Friday, December 19, 2014

Conscious Aging?

“When Old Monk reaches for her pen,
a moment of shock.
Whose hands are these, she asks?
Deep blue veins rise to the surface, prominent
against rice paper skin, cracked like desert clay.
Only one thing left to do.
Old Monk puts pen to paper and waits.
Maybe today words will flow.
Maybe not…. Tomorrow she will begin again.”
~Han-shan, a 9th century Chinese poet and recluse
Recently, I was approached by members of our church to facilitate a Conscious Aging Group.  I am happy to do so.  I certainly have worked with a number of older (than me) people in my psychotherapy practice and in the congregations that I have served.  I have lots of ideas, but I feel that before I begin this journey with members of our congregation, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little work on my own feelings about aging.
          So, I got online and started looking for resources to help me in my own personal work about aging.  The website offers lots of information and provides training for Conscious Aging Facilitators.  The Center for Conscious Eldering, provides “a 6-8 day retreat [on how to be a person who chooses Conscious Elderhood] at Centers set amid stunning natural beauty” (sounds expensive).   I do not think I am an elder yet, and I’m not interested in learning to be a trained facilitator, at least until I sorted out my own feelings about aging first.
          So I visited  There are a number of options there as well.  The one I chose was The Blessings of Aging, with Benedictine nun, author, and speaker, Sister Joan Chittister.  As I began this journey, I had to face my own fear of growing old.  And Sister Chittister’s second session jumps right into that issue.  She presents both the research that might help with the irrational fears many of us have about aging and explores some of the inner processes that we all go through as we age.
          I have to admit that I am afraid of how I will die.  I don’t want to be in a great deal of pain, which I think is reasonable and fairly common fear.  What I hadn’t really addressed internally is the fear of diminishing, deteriorating, becoming dependent, and perhaps even becoming socially invisible.  Now in my mid-50’s I have experienced some of the physical and psychological changes of aging.  I can’t run 6 miles a day four or five times a week without pain in my feet, my knee, my back, etc.  I can’t move large heavy boxes, like I recently did when I moved, without something twinging in my back or shoulders.  I wake up needing to intentionally stretch my body before exerting myself physically, and by “exerting” I mean getting out of bed.  What happens when I am in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s?  I know that people in my demographic are living longer and longer, and looking pretty good and getting around pretty well.  I wonder what I will be like.
          This fear of diminishing acumen and abilities is normal and natural for people in the later stages of life.  Sister Chittister suggests that we all have fears as we go through life.  Young people fear being left alone to deal with the world.  People in the middle stages of life fear failure, despite their resources and experiences.  Acknowledging one’s fears is the best way to cope with them for then we can decide what we are going to do.  Will we allow fear to paralyze us, so that we don’t get out of bed for fear of aches or pains, or limitations?  Or will we change to embrace each new day with eager anticipation, with curiosity and wonder.   Current research suggests that right now only 25% of people over 85 need personal care; we are probably not going to be bed ridden for the many years leading up to our eventual death. 
          So what do you do when you discover you are a little older than you might have realized?  Can you say to yourself that life doesn’t end until it ends?  At 60, 70, 80, or 90 are you ready for new beginnings?  How will you enrich your life now?  I have come to realize that at least a couple “young-hearted” people (who are older than me) in my church family have taken up roller skating—and not just hanging on to the rail as they go around a rink, but freestyling and doing spins.   Treasure your time.  Use it wisely.  Do new things, learn new things, attend to your inner self.  You have the potential to be a great Elder.  Consider how you can enrich your life and the lives of others as you age.  Sister Chittister says, “The world needs spiritual models of later life for the sake of those to come.”
          I am beginning my journey now.  Will I finally learn how to play a musical instrument?  I have procrastinated doing this all my life up to now.  What else will I plan for as I age?  And how will I enrich others as I keep getting older?  Good questions.  Whatever I end up doing, I plan to “adventure boldly and explore.”  In the immortal words of Timbuk3, “the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Michael Brown, Eric Garner,…

      “Lastly, understand that black families want the same things that white families want – good health, happiness and success. We want a good education for our children and employment opportunities that bring them dignity and decent wages. We expect our civil and human rights will be fully protected.” By Jamala Rogers (in the St. Louis American:

On the night that the Ferguson Decision was made, I held a candlelight vigil at our church.  A few people showed up, each with deep concerns and emotions, wanting no-one to be hurt/killed after the decision was announced, believing that cultural change can only happen when there is large scale upheaval, angry over the injustice, and wanting healing for the cultural divide that exists within our country.  Other Unitarian Universalists in Chicago held vigils in their churches and on the night after the Ferguson Decision, about one hundred Unitarian Universalists gathered at First Unitarian Church of Chicago for a candlelight vigil.  Very similar feelings were expressed by the participants as had been expressed at our church.

            After the vigils, the Chicago Area Liberal Ministers (CALM, the local chapter of Unitarian Universalist ministers) gathered and committed to working together to find a means to reduce racial inequality, prejudice, and racial profiling.  CALM members started a process that will begin with developing a team to help create an assessment process of the cultural competency of each of our Chicago congregations, so that we can begin working where our congregations are to help them develop more cultural awareness, an awareness that can help them work with cultures other than their own to help make change happen in our country. 

            I am privileged to be part of a clergy cluster that has been willing to put aside discussion of topics to focus instead on action to make our world a better place for all.    While education and sharing of resources is necessary, there is a call in our country right now for change.  And this dynamic group of clergy is committed to long term change, not just situational reaction to a tragedy. 

“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.”  (written by Theodore W. Allen).  I also want to take time in this post to encourage my readers to consider how racial inequality and prejudice started.  Read this article on “How White People Got Made” by Quinn Norton on the newspost  I believe it is important for us to realize that racism was created over a long period of time, and that it can be changed.  Racial inequality and prejudice exist and are perpetuated in this country by institutions, by corporations, and by people.  And the times, they are a’changing…if we don’t loose focus, if we don’t lose momentum.

While it is important to realize that white people have privilege in this culture, cultural change will not happen if we try to guilt white people into change.  Change will happen because all people will see the benefit of cultural change.  We need a living wage that can support each and every family.  We need to put an end to racial profiling—and not just institutionalized racial profiling, but the racial profiling that the vast majority of us do multiple times a day whether consciously or unconsciously--so that people of all colors can feel safe with one another.  We need to teach people to respect each other’s cultures so that we will all learn to be more effective in working with one another.

I realize that life is complicated and solutions seem far in the future—and to some seem impossible—but I hold a hope that change is possible.  It only takes a few committed individuals willing to keep the issue in the front of people’s minds and to give people a glimpse of a changed future.  Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1965, “There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the situation demands.  There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”  My friends, wake up, stay awake, and never rest until the change we seek in the future becomes the change we’re living now.