Earlier this year, I turned fifty. Whether a by-product of the preceding year we all enjoyed so much or an inevitable part of my own process, I had some pretty strong feelings about it. They were not the good ones. It’s quite an odd thing, as I have many friends who are older than I am, and I always have. When I look at them, I have never, ever thought “YOU ARE SO OLD” (with an accompanying judgment of old as bad) and so I cannot explain why that was the precise reaction I had to myself on this milestone birthday. As the months tick on, the residue of my shock and horror is slowly fading (kind of) and I’m trying to turn toward what is good, what might lie ahead, and what I’ve learned along the way. I’m well past the halfway point, and so I suppose it’s appropriate to own up to the reality of this new phase of life and celebrate the fact that I’ve gathered some wisdom on my journey thus far.
A few things I’ve learned, in no particular order, many of which lead back to previous posts and also to each other:
let people love you – The older we get, the more opportunities we’ve had to love, and consequently to be hurt, let down, betrayed and disappointed. The more we’ve been given, the more we have and will eventually lose. For me, each loss has the potential to create a layer of armor– a vain attempt at self-protection– even as I realize that armor is quite uncomfortable, rather unwieldy, and generally unhelpful in day to day life. Learning to love well and to be loved is why we are here. If you find yourself defending the borders of your heart and your life, pushing away the goodness that is trying to get in, open up your hands and your heart and let people love you. Love them back. Love them well.
you are wrong– a lot – It wasn’t until my late 30s or even early 40s until I figured out just how often I was wrong. It seems that this grows, rather than shrinks as the years progress. When you find yourself standing firmly in how very right you are and how much you think you know, take a big, deep breath and reconsider. Not needing to be right (nor linking your rightness to your worth) is freeing, as the realization you can’t and don’t have to know everything lifts the pressure to be perfect or have all the answers. It also lets everyone around you off the hook as a bonus.
continue letting go – Surrender is another process whose necessity doesn’t lessen as the years go by, and the earlier in life you learn to let go, the better. Either way, life is planning to deliver ample opportunities which will force your clenched fist open and strip you of what you likely believed you were entitled to keep. Footnote: we are entitled to keep nothing. Find your way to the river of release, dive in, and do it on the regular.
mix it up – We all know the phrase “old and set in your ways” and apply it to someone else, everyone else, anyone except ourselves. See? Wrong again. We are creatures of habit, and unless and until we consciously intervene with those comfortable paths and patterns— even in small, simple ways— we will decidedly become both old and set in our ways. Do something new, or something old in a new way- every single day.
travel with faith – When I talk about faith, I speak of it from yogic wisdom: shraddha. Everything is exactly as it needs to be. If you have another version of faith that works for you, even better. If not, embrace the grace that flows through all things and has carried you this far on your journey. It’s all happening for you, not to you. And if you are still breathing, even in the darkest hours shraddha will remind you the light is there– even and especially when you cannot see it.
we learn in spirals – I so wish someone would have told me this a long, long time ago. Maybe it’s just me, but I had it in my head that this living business is all quite linear and we learn lessons (hopefully) as they come along and then move on to the next. See? Wrong again. I’ve come to understand that we learn in spirals. While perhaps there is the occasional one-and-done lesson to be learned, I believe there are a handful of core lessons we’ve come into this life to explore again and again. Over time, they are more spread out, more subtle, and yet each iteration invites more depth as we experience situations with mildly different flavors and people in slightly better outfits. Each round we make, we peel away another layer of our deepest delusions and misapprehensions and this process takes us closer to the truth of who we are. Embrace the spiral.
the work is never done – And if someone is telling you otherwise, I recommend walking away briskly. Like your pants are on fire. There is no arriving. There is no mastery. There is practice and process, with a lot of messiness along the way. Still alive? Then there’s still work to do. Any and every time you catch yourself trying to “get there” take another deep breath and offer yourself the gentle reminder that the only “there” to get to is dead. So don’t be in such a big hurry.
savor joy whenever it presents itself – My dear friend, Rabbi Jenny Solomon, gave a talk recently where she spoke about how we are looking for ruckus joy. I will never forget that phrase. Yes! That is what I’m looking for! And no, that’s not how it usually comes. See? Wrong again. Soften and open to your days as they unfold and breathe in any and every moment of joy that arrives- no matter how ephemeral. Loosely stitched together, you will create a colorful tapestry that is a life woven with joy. This perspective shift (collecting moments, not bushels) requires a great deal of regular attention and is yet another exhibit that the work is never done.
keep making things – I’ve gone on about creativity other times in the past, and here it is again. Tapping into your creativity is akin to tapping into the divine. I’ve listened to Elizabeth Gilbert read her book Big Magic more times than I can count, as somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I was neither creative nor artistic and therefore should not make anything, ever. Gilbert says make what you feel called to make just because you can. Paint, write, make new music, create new recipes, dream new dreams. Keep doing it until you “get there” (reminder: getting there = dead). Flowing along in the river of creativity will surely bring you gleaming moments for that life tapestry you’re working on.
constructing your days around completing your to-do list is a big mistake – I am in the middle of this one yet again. Yes. We learn in spirals. If you are a person who wants to make a difference in the lives of others, in our collective community, on our planet, perhaps you also feel a sense of profound urgency about getting it all done. For me, I’ve also got the tagline “and have no fun until it’s finished” in bold print underneath. I want, so badly, perhaps more than anything else, for it to be all done. However. Getting it all done is not a thing. Orchestrating your days around the to-do list and fitting life in the cracks between is no way to live. Note to self and message to you: fill your days with life and get a few things done along the way. It’s going to take a lifetime for me on this one. Probably more than one.
spend time with the people who make you laugh – There’s an app called TimeHop that’s one of the few I visit almost daily. If you don’t know about it, it accesses all of your photos, and each day offers you a little retrospective on where you were last year…five years ago…twelve years ago… It’s sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter, and the past week has been a journey through the trip I led in India last year at this time. The only trip in the past year. The last trip for the foreseeable future. I laughed more during those weeks than I usually laugh in a month, or a year. I want that. I want it for you, also. Who makes you laugh? Find them. Be with them in whatever way is possible. This isn’t just savoring joy when it presents itself, it’s intentionally inserting delight into your days.
you don’t have to know, you don’t need to know, you don’t get to know – The universe whispered this little gem to me on that last trip to India. In some ways it is an amalgamation of everything else on this list. We are, each of us, in a process of unfolding the life blueprint that was created before we were even born. The search for certainty, solidity, security– all of the grasping to know is for naught. Breathe, surrender, learn, serve, laugh, love, create, and do so with delight, wonder and awe. If there’s something for you to know, you’ll know when you know and not one single second before that. Learn to love the mystery. Live your way into all of those answers you seek.
That’s plenty. Big love.