Archive for Aging

Pros and Cons of Being On My Own

IMG_2168I signed up for Rita’s Sacred Earth Walk, a guided stroll designed to help people experience the magic of the desert. Rita Faruki is a teacher here in Sedona who views her work as helping people come back into balance and harmony with Nature. (1) Besides walks through the desert, this remarkable teacher gives sessions in drumming and Shamanism, practices she learned while living as a school teacher with the Navajo. I feel so fortunate to be here, at this time in my life: a time when I’m attempting to find a new way of life, one that’s just right for me.

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Rita

On this particular morning, I find Rita waiting with an American couple. The three of us will share Rita’s guidance. The woman, like me, has a lung condition. We are a compatible trio. At the end of our walk, I offer to sit with her while her husband gets the car. She is beyond exhausted by our gentle pace.

The two of us take a seat at a picnic table overlooking the distant red hills. I mention to her what Rita said to me about lung disease. In Chinese medicine it’s believed to be caused by sadness and frustration at not being able to do what you are drawn to in your life. When Rita first said that to me I thought of all the trips and experiences when I had wanted to take in events that didn’t interest my husband. When you travel with a spouse or another being, you have to compromise.

As I said this, the woman doubled over in shocked recognition of her own situation.

“You’re so lucky to be free to do whatever interests you. I’m so frustrated. My husband just yawns and shrugs at most of the things I want to do. This walk is one of the few things we both agreed on.”

Oh, oh, I think to myself, what have I set off? I warn her that my sort of freedom also means being alone. I wouldn’t want to leave her with the impression that freedom comes without a cost. Her husband seems like a caring partner.

Actually, although there is a price to pay for picking and choosing my personal interests without regard for another, I’m still glad I’m on my own. I’m free to explore Medical Qui Gong, relationships with trees and the famous Sedona Vortexes without having to deal with someone else’s disapproval and skepticism. My own Inner Critic’s resistance to these opportunities is trouble enough. 

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Julie

Another Sedona teacher I’m learning from is Julie Engsberg.(2) Julie introduced me to Medical QuiChong. Medical Qi Gong is related particularly to wellness issues. I wonder if it will benefit my lungs. Western medicine considers my condition chronic. QuiChong offers routines for whatever ails you. It promises to increase the Qi (Chee) flow to my lungs and, thus, improve my breathing. What’s the harm, I ask myself.

I really like the QiGong routine that’s said to help the aging brain. This “medicine” balances right and left brain by moving Qi through the brain. Is it my imagination or is it real? I feel smarter and my memory seems improved after following the prescribed practice. Long ago, when I was a trauma therapist, I came to believe in the healing power of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy that became main stream because it worked. At first, it seemed just as strange as medical QiGong. What’s more, medical QiGong is available on the internet. You don’t need a practitioner to benefit from it.

To contact either Rita or Julie:

Rita Faruki, (928) 963-1146: klwrtf@wyoming.com

Julie Engsberg, (928) 399-9631: Julie@QiFreedom.com

How I Got a Free Trip to The Grand Canyon

IMG_2097Yesterday I got to realize another dream from my bucket list. I toured the Grand Canyon. This was something I’d always wanted to do. As it happens, I not only realized my dream, I got the tour for free.

When I arranged my accommodation with The Sedona Summit, I didn’t realize it was a time-share organization. Checking in was a bit strange. I wondered why nobody offered to help me with my luggage and I had a hard time finding my room. “My room” was on the second floor of one of many vermillion coloured six and eight plexes. (All the buildings are painted to match the red rocks of Sedona.) “My room” turned out to be  larger than my apartment in Kingston. Its fully equipped kitchen had everything a dedicated cook could wish for, including a dish washer. You can imagine my surprise when I opened a cupboard and found a washer and dryer. Price-wise it was a real bargain!

Once I settled into my new living space, I went to the front desk to arrange my trip to the Grand Canyon. To my surprise the clerk offered me a free daylong tour if I would agree to spend ninety minutes with their sales person. Ninety minutes couldn’t be too painful, I decided, so I agreed to the exchange: my ears in return for $200 worth of trip.

Steeling myself to resist whatever unpleasantness was coming my way, I waited along with a dozen others for my salesman. He turned out to be a benign looking white haired man with glasses. I followed him to a round table surrounded by four chairs. I’d decided to tell him honestly that I was here for the free tour and nothing else. He looked a little surprised, tried anyway to interest me in investing, then finally said, “Well we have to spend 90 minutes together. We might as well do something interesting.”

