We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.


Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

stephen-hawking-albert-einsAs one of Dr. Agronin’s youngest informants said, even when physical decline and losses restrict one’s options, there remains the capacity to appreciate and approach each day with a sense of purpose. “It’s all about how you frame what you have,” she told him.

He cites the concept of “positive aging” developed by Robert D. Hill, a psychologist in Salt Lake City, that is “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”  Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age, NYT, March 20, 2018

The third phase of our lives, the one that we enter when career and creating a family have faded in importance, or ended, has a mental image for most of us past 65 of decline, of a gradual decrease of abilities and agency. This image comes from our childhood when retirement was predominantly of the finish line sort, work was over, now we wait. That waiting often wasn’t long with heart disease or stroke or a bad fall ending it.

resilenceHopefully, our children, the millennials among them, will look at us and come to that phase of their lives with a different image. My hope is that they will see that aging is the accumulation of years, not a time of diminished hope and diffuse fear, but life continuing. If that image can become dominant, it will look like the diverse approaches people have to their first and second phases. In other words the third phase will have as many distinct trajectories as there are people who enter it. It will not be dormancy, or a pause before dying, but life itself.

Is the third phase the same, then, as the first two phases, just creakier? No. Like the first two, when education dominates, when building a career and raising a family dominates, it has its distinctiveness. Perhaps its most salient characteristic is open endedness. In the third phase there is, at least now, no culturally limned outline; perhaps that will change, I don’t know, but right now, thanks to the old finish line model of retirement, the third phase has no particular flavor. Or, perhaps, it has a negative flavor as I indicated above, of decline and loss of agency. Even that negative flavor though leaves the third phase open.

That very undefined nature daunts a lot of people. If your life counted on work for self-definition, if your family, with children or not, made your life worthwhile, the thought of years, maybe as many as 25 or thirty, with no such hooks for meaning can make the future look bleak, as if you were entering a time when life flows on around you, in spite of you, even without you.

positive-agingI like Robert Hill’s definition of positive aging: (It’s) “affected by disease and disability, but not contingent upon avoiding it.” Rather, it is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”

The idea of resilience has gotten a lot of play recently. My sense is that is key to positive aging.

A telling article on resilience in childhood from the Harvard Center for the Developing Child has some hints for us third phase folk. For instance, here are some factors that enhance resilience in children:

  1. facilitating supportive adult-child relationships;
  2. building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
  3. providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and
  4. mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

ResilienceNot only in children, I think. Resilience can allow us to accept the changes of the aging body without losing hold of the power of our own lives. With a resilient personality even ALS will not cause us to stop growing. Just look at Stephen Hawking.

As we enter the third phase, or as we cope with its vague demands, focusing on enhancing our resilience will help us adapt, remain flexible. Perhaps resilience is nothing more than following the tao, finding the energy and flow of the universe no matter what externalities are present in life. I’d like to think so.


Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

But the end is not yet

But the end is not yet

2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.

Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.

What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?

It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*:  the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.

It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.

One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.

2010 01 19_3454Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.

I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.

The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.

So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.

20171016_070053Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?

How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?

What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient.  I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.

kyudo3_250Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.

Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.



*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online

**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki

Third Phase Thoughts. Again.

Fall                                                              Harvest Moon

birthday dinner at 65

birthday dinner at 65

We had a soaking, all day rain yesterday. Very humid east, not so much arid west. Temperatures were cool during the day and down to 35 degrees last night. After a busy week, having Saturday as a quiet day was good.

The now not as new work schedule has taken hold, at least the before lunch part: Ancientrails, Jennie’s Dead, breakfast, news and e-mails, workout, lunch, nap. The after nap portion, which was to be Latin and reading until 5:00 or so, has still not solidified.

