Monday, April 23, 2018

My Inner World

There are many places in the physical world that I have never visited.  However, I have been to many places in my inner world and I have walked on quite a few paths of my inner landscape. 

The ups and downs of my retirement have given me much to consider.  One of the things my retirement solitude has done is confirm, with little doubt, the best and the worst aspects of my personality.

Way back in the early 1980's, while I was working for a church, I took a nine month course on spiritual direction.  Part of the course was taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator test for the first time.  It revealed that I was an INFP with is also called the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver type.  It is too much to explain it all here but if you want to know more about INFP's and the Myers-Briggs in general, you can find information at www.personalityperfect.com/16-personality-types.

After some years of studying the Myers-Briggs I was introduced to another system called the Enneagram.  Today there are various tests one can take to identify which of nine types you might be.  When I was first introduced to the Enneagram it was more of a self assessment in the sense that one needed to recognize and own their own behavior, good and bad, to identify your type.  Because different personalities can have similar traits and behavior it is relatively easy to mistype yourself.  I was a person who did this.  For many years I thought I was a different kind of person than I really am.

Consider this....

When you look in the mirror there are three people looking back at you.  There is the person you think you are.  There is the person other people think you are and there is the person you really are.

I now realize that I am a Type Four on the Enneagram.  Early on I suspected this but was led astray because I wanted to be a different kind of person than I really am.  Don't we all think this way at one point or another in our lives?

One way to nail down your own personality type is to own the negative aspects of your personality.  We often think we have all the best aspects of every personality type.  It also helps to look at the characteristics of the types on either side of the type you think you are.  For example, I am a Type Four.  I also have some of the characteristics of a Type Three and a Type Five.

Here are some of my best traits....

Individualistic, Perceptive, Expressive, Creative, Warm, Supportive, Refined, Compassionate, Gentle, and Witty.

Here are some of my worst traits.  It hurts me to admit to these.

Temperamental, Withdrawn, Self-absorbed, Envious, Emotionally needy, Easily hurt, Snobbish, Depressed, Critical, and Self-indulgent

Unfortunately, I can be all of these things.  My type is sometimes called the "Tragic Romantic" and that I surely can be at times.

Of course, even our personality traits are not who we really are.  Our true selves, our essence, is who we really are.  Our personalities are only a way to cope with the world around us and to get attention.

If you would like to learn more about the Enneagram this is a good place to start is www.enneagraminstitute.com.

I have learned a lot about myself and others from studying the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram.  If you are interested in this type of stuff, I urge you to check them out.





Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hearing The Drum Beat

Yesterday one of my readers took me to task for the way I ended my last blog.

I wrote "I am not sure I am hearing a different drummer or any drummer at all right now".

She wrote "O for Christ's sake, what a depressing conclusion.  No drummer at all?  Have you not had days during which an entire drum circle was competing for your focus"?

I deserved the criticism.

For what it is worth, I am not bi-polar but I am subject to mood swings.  I can move back and forth between ecstasy and agony at a moments notice.  I tend to be a sensitive person which is both a gift and a curse.  My best moments are what I call Zen moments.  My worst moments are when I feel depressed and sorry for myself.  In most of my life the Zen moments dominate.

I love drums.  In high school I had a set of drums and occasionally jammed with other people.  Most of my life I've owned some type of percussion instrument.  When I am alone in my car I am often drumming on my steering wheel as I play music.  Once I attended a "Wild Man" retreat.  Part of the experience was a drum circle.  With a natural talent for drumming I quickly became one of the leaders and participants in the drum circle.  Some of my favorite memories are going to Grateful Dead concerts with my friends.  As soon as you got out of your car you could hear the sound of drumming in the distance.  If you have never been to a Grateful Dead concert, the parking lot scene was quite an experience.  People played drums everywhere.  The aromas of cooking food and other substances filled the air.  Freaky people were everywhere.  I fit right in.

No drummer at all?  The reality is that my head is full of the sounds of drums and other percussion.  I love bands like Santana and Talking Heads who have lots of drums and percussion.  I miss Grateful Dead concerts.

Last summer I saw the band U2 for the first time.  They were awesome.  Let me end with the lyrics to one of my favorite U2 songs called Some Days Are Better Than Others.  