I thought that was decent of him and let him know that I’d already arranged to rent a house in the Tucson area for the winter. He, bless his heart, opened his computer to “Google Earth” and showed me the area I’ll be staying in when the cold winds start blowing back home.

I’ve been here at the timeshare resort for over a week now. It’s a perfect place for me with daily activities of the sort I like: yoga, Qi Gong, guided walks through the desert, hiking trips to the famous vertexes, and on and on. What’s more, I don’t have to summon up my courage to eat dinner alone. I go grocery shopping and prepare my own food in the spacious kitchen.

Actually, this wouldn’t be a bad bet for someone like me. All the gardening, garbage, cleaning and so on is taken care of. What’s more, it’s a friendly place. People share a sense of belonging to the club. There’s both privacy and a chance to mix with people. Couldn’t be a better fit. The reason I won’t consider it? They don’t accept dogs as guests. There’s no way I would leave Sammy The Poodle for 5 months. It’s hard enough leaving him for the two and a half weeks of this trip.

So, how was the Grand Canyon? Unbelievable, indescribable, and all the other adjectives you’ve always heard. Nine of us tourists climbed into a van with a tour guide who took us up 8,000 feet, over the Arizona plateau, round and round hairpin turns, finally arriving at the Grand Canyon.  Since it’s indescribable, I’ll attach a few of the photos I took.

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Travelling Alone or “You’re so Brave.”

IMG_2090I’m here in Arizona, travelling alone, fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing the Arizona desert. I’ve always wanted to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural legacies, the Grand Canyon, Sedona and a thousand other wonders in this amazing part of our world. Along the way I  meet other women, young and old, who look at me with admiration and great respect.         

They say:  “I could never do that.”  “You’re so courageous.”  “I’d be too lonely.” “I so admire you.” “I wish I could be like you, but I’d be too scared.“

I’m glad I look brave. It’s often not the way I feel. Inside, I’m often quivering, not sure I’ve made the right choice and scared that I won’t remember the route I’m to take to such-and-such. Two heads with two sets of eyes would be so comforting. It’s hard to travel alone, especially at the end of the day. But the alternative is even less attractive. Staying home and missing out on checking off items on my bucket list? That’s even less appealing.

You might be saying to yourself as you read this, she could go on a tour or join a group travelling to areas she wants to see. The problem is: I like to go where I want to go and I avoid having to conform to someone else’s agenda. Aloneness is the price I pay. 

I look for ways to feel less alone. For example, in the Phoenix area the restaurant across the street from my hotel served as my dining room. Dinnertime featured live music. I tried to get the high backed booth facing the elderly white-haired guitarist. He was perched on a stool, strumming to the tunes coming from a big black box. At the end of a long silver barrel the microphone picked up the songs he was singing. They were all tunes from my youth – and his.

An older couple approached the singer with a request. The man was tall and very serious about what was about to unfold. The singer considered their request, fiddled with his black box and began to strum. “The House of the Rising Sun” filled the restaurant. The tall serious man led his wife onto the floor. She too was unsmiling, concentrating on their performance. He lifted her hand in his to dance. They never smiled. They were too concentrated to even look at one another. I got the feeling they’d learned these steps and arm movements a long time ago. Being alone allows for lots of fantasy. I imagined them fifty years as young sweethearts  winning a dance contest with these same twirls and spins.

That’s the most comfortable restaurant I’ve found for solo dinners. My son Frank had a good suggestion: sit at the bar. That’s what men do. That way you at least get to talk with the bartender.

In my next hotel, in Sedona, eating alone was no problem. To my surprise, there wasn’t even a restaurant near the hotel. Instead I found myself in an apartment bigger than my Kingston home. Turns out it’s a time-share business. In my next piece I’ll tell you how I got a free trip to the Grand Canyon.

Trees and Me

treeIt’s now 21 months since I left my marriage of 54 1/2 years. Usually I write about the freedom and the pleasure in organizing my life to suit only me. That being so, it wouldn’t be fair to hold back on telling you about a strange sense of mourning in my belly. I don’t understand this queasy, uneasy feeling of loss. After all, the externals of my life are all in place. I’m doing exactly what I planned. Nobody else is responsible for my choices. I get to do pretty much anything I want. For example, I am now preparing to leave for a holiday in Arizona. I’ve always wanted to see that amazing part of our world. You’d expect me to feel totally elated, wouldn’t you?