Any schedule has its rhythm broken by errands, medical appointments, maintenance matters like oil changes for the Rav4, scheduling folks to handle things like boiler inspections, circuit breaker fixes, but over time I’ve learned that simply returning to the pattern usually keeps me moving me forward.

caterpillarThat’s especially important for workouts, which are easy to forego. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I do 20 minutes of cardio, then resistance work, then 20 more minutes of cardio. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I do the high intensity cardio plus 50 minutes or so slower cardio. If I miss a Monday, I go on to the high intensity, slow cardio day. If I miss a Monday and a Tuesday, I still go to the 40 minutes of cardio, resistance work day. For me, keeping the same workouts on the same days of the week keeps me from feeling guilty (I’ve missed so many workouts, it doesn’t make sense to even try and get back to my schedule.)  and guilt stops the process altogether.

Of course, there is the question of why keep at it? At 70 it would be possible to argue that the pace of life should slow down. Why keep pushing, especially if self-esteem doesn’t demand it. And mine doesn’t.

retirementThe third phase is new. It used to be that 65 or so meant the end of a working life, retirement happened, then death, often before 70. Those that made it into their seventies were often burdened with serious medical problems that drained energy and created obstacles to doing much else.

In 1960, when I was 13, U.S. life expectancy was 69.7 years. In 2015 it was 79 years. Our perception of age is not shaped so much by our experience of age itself, but by our attitude towards age created when we were not aware they were forming. In the working class community where I grew up until age 17 65 was retirement and death, at least for men, who were the primary workers then, followed 18 months or so later.

In other words, when I learned what being old meant, it was basically work, stop work, die, and the ages around which those latter punctuations occurred were before seventy. Life after seventy had no shape, no coherence, except frailty, nursing homes, dotage. (for, as Kim Jong Un says, dotards.) Though is no longer true, and has not been for some time, by 1990 the average life expectancy had risen to 75 years, my inner image of aging was shaped in the 1960’s world of Alexandria, Indiana.

We try to adjust to changes like these, but the patterns of our childhood often shape our beliefs about what’s possible. If work stops at 65, what comes after that? No work? No ability to work? Or, relief that work is over, so the 1950’s model of an ideal retirement, gold or canasta or bingo or photography. Life after 65 meant hobbies, doing things you’d put off doing, then dying. But in fact life after 65 was so short for most people that getting traction for some new phase of life, a phase with no work and the responsibilities of in-home child rearing completed, didn’t seem to make much sense.

growing-whole-molly-young-brown-219pxw-330pxh70 is not the new sixty. It’s the new 70. What 70 is the new sixty really means is that for those raised in the 50’s, 70 now appears like age 60 did when we were kids. Big difference though…we’re in that sixties range of health, but we’re 70 and work has fallen away, the kids are gone. What do we do?

So far my response has been to do what keeps me physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually engaged. Why? Because the alternative is the Barcalounger, favorite tv programs, the occasional extended family meal, then the funeral home. The old model of retirement, what our financial consultant Ruth Hayden called the finish line model of retirement, was sort of like forever recess, a surcease from the demands of the boss and the day-to-day demanded non-work like activity, otherwise what was the point of retirement?

Now, though, retirement really means (for those of us financially secure anyhow) a change in who determines how we spend our time during the day. We do, not the workplace. If we take on that responsibility with the image of the 1960’s in mind, we take a breath and try to imagine what we always wanted to do when weren’t working. The more pertinent question, it seems to me, is really who do I want to be?

retirementYes, retirement and the life following it, the third phase as I call it, is just that, a new and different time of life, one in which the question of how do I live can have a radically different answer than in the first two phases. Who are you? Who do you want to be? If you want to be a person whose constant focus is recreation, who gets up in the morning for another day of adult recess, you can. If you want to be a dress designer after years as a forensic engineer, you can. Or, as in my case, the work before retirement age was satisfying, self-directed, so there’s little reason to change just because some age-related cultural turning point has been reached.

What this means for me is that as long as I am able, I’ll continue to write, to read, to research, to stay engaged in current happenings. I’ll keep at my spiritual growth, stay connected to friends and family. I’ll work out and do what I can around the house. When I can no longer do these things, if that time comes, I’ll reassess. Death is always ready to greet us, we don’t have to accelerate the process.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.