Some days are dry, some days are leaky
Some days come clean, other days are sneaky
Some days take less, but most days take more
Some slip through your fingers and onto the floor.

Some days you're quick, but most days you're speedy
Some days you use more force than is necessary
Some days just drop in on us
Some days are better than others.

Some days it all adds up
And what you got is not enough
Some days are better than others.

Some days are slippy, others days sloppy
Some days you can't stand the sight of a puppy
Your skin is white but you think you're a brother
Some days are better than others.

Some days you wake up with her complaining
Some sunny days you wish it was raining
Some days are sulky, some days have a grin
And some days are better than others.

Some days you hear a voice
Taking you to another place
Some days are better than others.

Some days you are honest, some days are not
Some days you are thankful for what you've got
Some days you wake up in the army
And some days it's the enemy.

Some days are work, most days you are lazy
Some days you feel like a bit of a baby
Looking for Jesus and his mother
Some days are better than others.

Some days you feel ahead
You're making sense of what she said
Some days are better than others.

Some days you hear a voice
Taking you to another place
Some days are better than others. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Walking In The Park

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods and lived on Walden Pond.

I walk in the local park near my home.

Thoreau wanted to live deliberately.  I want to stay healthy and avoid depression.

Thoreau wanted to "front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived".

I want to pass life with more than a C+ average.  My granddaughter struggles with mathematics.  I struggle with happiness.

My day started fine.  I took my wife to work, came home and meditated, watched a little news, and then went to the grocery store.  My cashier was an older lady who told me she was a retired teacher.  She told me she could only take retirement for about three months before she became bored enough to take a part time job as a cashier at Kroger.  I told her I was at the three month time frame too and retirement had been a struggle for me as well.  She repeatedly used the term "a sense of purpose".  I flashed back to my Humana days and remembered that a sense of purpose was one of four pillars that defined well-being.  I told her I wasn't quite ready to jump from one rat race into another one.  I hope I don't end up finding my sense of purpose as a Kroger cashier or a Walmart greeter.

About midday I realized my mood was not going in the right direction.  Although an 80 year old would think I am just a kid, I was feeling old and a little sad when I watched a Moody Blues concert celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the "Days Of Future Passed" album.  There is nothing that can make you feel old faster than a 50 year old memory.

This is when I knew I had to go walk in the park.

It was a beautiful day in the park.  Though bright and sunny there was still a chill in the air.  I have noticed that other walkers in the park seem to be in a Zen like trance where all they see is the path.  I suppose I look the same to them.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away".
-Henry David Thoreau

I am not sure I am hearing a different drummer or any drummer at all right now.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Some Final Thoughts On Retirement

Last week I hit the three month mark of my retirement.  It is difficult to believe I have not worked for three months.  This is the longest time of my adult life that I have not worked.  Over the last few months I have shared most of my struggles as I made the transition from full time working to full time retirement.

I think I am over the hump.  My retirement is feeling more natural and I now have some loose structure and routine in my day.  My days, however, still have a lot of flexibility in them so I can occasionally have lunch with my friends or take care of needed chores.  On a personal level Monday through Friday have become my new weekend.  Saturdays and Sundays are now the days I feel out of kilter as I adjust to having my wife and granddaughter around all day.

I would like to share some retirement advice for anyone newly retired or who plans to retire soon.

It is important to prepare financially for retirement.  I was lucky to work many years for a major corporation and I took full advantage of opportunities to save money and to make that money grow.  My company also offered me an early retirement package after 32 years of service.  In this regard I was exceptionally fortunate.

Although money is very important it is not the only thing that you should focus on when you get ready to retire.  I realized too late that I was not really prepared emotionally or psychologically for an abrupt end to my working life.  In the immediate days and weeks of my retirement I was lonely and depressed.  It did not help that I retired in the dead of winter.  Meditation and exercise have helped me deal with my negative moods, anxiety, and occasional depression.

If your life revolved around your job and office relationships, you might be in for a shock.  My motivation for working was making a living, getting a paycheck, and supporting my family.  The actual work wasn't very fulfilling.  It was after I left the workplace that I understood the importance of the friendships and social interactions I had with co-workers.  I have had a few surprises in regard to workplace friendships.  You may be surprised when you realize who forgets you and who makes the effort to stay in touch with you.

