.  Climbing up out of the low boat, we stood on the dock while our legs steadied and we could push open the glass doors leading to the dark panelled hallway where the desk clerk welcomed us.

The hotel turned out to be gracious in an old-world sort of way.  My room was hugely spacious and elegant. All of Venice’s old hotels, it turns out, were originally mansions belonging to private families.

After a struggle to open my ornate white door, figure out the light switches and borrow some international electric plugs for my computer, my phone and my electric toothbrush I begin to feel slightly more competent about managing the complexities of this historic world.

At last, it was time to meet the rest of the group. About a dozen of us gathered in a sitting room where the leader greeted us and laid out the programme for the coming week and a half. Then it was time for introductions. Guess what?! Everybody was with a partner: 5 married couples and two women who were twin sisters. My heart sank.

…………………………………

As I write this, we’ve been together for a week and I have to say my fellow travellers are wonderfully thoughtful about including me and making sure I’m in the right place at the right time. I no longer feel stressed by my single state. They are particularly aware of my safety since I’m much older than my fellow travellers. After a struggle to open my ornate white door, find the light switches and borrow some international electric plugs for my computer, my phone and my electric toothbrush I begin to feel more competent about managing the complexities of another world.

Right now I’m feeling surrounded by caring people. I have all the companionship I need to feel happy and safe. In fact, I seem to have the best of both worlds: caring, thoughtful people for shared activities with the freedom to do as I wish for a good part of each day.

Would I do it again? You’d have to ask me next year or whenever I get the urge to travel again. Besides the fear of loneliness, it’s stressful not having a second set of eyes and another mind to make decisions as you travel. I’m not sure what I’ll decide.

Here’s a rhyming toast my much younger fellow travellers made to me at dinner:

Here’s to Mary, fearless and bright

From the climes of Canada she suffers no fright.

May we all be so bold as to follow her lead

And never let time inhibit our speed.

1 tuscany

 

 

Mindfulness Comes To The Rescue

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 10.29.15 AMIn my last post I talked about the importance of Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness for older people. In his book Brain Rules For Aging Well, Medina says: “It is not an exaggeration to say that Kabat Zinn’s ideas revolutionized the field of mind-body medicine, putting it on a firm scientific footing. Now his technique is one of the most powerful anti-stress therapies ever shown to actually work in the elderly population (p. 77.)”

Medina’s praise for Mindfulness was enough to convince me this was something I needed to explore. So, what is Mindfulness? It’s about paying absolute attention to whatever is happening in the moment without judging your experience. Frankly, when things go wrong, I find it very hard not to wish things were different. If only I could accept events without judgment, I could join the ranks of mindful seniors who handle stress well and have a marked reduction in depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction could improve my memory too, because cortisol would not be causing my hippocampus to atrophy. (See the previous post about stress and memory.) Even if this part of my brain has already atrophied because of stress, the good news is that the hippocampus is capable of neurogenesis. (Remember when scientists believed that the brain never changed for the better? or that it was capable of healing?)

Mindfulness demands two things. First, we have to pay attention to what’s happening right now. Second, we have to stop wishing things were different. You can’t be mindful if you’re caught up in wanting a different reality. I find this very difficult. Accepting whatever’s happening right now without judgment seems almost impossible.

So what does an average day look like now that I’m practicing Mindfulness?

pexels-photo-268134There are some changes to my routine. For example, I’ve always listened to the radio as I work around the house. Now the radio is turned off while I try to concentrate solely on washing the dishes or separating the garbage for recycling. Walking along the shore of the lake, if I find my mind wandering, I tune into sounds, the feeling in my feet or the number of oak trees lining the path. Anything to keep from daydreaming or worrying about something that might never happen.

At some point during the day, I do the body scan. In the U-Tube’s body scan, Kabat Zinn’s gentle voice instructs you to lie down and listen as he guides you through a deep letting go of each part of your body. The trick is to stay awake. For me, this means doing the body scan early in the day before I get tired. It’s really hard not to drift off with the sonorous voice telling you to breathe into your belly.

Then there’s daily meditation. That’s no problem for me. I have a long-established habit of making space for meditation each morning. Basically, Mindfulness meditation is a practice of concentrating on the rise and fall of the belly, as you pay attention to your inhaling and exhaling.

“The twin ideas of awareness and acceptance can literally rewire your … brain,” says Medina (p.80.) I’d certainly like to meet those calm, happy seniors who’ve mastered this way of being in the world and I’d like to hear from other people who have pursued and struggled with Mindfulness. If you struggle with or successfully practice Mindfulness, I’d appreciate reading your comments in the space below.