Midsommar                                                                Most Heat Moon

slumpBack to exercising yesterday. Yeah! Still a bit foggy in the am and my energy level remains subdued. Might be a summer slump occasioned by the heat or I might need a vacation. It’s been a stressful time period since December 1st, when I had the total knee replacement. That in itself was plenty but Jon’s divorce and Kate’s health tripled down on our resilience. It’s pretty good, I think, but the challenges this last few months were severe.

The summer slump notion may explain it all. As with Sundays, I have a conditioned response to the summer. It’s a time for relaxing, for kicking back with a good book or going on a road trip. Oddly, I no longer believe this, preferring the fall for travel and I read all year round, but my body and my mind carry this memory, ingrained by years of education where the main business went on from September to May. A learned part of me wants to slow down, smell the pines and the fresh running streams, but the rest, the conscious and choiceful part, wants to continue working, getting things done. The frisson between these two states is contradictory, conflictual.

Today is a Sunday and a summer Sunday at that so my strong inclination is to watch sports, go to a movie, read the Sunday paper. Which is funny since I don’t watch sports and rarely make it to a movie. I don’t even read the Sunday paper in the thorough way I used to. Yet at 70 the past remains, lodged in subtle cues which call up attitudes shaped by the culture, by happenstance, really. I’m not a slave to them, hardly, but their pull, their unconscious rightness does affect me.

Today, this summer Sunday day, Kate and I will have a business meeting and attend a birthday party, a 70th birthday party, for Marilyn Saltzman, a friend from Beth Evergreen.

I’ve got that I have to rethink, repurpose my time and energy feeling. It usually comes over me when things get muddy. Sometime in the next few days I’m going to seriously rearrange my week, reassert priorities I’ve chosen like Reimagining, kabbalah, getting some projects done around the house. But I’ll be thinking of myself as lying in a hammock, sipping mint tea and reading Faulkner.

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.



Delights and Horrors

Spring                                                                  Anniversary Moon

rumiThe third phase, that phase after the career and nuclear family focused portion of our life has come to an end or is winding down, has its own delights and horrors. Auto-didacts, those with pleasurable, but challenging hobbies, those with adequate funds, those with a close network of friends and family have a good chance of enjoying the third phase more than any other part of their life. It’s a time when the pressures of achievement and child-rearing recede. They may not disappear, but their initially critical significance shifts to the margins.

This leaves the possibility of centering on who you truly are, expressing the soul/Self, the unique you created when sperm hit egg all those years ago. A rich time, filled with creativity and exploration, can be the result. It certainly has been that way for Kate and me. We’ve traveled, gotten closer to our kids and grandkids, gardened, raised dogs, moved to the mountains. She’s quilted, sewn, cooked and finally taken up the spiritual journey she started so long ago with her conversion to Judaism. I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions. We’ve both nourished friendships from our Minnesota life and begun to develop friendships here in Jefferson County, Colorado.

It is also in the third phase, however, when the body begins to signal its eventual end. Even if there are no presenting issues of the moment, the third phase, by its very definition occurs as our age passes into the mid-60’s and beyond. The implications of this becomes clear when we make the calculation about doubling our life span so far. At 50 it’s just possible to conceive 100; but at 60, 120 is a stretch. At 70 the notion of reaching 140 is ridiculous.

will-testament_audible-wisdom-org_CCWith prostate cancer two years ago and a total knee replacement last year my body has given notice that its sell-by date is approaching. Yes, both of those have resolved well, at least so far, but they are concrete proof that I will not live forever. Something, sometime. Now it seems to be Kate’s turn to face her mortality. She has a cluster of medical issues that are challenging, making her low energy and too thin.

The horrors I mentioned above are not these, these are normal, though disconcerting. We age. Our bodies break down, then stop. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of hominid deaths makes this all too common.