Of course, we humans are a mix of emotional as well as rational responses to life. Rationally my life makes perfect sense. Why am I feeling this belly full of sadness? We feel what we feel and feelings aren’t necessarily rational.

I decided to take my issue into my morning Focusing time.

Dropping my awareness down inside my body I asked, “Everything’s just fine, isn’t it?” “NO!” screamed the answer. In the next Focusing step I asked my body how it felt physically about my predicament. Over the next few minutes, an image of a folded over, unbaked batch of bread dough appeared. I could feel it in my lower abdomen. (This is the sort of thing that happens in a Focusing session.) I stayed with it, concentrating on the felt sense of dough. The dough gave way to the physically felt image of a huge oak tree. In this visual image, the tree roots spread out solidly all through my belly. Then something awful began to happen.

A huge force started knocking over the tree. Its deep strong roots were being pulled right out of the ground. I felt the roots give way and the tree fall. I was left with upturned earth. I stayed with the image and the physical feeling until, at last, images of tiny little shoots emerged where the big tree’s roots had been. These seedlings were not oak leaves. Some other species, maybe a birch was trying to take advantage of the newly cleared territory.

I asked into my body what all this meant. The oak tree was clear to me. But what about those little shoots.

Oh, it’s about my post-retirement life.

Focusing guides us in how life should go forward. The message to me is clear. I need to plant new and different seeds in my life as a retired person. I’ll never again have a big tree with massive roots. I’m past that stage in my life. It won’t be a big tree, but I need to do what I can to grow some little saplings.

So, how do we move on to a new meaningful life after retirement? Libraries are full of guides for seniors. Many people talk of how much they enjoy these “golden years.” Maybe they didn’t love their jobs. Maybe their work meant only a paycheque. For me, I would no doubt be feeling the way I do today even if I’d stayed in Toronto. It’s not Kingston: it’s my sense of rootlessness when I’m not fully occupied with life beyond my personal concerns. I also know it’s a mistake to try to hang onto the old ways in this new developmental stage of aging. How do we find meaning and contentment when we’re finally free to do what we want?

What’s your experience with retirement? Do you share my rootlessness? Or are you having the best years of your life? I hope you’ll leave a comment below.

Saying Goodbye to Gene Gendlin

gene_teaching_1It was June 12, 2017 and I was in New York City for Dr. Eugene Gendlin’s memorial service. It was important for me to be there. Gene, as we students called him, was the teacher who changed the course of my life, personally and professionally.

At the memorial service, those close to Gene told heart warming stories about their time with him. One of the most moving talks was his son’s story of growing up with Gene as his father. I especially liked his story of being small and crawling into his father’s lap, looking up at him and saying, “When I grow up I want to be just like you.” Gene replied, “Oh no, you want to be just like you.”

I first met Gene nearly 40 years ago. I’d just completed my Masters degree in Social Work at the University of Toronto and dreamed of somehow combining what I knew as a yoga teacher with the western psychology I’d learned at university. As a yoga teacher, I knew  that people don’t really heal unless change happens in their bodies. I needed an approach that worked with the body.

On my very first trip to Chicago to learn from him I was a yoga practitioner in search of a guru. I needed a way to weave the wisdom of the body into western psychology. Focusing offered a blend of east and west and, at the same time, was psychologically sound in terms of western psychology. 

In those days, none of the current western psychologies recognized the role of the body in healing. That’s different now.  Many therapies have learned from Dr. Gendln, usually without going him credit. Maybe it’s intellectual theft or maybe it’s that mysterious phenomenon where different people simultaneously “discover” the same approach, story or solution to a problem. 

Gene started life 90 years ago as a Jew in Vienna Austria. His father left a meeting to discover swastikas everywhere in the town’s centre. It was 1938 and the Nazi occupation was underway. He knew not to return home and gathered his family to make their escape to Holland and finally to America. Gene was eleven.

At the University of Chicago Gene earned Phd’s in both philosophy and psychology. Inspired by Carl Rogers, he developed the model he called Focusing, a six-step system that teaches people to access their unconscious knowing through learning to read their bodies’ physical responses to life’s situations and problems. 

Gene always made it clear he was nobody’s guru. In spite of the fact that we, his students looked up to him in awe, he made it clear he was an imperfect being. Someone once asked him how he avoided becoming a guru figure. Gene replied that a little honesty went a long way. For me, the fact that he smoked was jarring. After all, for yogis the body is the temple.

In those early days we students were mostly from North America. Today Focusers belong to a worldwide community.  The memorial service was the end of a remarkable life but it also marked the current state of a blossoming approach to life.