But at my back, I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near  
Andrew Marvell

My colleague and master coach and teacher Doug Silsbee is dying. He has a blog on these last months of life that he is creating with wife Walker. Doug had many many like me, proud to call him colleague, teacher, friend.

He has these beautiful words to offer in his March 25th post. He wanted his son Miles to sense how an ending could be conveyed in simple images:

Imagine walking through the rainforest, the green canopy overhead, macaws flying back and forth, a deep, black, still pool far below. I admire the magical reflections in the smooth surface of the pool’s water. I grab a small rock, following the deep male instinct to make a mark, curious to see how the reflected images will change with the rock’s impact. I wing the rock out into space, watching it fall towards the pool, anticipating what will happen.

Then, the lights go out. Everything goes dark. I never see the rock land, can’t know what happens next. It’s over… My energy has put some things in motion, but it’s not for me to know what happened with them. Things go on, the rock will land, events will unfold. But, my time is up.

He has many more poignant passages, so spend some time a-wanderin’ through it. (https://letlifelivethroughyou.wordpress.com/  (And if you want to know about coaching and presence read any and all of his books.) For me, and all who are reading his blog, they have given us a way to say goodbye and let go gradually, and a sense of his particular presence in the world. And a beautiful and aglow presence it is.

The actuarial tables kick in when we get older. We travel up or slide down that curve, and the statistics that objectify us tell a hard truth not captured in the individual dramas and stories that we participate in with each passing. We lose increasing numbers of family and friends and work colleagues, and we have to be ready to say good bye, and then good bye again, and then again.

At mid-life the generation above us – mentors, teachers, parents and their siblings – are taking their journey to the other side. Then we notice more from our own generation starting to join them and the actuarial curve steepens. Then more again as the curve grows steep and we experience a monthly, or quarterly if we are lucky, reckoning: we lose someone we know and have to let go of the little or big part they played in our lives.

By now, the beginning of my eighth decade, I could spend part of everyday and much time every week just on catching up on everyone’s recent health management, knee replacement, cataract, cancer check move. It is endless. One retired entrepreneurial couple in Kansas City, Barnett and Shirley Helzberg of diamond retailer fame, told us years ago their rule on this later life phenomenon. They were in their ’70s and when they got together with later life buddies. they would each spend one minute on their health – I have since heard this elder report out called “the organ recital”- and then no more talk the rest of the gathering. The health and body realities had space on the agenda, but it was limited and contained and not central to the social exchange.

Doug and Walker are doing the same in a different way: they mention the health and treatment details to a point, then they proceed to the psycho-spiritual journey they are on. And so we learn yet again at the hands of a master teacher.

Thanks Doug. Without knowing it, we started saying good bye to our work together a few years back on a fun call, as you were into your new leadership book and camping about the country. Now I can say good bye and say well-done, you “brought your piece of the puzzle to the table” (Freud’s description of his life) and are still doing so, as you report on our shared mortal destiny and its meaning.

 

Image above
“PRECIOSA Ripple™ – 02010/25021” by  PRECIOSA ORNELA is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

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There are always two opposite truths to embody, two polar ideas to integrate. Life would be so-o-o much simpler if only one side of the spectrum were true. We have to be just and merciful, powerful and gentle. As we ripen and mature, we have to hold on and let go at the same time.

First the Hold On part, something a lot of us are good at

One joy for those aging at this time in history in well-funded later life stages is that we can carry so many things forward from midlife that earlier generations could not. With some luck and discipline, and good habits started soon enough, we may well be among the many who can extend our careers and physical vitality at length into the later decades. With high tech medicine and lower tech nutrition and exercise, we can prolong our energy and the activities that go with it, from biking to romance, from travel to the arts, from fun time with the kids to fun time with the grandkids.

This is the “70 is the new 50” stuff that always sounds so good to the age-fearing ears of our time. It is Goldie Hawn and Kevin Costner on the cover of AARP magazine lookin’ so good. And indeed it is good news for many of us because we built a life that we like in large measure.

The Holding On strategy takes different levels of effort. With some cunning, and that good fortune piece again, we may be able to prune away the drudgery parts of work (spread sheets on billable hours) and keep the juicy parts (working with clients we love to be around). This is one of the joys of aging that is possible—keeping the essence and getting rid of the marginalia.

Of course, Holding On is not always that easy. The list of unpleasant hold-ons you have to attend to, so you can get the good things, can be extensive. Getting up early, keeping the hair looking youthful when gray is what your body now produces, pretending you care about new unbecoming fashions, keeping up with the admin and techno crap you cannot jettison, marketing your services on LinkedIn—all this takes effort that is not as readily available as it used to be. Still, the pay-off may be big enough that the Hold On strategy still serves your life.

Letting Go as Strategy Two

This is where the polar opposite strategy comes in, one we may not like very much or be very good at. We spend our years being additive in mid-life—bigger jobs and increased skills and bigger salaries (and college funds) and community responsibility—and now we have to let go more regularly. One important trick here is to even let go of some of the stuff that you still enjoy in order to make room for what is coming next. This can be oh so bittersweet (my last snowboarding trip, a beloved activity, occasioned this thought on letting parts of yourself move on.

This leads to leaving on top, letting go before you are pushed out. If you don’t play this side of the curve, bad things happen on the other side. Paul Simon sang this truth—”Slip Sliding Away.” One client described her career as being like a cat clinging to a screen door, slowing sliding down the surface with the claws still clinging for dear life. Such is my series of images on overdue good-byes. What comes to mind for you? More importantly, what are some aspects of your life that you have let go of well, and what do you need to start letting go of because it no longer serves you?  It is time: leave it while you still enjoy it, don’t wait and get crispy around the edges with burn out or worse, kicked out.

Author Kathleen Singh reminds us there is an opportunity in the Let Go for some beautiful inner growth into self-knowledge, not available earlier.

Those structures from which we are now released – alarm clocks and lunch breaks and the weekday/weekend rhythm (the push hard all week followed by weekend rest-up/catch-up maneuvers) – in many ways shaped the habits of our young adulthood and midlives…With less frenzy to obscure our mindfulness, we are left with a more naked view of ourselves. (Now) we have slowed down enough for some keen observation. It’s time, if we so choose, to fully make our own acquaintance, without the overlay of younger urges and midlife constraints and demands and schedules.

And One More Strategy

And the good news is this. There is one more strategy—Take On. In the spirit of renewing your life, what new attitudes, practices and interests are drawing you into them, soulful things that may be surprising—“who knew I liked Italian cooking?” said one lady to me at a workshop—surprising or predicted, but either way, that you can bring into your lif?. My life in year 70 is full of these. The question is—what new and unusual thing is popping up that you had no idea you wanted to put energy into? (This Take On strategy will get its own post later. For now, back to the first big two—Hold On and Let Go.)

If you can master two things:

  • knowing what to extend as long as you can with as little effort as possible, maintaining the essence of your soulful activities,
  • and balance that with elegant tactics for saying goodbye to what you need to, because you need room in your life for new passions and getting acquainted with you in new ways

you will have figured out a big key to life in the later years.

Especially in these years, the Let Go strategy becomes more and more important. It makes room for the new versions of you waiting to emerge. The additive years are gone, the subtractive years are upon us. But oh, the essence that is left can be sweeter than we have ever known.

Image “She couldn’t let go of chaos” by Crystal
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
Original source via Flickr

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