February 20, 2020

Peeling Back The Layers

Sometimes life is simply peeling back layers of accumulated experiences, habits, and expectations. You look a little deeper to find what has always been part of you, but has remain covered.

Like an archaeologist sweeping away the dust and debris, you find parts of yourself that are completely unexpected.

Since I decided to broaden the topics I'd address with this blog, I have felt a little like the movie character, Shrek, who told Donkey that Ogres are like onions: they have layers, meaning they are more complex than they might appear. 

Writing about subjects that aren't necessary tied directly to retirement has been liberating. Sure, I have had to deal with some unpleasant comments at times. But, I have also garnered some important insight from those whose opinions don't always match mine. Especially enlightening were some thoughts about what is true and why that is so.

In your life you have layers, parts of yourself that remain unexposed to the glare of public awareness, maybe even to yourself. One of our primary instincts is to protect our ego, that is, our sense of self-esteem or self-importance.The phrase "fragile ego" is appropriate for many of us. If we allow our exterior image to be shown as not representing who we really are, we risk embarrassment or worse. It is hard work to constantly match our preferred persona.

For this post, though, I'd like to have us consider some layers underneath the "public" one that represents us most of the time. I want us to peel back some deeper layers and see what we might find.

Without risking contradiction I can say that all of us have layers beneath our surface that consist of fears, some irrational, some justified. These could be experiences that caused us anxiety or distress from childhood, a bad experience with a job or coworker, maybe a romantic relationship that failed.

Maybe we can have a deep-seated fear of those not like us, or a particularly unpleasant political situation. Disease, a sudden, serious illness, cancer or some life-threatening issue become part of that fear layer. Whatever the reason, these fears leave us skittish, not as self-assured as our ego would prefer. We don't want to project any weakness so we keep that layer buried well beneath the surface. This layer still exists even if we don't acknowledge it. This is not a healthy approach. Only when we face  it and attempt to deal with it can we lessen its hold on us.

Another layer can be a reserve of strength we don't realize exists. Maybe an empowering childhood with supportive and encouraging parents gave us an inner resilience we have never called upon, but is there waiting when needed. Or, it is possible that your extra layer of strength came from just the opposite scenario: a childhood filled with less-then-ideal conditions. You survived, maybe even prospered. There is a force within you to face and defeat whatever the world places in your path.

A layer I never thought I possessed was one that contained creativity. I know there is the understanding that every problem we solve in life shows a type of creativity. I get that. But, I mean an artistic streak that extends beyond our problem-solving abilities. Making music, painting, taking and editing photographs were hidden in a layer that just needed my permission to be exposed. A display at the Metropolitan or concert at Lincoln Center aren't happening. But, my creative layer only requires that I feed it with regular stimulation. There is no validation from others required.

May I challenge you to dig deep down to your creative self? Every one of us has it. That layer may look different in you than in me, maybe different from anyone else you know. But, humans come with a need to create. That is the basis of the word creativity and you have it.

So, Shrek was right: Ogres (and humans) have layers. We have the outer one that is our face to the world, the one that everyone sees. Then, we have a hidden complexity that makes life worth living and exploring, maybe even showing to others.

I urge you to peel away!

February 16, 2020

Now We Are Six (or Sixty or More)

If your childhood was anything like mine, these words should sound familiar:
When I was young, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was Three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever. So I think I'll stay Six now for ever and ever.
A.A. Milne's classic, Now We Are Six, is a book that even today can transport me back  to a time when Winnie The Pooh, Christopher Robin, Tigger, and all the assorted characters of Mr. Milne's mind ruled my world. It is one of the few series of works that I can re-read today and still smile at the clever poetry and important lessons that make up each story. 

Seeing the inscription from my grandmother from Christmas, 1951, is also quite special. My goodness, she had beautiful handwriting.

I am more than pleased that my daughters, and now my grandkids, are big Winnie The Pooh fans. There is something so eternal in stories that touch generation after generation.

Not too long ago I happened to pick up this 69 year old treasure of mine. What popped into my mind was an odd, blog-oriented connection. Really? Tales of Binker or Alexander Beetle are retirement-oriented?

No, I am not stretching the connection that far. But, I am reminded of the power of good childhood memories. I read these words and back I go to a time of innocence and simplicity. 

A collection of Winnie The Pooh Books in my home
I am reminded of the power of memories instead of things. I have no toys or keepsakes from all those years ago, but my vintage (that is a polite way of saying very old) books are within immediate reach in the living room.

Five minutes with James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree is all it takes to calm my nerves and make everything right in my world. 

