Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A New Day

I apologize to any of my readers who read my last blog and wondered if they should contact my mental health provider for an immediate intervention.  It was an honest and truthful blog.  There are aspects of transitioning from being a full time worker to a full time retiree that I find challenging.  It is challenging to jump from a lifetime of daily 9-5 office life with hundreds of other people in the same rat race to a life of no major responsibilities all alone in your home.  OK, I do take care of all the laundry and grocery shopping now.  If my wife and I cook, I do the cooking.

Don't feel too sorry for me.  In a little while I will be going to the Post Office to mail in my passport renewal application so I can go on a cruise to the Grand Cayman Islands and Cozumel.  Now you can hate me for more than the fact that I no longer have to work unless I get really, really bored and I do it for fun or as a service to the world community.  I actually have some thoughts about volunteering but I have no acted on them yet.  All in due time.

Some of you know me personally and some only by my writing.  Let me assure everyone that I am fine.  I have received emails, Facebook messages, and other communications concerned with my well-being.  I have also received great feedback and suggestions from other retirees.

I will find my way in this brave, new world.  I have nowhere to go in particular and the rest of my life to get there.  Part of my personal challenge is that I tend to be a solitary and withdrawn person so it takes extra effort on my part to put myself "out there".  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Many see me as a teacher but now I am a student.

 I love to hear from people whether I know you personally or not.  Some of my current friends are people I have never met.  These friendships began when people contacted me because they liked something I wrote.  I try to respond to as many people as I can.

I am a little behind schedule this morning.  It's time to be still and do my morning meditation.

I wish peace and good things for all of you. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Some Thoughts On My Retirement

This past Friday I had lunch with a former co-worker.  In the course of our conversation she told me that another co-worker remarked that my absence from the workplace felt like a death.  Someone I was very close to would stand up to talk to me over the wall that separated us and then realize I wasn't there.  It almost made me cry to hear this.  I told my friend that my retirement kind of felt like a death on my end too.  Tomorrow I begin my sixth week of retirement and I must admit I am starting to struggle with it to the point of having some anxiety over it.  I do think I needed to get away from the work environment.  If I had my way I would not have left it completely.  I would have just reduced the number of hours I spent at work.  I was burned out after so many years of being a leader.  Although there were good things about the work environment there was also a lot of pettiness and what I call corporate BS.  However, I am starting to realize how much the social aspect of working in an office contributed to my well-being.  I was a well liked and popular person.  Even if some aspects of the work experience were driving me crazy, most of my co-workers enjoyed my presence.  I apparently did not realize how much I enjoyed their presence or how important the social aspect of work was to me.

I must admit that I am feeling lonely, a little forgotten, and completely lacking in purpose.  There was once a movie I really liked with Bruce Willis called "The Sixth Sense".  It was basically the story of a man who dies but he didn't realize it for a long time.  He thought he was living but was actually invisible to everyone else.  They were simply going about their lives and he was no longer a part of those lives.  Without sounding too dramatic I am starting to feel like this man.  All my former co-workers, and even my own family, are still living the lives they were living before I retired.  I, on the other hand, feel like the invisible man.  Even when I go to the park or to a store I feel like no one sees me.  I am completely alone a great deal of the time.  As an extreme introvert it is difficult for me to join groups and make new friends.  I have never been much of a group person and always preferred more one on one relationships.

I need to make some changes but am not yet sure what these changes need to be.  I need a reason to get out of bed besides taking my wife to work.

Admittedly, it is not all doom and gloom.  I do love my early mornings at home when I can have some quality alone time.  The struggles seem to begin with what we used to call in the monastery the "noonday devil".  I may feel bored and a little sorry for myself.  Then I start thinking too much and these thoughts often turn to anxiety when I wonder, "Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life"?

Since my life seems to have come to a screeching halt, I do have a better understanding of other people's sadness and why many old people get tired of living.  Whether you work or not, you need other human relationships, a sense of purpose, and something to do that makes you happy.  I need to restore some balance in my life.  It has gotten lopsided.           

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Relationships

I read two quotes this morning that made me think about relationships.

"Don't force someone to make time for you.  If they really want to, they will".

"Rule #1:  Never expect anything from anybody".