You should not build your life around the workplace.  I failed to develop a life outside of the workplace.  As an introvert I was usually exhausted at the end of days spent dealing with other people.  When I worked I enjoyed any opportunities for solitude and I couldn't wait to get home at the end of a workday.  Upon retirement I had too much solitude and few friendships with people that hadn't been part of my work life.

My spouse is still working.  If you and your significant other retire together, if you actually enjoy one another's company, and if you have similar interests, retirement may be a breeze for you.  I retired alone.  Time will tell what life will be like when my wife eventually retires.  We are very different kinds of people.

Although I have struggled with retirement, I am glad I did it.  It was time for me to get out of the workplace for all kinds of reasons.  My future is unknown to me.  I am not sure if or when something will reveal itself to me that gives new meaning to my life.  One possibility that crosses my mind is finding a way to help other people deal with aging, loneliness, and feeling disconnected from life.  Social isolation is a real problem for older people as they leave the routine of daily work and no longer have the support and friendships of the workplace..

I hope what I have written is helpful for you as you begin or contemplate your own retirement.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. 

My day started off as usual with an early rising.  After taking my wife to work I came home and did my morning meditation.  I strive to meditate twice a day.  It is simple mindfulness meditation where I sit in silence and solitude and focus on my breath.  I have been very faithful to this in recent months and I think it has calmed me down and reduced my occasional anxiety.

Later in the morning I met some former co-workers for breakfast.  Two of them retired from Humana at the same time as me.  It was a typical guy's breakfast.  We had an enjoyable time talking about life in general and how each of us was coping and adjusting to our retirement.  I was the one who seemed to have had the most difficult time making the adjustment.  After three months of struggle I think I am finally getting used to it.  For the most part I now have a routine but it is a routine with a lot of flexibility.

The highlight of the breakfast gathering was an unexpected encounter with another former co-worker who just happened to be eating breakfast in the same restaurant.  Our friendship goes back over 30 years to literally my earliest days at Humana.  When she saw me from across the room she jumped up and gave me a long and very warm hug.  It was not something you normally see in the main dining area of your local Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Later in the day we texted one another to arrange a lunch date for the near future.

Being the introvert that I am, the two hour very lively breakfast I had took a lot out of me despite the fact that I had a very good time.  I went home and chilled out for a while before heading to the park for a walk.

It was a beautiful day in the park.  It was a warm and sunny day although still a bit cool in shaded areas.  However, it truly felt like a spring day.  There were signs of new life everywhere from the budding trees to various flowers popping up through the ground.  I have finally figured out a path through the park that equates to a two mile walk.  When I first started walking I could barely walk a mile.  Now I am up to two miles.  Over time I hope to slowly increase my endurance and distance.  If it is not too much to hope for I would also like to have a flat stomach at some point.  Today is forecasted to be another beautiful day with temperatures in the high 70's so I will soon head to the park again.  Afterwards, I need to run past the grocery and pick up a few things.

For those that care about me and who sometimes worry about me, I am feeling good.  Time heals most things and perhaps it is finally spring in my life after a very long winter.   

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Expect Nothing, Appreciate Everything

In general, I am pretty good about living with a grateful heart.  I strive to remind myself on a regular basis that I have a good life, especially on a material level.  There is no doubt that I live a more comfortable life than many people in the world.  As I live my life I try to appreciate everything, big and small, that makes my life better.

Where I struggle is having expectations of life and people when almost every spiritual tradition tells us to have no expectations about anything or anyone.  The source of much personal unhappiness is having expectations about life and people.  As a result I am often disappointed.  To be fair, I subject myself to these same unrealistic expectations and therefore I am often disappointed in my own behavior as well.

It is very difficult to have no expectations.  We all want things from life and other people.  We may even need these things.  Too often I expect life, other people, and myself to be at peak performance.  More often than not, life and people, including me, seem to under perform.  I am rarely surprised by other people's behavior.  At the same time, even though I am now 67 years old, I continuously fall into the same dysfunctional patterns of behavior and thinking.  Keep in mind that I am a man who has spent much of his life consciously trying to become a better version of myself.  Less I appear too unkind and lacking compassion towards my fellow men and woman, I am as guilty as anyone.