I hope you have something from your past that evokes such powerfully positive feelings. This is the stage of life when we are free to just immerse ourselves in experiences that warm us.

Winnie The Pooh birdhouse made by my daughter
After all, wherever I am there's always Pooh, there's always Pooh and me.  What else do I need? 

February 12, 2020

Tick Tock: We Only Have So Much Time

Our mortality: not a subject we like to think about. Even though we know with 100% certainty we will die, the acceptance of that fact is not part of our makeup. Even though we know age is not a promise of more life, the younger we are the more remote the concept.

At some point we begin to face our own death. That sensitivity may be caused by a serious illness, disability, an accident in our life, or the life of a family member, or close friend. Attending too many memorial services for acquaintances can bring the whole issue to a head. There doesn't seem to be a particular age that triggers the mortality subject, nor can I find any research that implies retirement is a milestone. Actually, it may be just the opposite: a satisfying retirement keeps one focused on life and living to the fullest.

Our reaction to our own mortality can range from panic, anger, fear, and depression, to a calm acceptance based on our faith or realization that running away from the inevitable is a waste of energy. Some folks view life as simply a cycle and at their death they return to the universe the way they started, as a collection of molecules and physical properties (dust to dust) while maybe a spiritual component remains.

Some have a strong religious belief that provides a comforting assurance of what lies ahead. Some religious systems preach reincarnation. Still others firmly believe this life is it. When it ends, it ends.

Whatever your view or belief system, even if that includes an unshakable belief in heaven and eternity, death can still be scary. The trip from this life to whatever is next can be filled with lots of unpleasantness, especially if the end is pain-filled.

In an excellent article in Psychology Today some time ago author Nathan Heflick identified several ways humans tend to cope with our mortality. Here are just a few of the more important findings:

1) defend their cultural worldviews more strongly. For instance, to agree less with a person behaving negatively toward their country, to be more punitive towards moral transgressors or those perceived as "different."

2)  self-enhance and protect self-esteem, such as by agreeing more with positive feedback and taking more credit for success.

3) identify more with members of their own group.

4)  show an increased interest in close relationships.

5) show a preference for clear, well-structured information and physical environments.

The full article is available by clicking here, but these five points really strike me as quite insightful. Some of them seem to explain some of root causes of the political turmoil and anger our society is enduring at the moment.

There are several web sites I found that give suggestions on what we should do to prepare ourselves and others for the inevitable. I have them listed below. But, the purpose of this post is to simply ask you to consider, if even for a moment, what your mortality means to you now that you have less than half your life ahead of you.

Does this awareness cause you to act any differently? Do you embrace what comes next or do you fight, with all your being, the thought that you will someday cease to exist, and the world will go on just fine without you? Does the realization that 99.999999% of the world won't know or care when you are no longer here upset you? It does me! What, no Bob?

How do we face that? What do we do to make this journey meaningful? What do we do, as the Bible's Paul tells us, to "finish strong"?

Facing your own mortality

Coping with impending death

Create meaning by facing our own mortality

Facing the fear of death

The only comfort I can share is the reality that every single one of us will go through this process. If there is one experience that every human shares it is this one. Anything we feel, or fear, or rebel against, we have good company: all of humankind!

February 9, 2020

Was The Impeachment Effort Worth It?

Well, that is over. Something that has happened only two other times in our nation's history is now complete. As was the case in the previous episodes, the Senate did not take the ultimate step of using the House's impeachment resolutions as a reason to expel either Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton from the presidency. Richard Nixon quit before things got to that point, but the odds were pretty good he would have been both impeached and removed from office due to the Watergate scandal.

So, Donald J. Trump is now added to the list. He will have the label of impeachment attached to his name forever. But, the Senate refused to remove him from office. Even with revelations in the last few days of the Senate trial and shifting narratives from the lawyers charged with protecting Mr. Trump, partisan politics said no to any more witnesses and yes to acquittal.

After 3+ years of watching his behavior, I think it is an easy call to predict he will use the acquittal as a reason to continue acting the way he has. While someone else might take what has happened as a warning to moderate one's behavior, I am sure that is not the take-away for Mr. Trump.

He is likely to be emboldened to step up his attacks on his perceived enemies, use name-calling, political retribution, and Twitter to announce his intentions. He is likely to bend the law in ways that allow him rather free reign to continue to be the most unique occupant of the Oval Office in the last several generations.. An election later this year may result in a change, but even then he will still be in charge for almost another 12 months, until late January of 2021.