I recently read that the number one reason relationships end is due to unmet expectations.

Life seems to be a Zen koan.  It doesn't work well or make you happy unless your expectations are met, yet we are told to have no expectations.  Another bit of wisdom I once came upon said that expectations are nothing but planned disappointments.

In my old age I am starting to think I am not very good at relationships with anyone.  Most people seem to like me and some even think I am more than I am.  However, I am a man with no intimate relationships of any kind.  I am not sure if it is that I don't put enough effort into my relationships or if I expect too much from relationships.  People I want to be in my life don't always seem to want me in their life on an equal basis.  Others want more from me than I am able to give or want to give.  I generally have no interest in shallow and superficial relationships.  The world is full of casual acquaintances.  Kindred spirits are what I seek and need.

I find relationships exhausting.  This may be why I love my solitude.  Solitude is easy for me.  Too often when I attempted relationships with people, I felt like I did all the work.  Some would say that all relationships are work.  However, if they feel like nothing but work, they won't last for long or they will make you chronically unhappy.

Of course, we all have needs and wants, many of which we cannot even articulate because we don't have the words.  I've always had a fear of being or seeming needy.  The fact that I often feel inadequate or lacking doesn't help.  I think many people probably feel this way.  Perhaps part of the problem is our difficulty communicating our needs and desires.  None of us like to appear vulnerable or weak.  We don't like to admit our loneliness.  We all want to not only be loved by others but, more importantly, we all need to feel loved and valued by others.

Relationships!  You can't live with them but you also can't live without them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Nervous Breakdown

Today started out well enough or at least normal.  I took my wife to work, came home and did my morning meditation, and then watched a video of the Dalai Lama from his visit to Louisville in 2013.

A little while ago I suddenly felt like I was having a nervous breakdown so I went to the park for a walk.  The park was cold, dreary, and lonely.  I saw one or two other people but mostly it was just the ducks, geese, and me.

When I got home there was a letter in my mail box encouraging me to plan my cremation now in order to beat future price increases.

What set off my momentary breakdown?  I can't find my passport.  In 2005 I went to France and had to get a passport for the first time.  I haven't needed it since so I stashed it somewhere and now I can't find it.  I think I gave it to my wife a couple of years ago when we were thinking of going to Mexico.  However, she won't own up to that so today I once again looked for it.  I have hundreds of books, containers full of pictures from my entire life, boxes of letters I have received over the years, and a number of hand written journals.  In other words I have personal possessions from my entire life stashed in closets, drawers, and possibly within the pages of books.  I seem to have everything except my passport.  I tell myself that all geniuses have clutter.  Someday when my granddaughter or someone else writes my biography they will appreciate all this documentation.

Today it has been one month since I retired.  The time has flown by.  I feel like I should be more productive but as I look around, the house seems trashed and I don't have the energy to do anything about it.  I really want to take a nap.  I would also like the sun to shine and the temperature to warm up.  I don't recommend retiring in the dead of winter.  My original plan was to do it in the spring.

I know today's anxiety will pass.  I didn't sleep well last night and this may all be due to that.  I think I will take that nap now....

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Struggles Of Life

As I read from the journals of Thomas Merton I am reminded of his daily struggles as he lived his life.  I began reading the books of Thomas Merton when I was 19 years old.  Even as a young man I quickly felt a connection with him and his words seemed to often reflect my own feelings.  In later years I realized we had similar personalities and that many of his struggles were also my struggles.

We all struggle although some people are unaware of their own struggles.  They plow through life and don't reflect too much on their experience.  Those of us who are more introspective types often tie ourselves up in knots as we constantly ruminate on the meaning, or lack of meaning, in our lives.  The writings of Richard Rohr have taught me that whoever and whatever we are only gets deeper and more intense as we get older.  Today I am more who I am than I was ten years ago.  Unfortunately this also means that many of my insecurities are more ingrained.

Much of my life I thought I was "normal" until I realized there was no such thing as normal.  Although I have never thought I was better than anyone else, I have always felt different than most other people.  Over time I've come to believe and understand that all lives are complex even if an individual doesn't realize or accept their own complexity.