20170310_174900The horrors are the loss of the one you love, the person whose life has become so entwined with your own, not enmeshed, I don’t mean here a situation where life going on without the other is inconceivable, but the loss of a person whose life has been a comfortable and comforting fit with your own, a bond of mutual affection. Imagining life without Kate leaves me with a hollow feeling.

This loss, too, is common. Just read the obituaries and see the list of “survived by.” It is different from your own death because your life goes on with a big hole. I know this feeling too well. My mother died when I was 17. This is horror. Is it survivable? Of course. But life after the death of a spouse is a change none of us who are happily married seek. Yet, it seeks us. It is the nature of two finite creatures bonded through love. One leaves first.

These matters are on my mind today as we try to hunt down and fix what’s ailing Kate. I’m not ready, will never be ready, for life without her. May it be far in the future if it happens for me at all.


Knee, Birthday, 60s, Cold

Samain                                                                       Thanksgiving Moon

A diverse day, yesterday. Down to Orthocolorado for a “class” about my knee surgery. Not bad, not great.

20161103_130418At 12:30 we drove over to Evergreen for mussar at Beth Evergreen. It was Rabbi Jamie’s birthday and each woman brought a cooked or purchased offering of some kind. We had cranberry juice with tea and mint, apple juice, brie and a wonderful soft cheese, warm carrots, pistachios, cashews, strawberries, grapes, melon, crackers, chips, guacamole, a birthday cake, sea-salt caramel and chocolate brownies (Kate, see pic), with Halloween plates and napkins.

Later in the afternoon, around 5, we went down Shadow Mountain and spent an hour or so at Grow Your Own. This is a hydroponics shop, a head shop, a wine shop and a place to hear local musicians. Last night there was a former member of Steppenwolf playing guitar, a singer from a group called the Bucktones and a guy named Stan, who looked like the aging owner of a hardware store, playing bass. Time erodes the vocal chords so the singing was spirited and practiced, but range and timber suffered. Guitar chops however seemed undiminished.

The crowd was Kate and me like, gray hair, wrinkles. That question that comes to me often these days was germane: what did you do in the sixties? I don’t ask, at least not yet, but I do wonder what long-haired, dope-smoking, radical politics lie beneath the walkers and penchant for the music of yester year.

Then home to a boiler that’s out. After just having been serviced. The perfect end to an interesting day.


Imbolc                                                                          Valentine Moon

Sunday’s occupy a different reality. Time slows down. Ambition flees. A good thing. In spite of my now long absence from the Christian faith the notion of a Sabbath, lifted from Judaism, has always appealed to me.  A seventh day when God rests. And us, too.

The notion of a divine creator soothing the chaos before speaking the world into being has faded from my belief system. The idea, however, of a time for setting aside work, domestic and otherwise for a reflective day every week still makes sense to me.

The sabbath can be seen as a form of radical hospitality for the self, a day when shaping our lives to the demands of others gives way. On a sabbath we could read, view art, listen to music, cook, play games, visit family.  The third phase of life, after we have set aside work and at home parenting, can be a sabbath phase, much like the last of the four Hindu life stages.

Something to consider.



On Dying Luminously

Mabon                                                                              New Moon of the First Snow

Friend Tom Crane wrote this morning:  “Third phase (or whatever the hell it is we are in) is stereotyped as winding down, dealing with fewer issues (because they have all been dealt with already) and generally a slowing down.  Now that we are all really fully into whatever this is it seems to me there is a good bit of the opposite of that energy.  We are dealing with really significant stuff (body and health related, for instance) that never came to us when we were younger and more vital.  There is more change per square minute that we have ever seen before in spite of the stability of key relationships and situations.  And yet it is curious that we seem to be demonstrating greater capability than ever before as we navigate all this with the experience and wisdom(?) gained through decades of experimentation with who we are.”

The third phase notion is my attempt to decouple this period of life from the concept of retirement, an idea that this period of life defines itself as not-doing something. Winding down, dealing with fewer issues, slowing down featured prominently in the finish line model of retirement. We were done with the workaday world, no more 9-5. No longer the buzzing, blooming world of business with its implacable demands. Now we could kick back, put our feet up, pop a PBR and watch football without guilt. Or go fishing. Or golfing. Or quilt. Or spend more time with the grandkids.