Spoiler alert: When I step back and look at what he has actually accomplished at the 80% mark of his first term, I see some things that I view as positives. The recently signed NAFTA replacement trade deal is better. While the tariff war with China has hurt too many Americans economically, something had to be done to get China's attention and have it begin to adjust its behavior. Negotiating with the EU over treatment of American interests has been long overdue. I am sure some of the regulations that has impeded some business development needed adjustments. The economy is strong at the moment and unemployment rates are low.

Of course, in my view, while those are positive accomplishments, they don't make up for the rest of what he done, or allowed to happen in his name. I find much of what he has executed to be shameful and beneath the dignity of the office. However, apparently none of that equals an impeachable offense. Those are the types of behavior that are properly judged at the ballot box, say a majority of Senators.

So, to the key questions: was the time, money, polarization, and further deepening the forces that divide us worth the effort? Did impeachment solve anything? Was it worth it to attach that label to someone? Even when virtually everyone agreed that the Senate was highly unlikely to convict Mr. Trump, was moving forward a good thing anyway?

Did our system work in this case? Even with the outcome a foregone conclusion, was it worth everything we just went through? And, if so, why?

In our hyper political environment is impeachment even a viable option in the future? Does it continue to have value even if it is unlikely to work, or it is more contentious and harmful?

I am interested in your thoughts. Please bypass the obvious attacks on the devil Democrats or callus Republicans. No fake news references, please. No slurs against Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell. This is really a bigger question than this one man, one time in history, or one outcome.

Regardless of your feelings for or against this president, the most important question remains: is the ultimate corrective device in our Constitution still a functioning option if ever needed in the future? It has been triggered three times in our history and ended the same way each time. Is the difficulty in achieving the final sanction a good thing, or a scary thing?

February 5, 2020

What Makes A Simple Life? It's Not What You May Think

When I say "living a simple life." what springs to mind? Probably one or more of these phrases:

              * Fewer possessions - Minimalism   

              * Smaller living space

              * Less involvement and commitments

              * Financial control

              * More self-sufficiency

              * Avoiding the race race (whatever that means to you)

              * Fewer distractions

Yes, these are all ways of defining simple living, or living a simple life. Thousands of web sites, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos expound on the value of following these guidelines.

Personally, I resonate with much of this approach to life. I am not a minimalist. But, I do my best to surround myself with what makes me happy and avoid what doesn't.

To that point I want to suggest that to be meaningful, effective, and have long-lasting, positive effects, simple living does not really begin with any of the steps listed above. If you adopt any of them without doing something else first, you will be disappointed, frustrated, and ultimately bound to give up.

Simple living must start with an internal shift. How you look at your life and your interaction with the world around you must come first. Deciding what is a need and what is a want must precede a decision to give something up. The parts of your daily life that satisfy you need to be increased, while those parts that fall short of your expectations must decrease.

You simply cannot serve two masters.

Start with an internal inventory. What are the things you do that make you happy or give you joy? What do you look forward to? What do you consider a blessing and not a chore? What does mean when translated to your daily approach to life? 

What energy level is best for you? Some of us need to be constantly moving. Working hard in the wood shop, hiking to and from the lake, studying for that long-delayed goal of a college or advanced degree. Others find a calm, unhurried, meditative approach best. Your personal energy will determine what is included in your simple life.

Do you love to redecorate, try new looks and furnishings in your home as your mood shifts? Or, are you happy with that old sofa and comfortable reading chair and don't like much change inside your home. Either choice can result in a simple life because you are matching what your mind tells you is important with what you choose to surround yourself with.

Are you happiest with very few rooms to clean and maintain, or do you love the freedom a separate room for an office, another one for your crafts, and a nice guest room to welcome family and friends gives you? Obviously, those choices will impact your choice for where and how to live.

Is meal preparation a chore or a time to express your creativity and try new recipes? Do you love leftovers and the ability to feed yourself with as little fuss and bother as possible? Or, a kitchen with all sorts of specialized gadgets, utensils, and ingredients at hand sets your heart aflutter. 

I could keep citing examples, but the point is this: a simple life has less to do with what you own and more to do with what brings you joy. A 300 square foot tiny home could be heaven to you. So could a home with a dozen rooms and a three car garage. Either can be part of a simple lifestyle.

If you are living in a way that matches your individual style, then you are living a simple life. The stress that comes from an out-of-balance existence is not there. 

Do you want to lead a simpler life, one that pleases you and doesn't cause anxiety? Do an internal audit before you follow what others tell you what you is a simple life. Like retirement, this choice is unique to you.