What are my struggles?  Like Merton I've always had a longing for the "other".  On a spiritual level I suppose this is a longing for God.  It could also be a longing for meaning.  As I have gotten older the idea of God has gotten very blurry for me.  Who or what is God?  I no longer know.  The pious spirituality of my childhood doesn't work for me anymore.  Another struggle is that something about me seems lacking.  I never feel as though I am enough as I am.  Why have I not been more successful in life?  I am not talking about job titles or paychecks.  For me true success is about happiness, contentment, and feeling valued and loved by others.  I probably should feel all of these things but most days I simply don't.  I also have a fear of being ordinary and not making a difference.  I have a strong need to matter and not be taken for granted.  In addition, retirement has added a fear of being forgotten.  All of this makes me think I am much more insecure that I ever thought.  I have always thought I was a strong person because I have been able to deal with the true challenges in my life and I've had patience with life's inconveniences.  I get impatient with people who are emotionally fragile and unable to deal with things.

In spite of my struggles I do have the capacity to recognize those Zen moments where life is perfect, if only for a brief time.  We all sometimes want to scream, as depicted in the famous Edvark Munch painting shown above.  I think much of the challenge of dealing with our personal struggles is because they are usually invisible to other people.  How we appear to others on the outside is not always how we really are on the inside.        

Friday, February 09, 2018

The Gift Of Time

Most of my life time seemed like the enemy.  I lived by the clock.  It seemed every decision I made was based on what time it was.  Time often held me prisoner.  In these early days of my retirement time now seems like a gift.  I haven't worn my watch since I stopped working.  Many have used the analogy that time is like a river.  If this is true then I am now swimming with the current.  Most of my life I felt as though I was swimming against the current.  Instead of feeling constricted by time I now feel as though I am living in the spaciousness of time.  

I now have time to breathe.  I now have sacred leisure.  My meditation practice is back on track.  Books are getting read.  Music is being listened to and enjoyed.  Walks are being taken.  Chores are getting completed without being stressed out or exhausted.  I now can sit in coffee shops and visit bookstores.  This morning I was in awe of a beautiful sunrise.

My newfound gift of time also includes the gift of solitude.  Most of my days I am alone.  I can think and be more contemplative.  I sometimes feel as though I am back in the monastery.  More than ever I am living the kind of life I want and need.

I am happy to be back into writing on a daily basis.  While still working I was getting to a point where I was brain dead and only had the energy to maintain basic life support functions.  Now I find myself with more and more ideas that I can write about.  I hope there are people who enjoy what I write, or who can identify with the thoughts I am sharing.  I love it when people enjoy my writing.  Of course, I write as much for myself as for other people.  Writing is how I process my thoughts and feelings.  I can be more honest and open now though not as honest and open as I would sometimes like to be.

My thanks to Salvador Dali for the painting called "The Persistence Of Memory".  It conveys the idea for me of time melting away.  It seems ironic to me that as the days of my life are closer to the end than to the beginning, the days of my life seem more like a gift. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Reclining Buddha

 
One of my favorite Thomas Merton reflections comes from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton.  It recounts his visit to the reclining Buddha located in what was then called Polonnaruwa, Ceylon.  This is also one of my favorite images of Buddha.

Merton writes in his journal.....

"I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand.  Then the silence of the extraordinary faces.  The great faces.  The great smiles.  Huge and yet subtle.  Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamike, of sumyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything...without refutation...without establishing some other argument.

Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious".  

Isn't this what we all want to experience?  As we go through our lives trying to make sense of the world and our own experience of life, don't we deeply long for the experience of being "jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things"?  Is there ever a point in life when we know the truth of things?  Is there ever a point where we have an inner clearness and clarity and life makes sense?

My entire life has felt like I have been doing nothing but stumbling along whatever path I am on.  In many ways I've had a good life and some wonderful experiences.  However, I would be lying to myself and to you if I said my own life made sense to me.  I have more that I need or want of many things and little of what I want or need in other things.  I have tried to be content but often feel I have just settled for what is.  Life at 66 doesn't make any more sense than it did at 26.  Perhaps some day before I leave the planet I will experience a "Great Awakening" that will open my eyes, my mind, and my heart and I will be "jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things".