And, when work finished up followed by four or five years of leisure, then disability or death, that model, retirement, the time of not-working, probably made sense. That is, it described life post-work for the bulk of retirees.

Lengthening lifespans have caused not-working to become inadequate for understanding life after the second phase of family building and career. In fact for some who enter the third phase they may not have given up their career, though family building is likely behind them. Still, even those still active in work often now see work as much less central, much less definitive for their identity.

If you agree to any degree with this: “I believe that the true norm of the third phase is to wander, to become like a planet to your Self, pulled by the gravitational attractions of its values and its directions. Now is the time, if you have not availed yourself of it earlier, to listen to the voices of your own heart, your own dreams, your own ancientrail.”, then, this time, call it the third phase or aging (though I’ve always found this an odd term since by definition we begin aging at birth) or old age, is qualitatively different from what has gone before.

It no longer focuses on getting somewhere, accomplishing something (though we may get somewhere and things may well be accomplished), but on the journey of your uniqueness. In this way we can arrive at the paradox, the apparent contradiction that Tom identifies: “…there is a good bit of the opposite of that energy.  We are dealing with really significant stuff (body and health related, for instance) that never came to us when we were younger and more vital…There is more change per square minute that we have ever seen before in spite of the stability of key relationships and situations.”

Once we have made or not made our family, stumbled on or victoriously walked the path of work/career, then the shift can be made to a time of self-understanding, self-expression. Perhaps the second phase could be characterized as a “we” phase and the third the “I” phase, in this sense the third phase and the first have much in common. In none of the phases do we exist solely in a we mode or solely in an I mode. I refer to a matter of emphasis, one dictated not so much by personal desire or even cultural norms, but by matters of biology.

How so? In the first phase we are young, inexperienced, naive to the world. As we grow and our bodies change, the emphasis is necessarily on personal learning: socialization, athleticism, school curriculum or skill set development. At some point in our twenties, early or late depending on the amount of schooling undertaken, the idea of family begins to take hold for most of us. This reflects a maturation of the body and an acquiescence to the species imperative for propagation. Work and/or career follows from the learning of the first phase and becomes, again for most of us, intricately entwined with family.

We are not eternal though. The body begins a decline, at first gradual, then more pronounced. At some point the children are launched, either into the workforce or into higher education then the workforce, and our own work/career reaches a peak. Sometime after we begin to contemplate a time when neither work nor family building will be central to our lives. Yes, family will still be important, probably, and even work might continue in some fashion, but neither will be at the center of our lives anymore.

What will be at the center? Individuation. The final process of personal development. Does this mean a collapse of the we and an ascendance of the I? Not at all. Your individuation may well carry you more deeply into the world. Or, it may not. It may carry you into the study, the sewing room, the world of rocks and minerals, even the development of a brand new way of human interaction. Wherever it carries you, if you are true to the defining character of the third phase, that it ends in death, you will become more of who you really are. Because, you see, it is, finally, only you that dies.

So, then, the paradox. When we are at our most authentic, are most keen to explore and liberate our gifts, the body is well into its senescence. So, the signals of mortality come fast and often: cancer, arthritis, glaucoma, weakening, imbalance at the same time the Self, the integration of body/mind, is at its most flourishing.

Though it doesn’t have to make sense, since this is a biological process and has its own timing, it does make sense to me that our most fully evolved person can be the one who faces the physical challenges of aging. By now, hopefully, we have learned of our finitude and understand biological deterioration. What a gift it is to see our frailties for what they are, accidents of our biology, and not determinative of our Self, its worth. In this way our best Self confronts the dangers and agonies that would have terrified, perhaps frozen, our younger Selves, and sees in them not the hand of a cruel fate, but the working out of a truth known since birth. We are mortal.

But, we can die as the flaming aspen does, a brilliant luminosity apparent just before the winter sets in.

March 2018
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