How do we live better lives?  How can we live in such a way that doesn't disappoint most of the people around us, whether it be at home or in the work place?  I honestly don't know.  Many times I feel like a failure in this great experiment called life.  I am sure I must disappoint some people on a daily basis especially since my reputation is sometimes greatly enhanced by people.

I think we can be happier if we have no expectations.  Without expectations we are rarely disappointed.  When we have no expectations every good act or deed is a surprise to us.  We are probably most happy when we are surprised by life.  If we are constantly disappointed, only sadness can follow.

I apologize to anyone I have disappointed by not meeting their expectations.  The reality is that I am a very flawed human being.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

With The Trees For Companions

I just returned from a walk in the park.  My mind needed some fresh air.  Yesterday I woke up to an inch of snow on the ground.  Today the snow is gone but it is cool, overcast, and a bit dreary.  I decided I needed to get out of the house.  There were only a few other people in the park and all of them seemed to find smiling a challenge.

As I walked along the paths, with only the trees as companions, it occurred to me that I have spent much of my life alone.  It is not the aloneness of solitary confinement.  It is often a self-chosen solitude.  Other times it is a sense of feeling alone even when other people are present.  On rare occasions I actually feel like I am really with another person or persons.  Presence can be a wonderful experience.

The picture above is not me but it could be.

It is well documented that I am an introvert.  In general, introverts are more comfortable being alone than extroverts.  Can introverts feel lonely?  Let me assure you that we can.  Introverts do not hate other people and we are not really anti-social.  Many of us are not the least bit shy.  I would imagine that a shy extrovert could be very lonely if they don't have the social skills to put themselves out there and mix with other people.  We introverts often enjoy being with other people but it is usually exhausting for us.  At some point we need to break away and be alone to re-charge our batteries.

When I feel lonely or down in the dumps, I wonder why.  These feelings have been quite common in my retirement.  What is it I want or need?  I do enjoy my own company.  Solitary walks in the park aren't all bad.  Solitude can be a very good thing.  However, I think it is the lack of connection with other people and a lack of purpose that can make us feel lonely or lost.  It is not enough in life to just enjoy your own company, at least it is not enough for me.  All of us need some level of connection to someone and something beyond ourselves.

A friend in Scotland wrote to me and informed me that my recent thoughts on loneliness were being used in discussion groups revolving around loneliness in elderly and retired people.  It made me happy that my current struggles and pain were serving some good purpose.  It also reminded me that most human struggles are universal.  An old person in Scotland is really no different than an old person in America.  At the end of the day we are all human beings with a need for love and connectedness.  

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Personal Identity

Much of my writing in recent months has been about the difficulty I've had as I transition to a retired life.  I am not sure exactly what a retired life really is.  If a retired life is a life of nothingness, then I do not want a retired life.  I prefer to think of a retired life as a life when one no longer works purely for money.  I may or may not ever work for money again.  I feel like my current life is a transition between my former life and whatever future life I will have.  In a sense, I am currently in a void or a tunnel between the past and the future.

Part of the struggle is the question of identity.  I spent 32 years of my life working for the same company.  Most of those years were spent as a leader and most of my time was in the same building.  Over the years I developed a reputation and an identity.  I was seen by some as the office hippie and by others as a "Zen Master".  Many knew me as the man who wrote daily thoughts which many people identified with as though they were written for them personally.  Some thought of me as the youngest old person they ever knew.  I also was known as a compassionate and caring leader who believed in the idea of servant leadership.  In other words I was Michael Brown.  When people thought of me it was generally with good thoughts.  I may have had my detractors but they were few.

The question is who am I now?

I am no longer the office hippie, Zen master, hip old guy, or the kind and compassionate servant leader.  That Michael Brown is gone.

If Michael Brown falls down in the forest and there's no one there to hear the sound, does he make any noise?

I have always believed in the importance of balance and what I call the tension of opposites.  As I have mentioned before, I always loved my solitude in the past.  However, in the past it was always balanced with full time work and the management of other people.  By the end of a typical work day or work week I was more than ready for some solitude.  Although I was a people person in the work place, people often drove me crazy.  Interaction with people involved a level of tension between meeting their needs and becoming exhausted from doing so.

It would seem that my current challenge is to discover a new identity.  Who and what am I now?  The old man has died and the new man is in the birth canal waiting to be born.  Being born or reborn is a painful experience.  Whatever is giving birth to me is still in labor.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Wandering Around

Nothing has gone wrong today but it has seemed like a frustrating day.  It started off well enough when I was invited to lunch on Friday with two former co-workers.  I wasn't sure I would be available but things worked out.  Afterwards, though, I tried unsuccessfully to get my granddaughter out of bed before the maids arrived.  I am fortunate to have a cleaning service tidy up my house once a month.  When they finally arrived I told them to skip my granddaughter's room.  Usually when the maids arrive I leave the house until they are done with their work.  I did my usual thing and went to a nearby coffee shop.  For reasons unknown I felt like I was having a panic attack while I was quietly drinking my coffee.  I went outside for some fresh air and then I just sat in my car for a little while.  Eventually I drove around for a while before finally heading home.  My timing was perfect as the maids were wrapping things up as I arrived home.  My granddaughter slept through the whole experience and is still in bed at this moment.

I am very tired of having these emotional ups and downs.  Even meditation doesn't always help.  It seems my emotions are at a heightened sensibility.  The slightest thing can change my mood for better or worse.  There is a saying in some spiritual and psychological circles that goes, "Before you can have a break thru, you must have a breakdown".  Some days I think I am close to that point.

My granddaughter is going back home tonight.  She is not happy about it but her Dad wants to spend some time with her while she is on spring break.  I am sure she will have a good time with him.  He is a good Dad.  Tomorrow I will have a "normal" day where I can come and go as I please.  So far this week I haven't been walking.  Tomorrow I will walk for sure.

I am hoping to have an enjoyable lunch on Friday.  At the very least the drive to the restaurant will do me good.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Feelings Of Loneliness

I have never felt truly lonely in my life until I retired.  Ironically, retirement is supposed to be one of the best times of your life.  You've run the race and crossed the finish line.  Now it is time to celebrate.  I must be honest and say the last three months have not felt like a party, a vacation, or a celebration.

Loneliness is not so much the absence of people as it is the feeling that you have been forgotten.  It is the sense that everyone who was ever part of your life has moved on and left you behind.  Occasionally I find myself sitting around, feeling sorry for myself, and wondering if any other human being ever thinks of me.

I know I have a personality type that has a basic fear of having no identity or personal significance.  My personality type often feels different from others but does not really want to be alone.  What is my current identity?  What is my current significance?  As I write these thoughts I am doing the laundry.  Is that my new purpose?  Who am I and what is my purpose when no one else is around?  Who really cares and who really needs me?  Everyone seems to be doing fine without me.  

Intellectually, I know that most of my struggles since retiring are in large part because of the kind of person I am.  It is painful to admit that I am a little needier and insecure than I like to admit.  I think I need an audience, some attention, occasional feedback, and acknowledgement that I exist and matter.  I cannot live in my own vacuum.  There is not enough air and I am feeling light headed.

Some of you who read these thoughts know me personally and will think, "How can Michael possibly feel like this?  He's such a great guy"!  Believe me when I say that I never expected to feel like this either.  I know I can't expect other people to pump me up every day.  However, I now realize people did this for me on a regular basis.  I used to receive a lot of positive affirmation from a lot of people.  When I still worked some people jokingly referred to me as a "legend".  In reality I was a little overrated but I did have a good reputation and I enjoyed a decent level of popularity.  Now I feel like I am in exile.

Hopefully, I will work through this sooner or later.  I may be impatient with myself.  Of course, I do wonder how many of my fears are based on reality or just my own mind punishing me.  Our own minds are often our worst enemy.  How many of us on a daily basis feel like Jesus in the desert when the devil is tempting him with various questions.  I can sometimes hear the voices when they say, "Who told you that you matter to anyone?  Who told you that you made a difference in anyone's life?  Who told you that people will care when you are no longer doing something for them?  

I am grateful for writing.  In recent months much of my writing may have seemed negative.  I'm sure some of you expected me to write more about the joys of retirement.  In all fairness, there have been some good days and moments.  In all truthfulness, it has mostly been a struggle.  I write about it because I know that other people have had similar difficulty adjusting to the retired life.