Life in my 60s: Redefining ‘Strong’ (Podcast)

Life in my 60s: Redefining ‘Strong’ (Podcast)

Hitting the last third of life can be a shock to the system, but, if we’re open and willing to bend with the changes rather than push back against them, we’ll find we are stronger than ever, even if we can no longer do a headstand. (And yes, I do discuss yoga in this episode as well.)

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Beauty Even in the Fading

Beauty Even in the Fading

It’s funny how we have certain expectations of life, from the biggest events to the smallest details, and we are quick to label the results: good, bad, lucky, sad. Too often we judge the quality of our life by where the tally falls, but we know all too well that this journey is filled with too many highs and lows to ever be able to keep count. Over the course of a lifetime, we each experience a cascade of little deaths and resurrections, those moments when something must give way to make room for a new lesson, an untraveled path, a chance to grow, whether we like it or not.

At no time is that inevitable cycle more obvious than during the autumn season, when we can look out our window and see the unbelievable beauty of trees on fire with reds and yellows and oranges. We stare in awe, knowing that this magnificence is only temporary and will be followed by a dying away, the starkness of barren limbs against a winter sky.

When I finished leading a retreat in the Adirondacks last month, I decided to end the weekend by squeezing in a paddle across the lake with a good friend. We have been spoiled in past years with herons taking off in flight before our eyes, loons floating alongside us, their calls beautiful and haunting, and even once an eagle soaring across the sky so fast we weren’t sure what we’d seen until after it was gone. Not to be outdone by the spectacular sights are the frogs hiding among the lilies, the tree that grows up out of a deep crack in a boulder or the dragonflies that dart by and every now and then pause on the point of a kayak like a prayer with wings.

This last time, however, the one loon we saw was skittish, diving under the water and moving away from us. Eventually we saw splashing and heard a cry unlike any other. We paddled closer and saw the loon was in some sort of distress. We thought maybe he had something caught around his neck and headed back to land to find help.

What we learned was that this loon’s sibling had been found dead that morning. This was distress, indeed, just not the physical kind. My friend asked if I thought it was a bad sign, and I quickly said, No! Maybe too quickly, as though I didn’t want to consider it, because it was in the back of my mind. As I drove home, I found myself thinking about the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, written by St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate this month.

“Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day through whom You give us light,” the prayer begins, working its way through all the glories of our amazing world, from wind and water to fire and flowers. By the end we get to “Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape.”

Our world makes us think if we try hard enough, worry enough, we can keep the tally of “bad” things in our life on the low side, but we are not in control. There will always be seasons to mourn, just as there will always follow seasons to dance. Our job is not to look for ways to ward it off but to learn to surrender to what is rather than what we think should be.

When I paddled across that lake, I thought I should get something that would make my heart leap, a sight that would somehow seal the weekend as a success in a spectacular way. Instead, I was met by a mournful cry and the primitive ache of loss, reminding me that there is beauty even in the fading. Just look out the window, and watch the leaves let go.

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 5, 2022, issue of Catholic New York.

Life in My 60s: Exactly where I’m supposed to be

Life in My 60s: Exactly where I’m supposed to be

So I’m standing at the start of a new decade today and feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude, peace, and contentment. I know how blessed I am, and I can honestly say that today — maybe for the first time in my many years — I am completely at home in my own skin, happy with where I am in my life, and very much aware that it could all change in an instant and so I should take every moment as a gift and simply Be. Here. Now. (As Ram Dass taught.)

Earlier this year, I did a heart-centered program by Danielle LaPorte that required me to dig deep into my core desires, after an arduous process of looking at the stories I’ve been telling myself for far too long, stories that come not only from my history and my experiences but, often, from other people’s histories and experiences and views of who I should be. Little by little I could feel the masks dropping away, and I could feel deep love and compassion for the parts of me I’ve always held at a distance or hid or hated. Fascinating and fulfilling.

In the end, my core desires weren’t about money or success or anything you can achieve or buy in a worldly way. They were contentment, connection, creativity, and love. Tall order, and yet most mornings when I wake up and assess where I am I, I smile to myself as I realize I am there at the moment, and I am grateful. And sometimes, when I’m especially aware, I say a little prayer that when things are not so rosy and a particularly rough challenge surfaces, I can somehow find the courage to stay in the moment and find the lessons and the gifts and the divinity — or Spirit, if you prefer — that is always swirling in and around me, and you and everything and everyone else.

When I peer into the coming decade, there are some fears, to be sure, because it’s undeniable that I’m on the downward slide of life, not in a bad way, just in the circle-of-life way. And that’s okay, even if it’s tinged with a little trepidation. Because if I can learn to be present — really present — and grateful, even when things are not going exactly as I want them to go, I can hold onto contentment and inner joy no matter what. I have no illusions that this will be easy, nothing good in life is, but I do believe that I am finally willing to do the work required. Daily work. Hour-by-hour work.

I grabbed a Mary Oliver book, Devotions, off my bookshelf before I taught yoga class yesterday, and it fell open to her poem “Snow Geese.” I knew as soon as I read it that it was the heart of the dharma talk I would give that day and completely fitting for this time of year and time of life.

“Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.” — Mary Oliver

I hope you’ll join me on this journey through the next decade. Who knows where it will take us? Let’s keep each other company because, after all, to quote Ram Dass yet again: “We are all just walking each other home.”

P.S. If you’d like to read my final Life in My 50s post, you can find that HERE.

Life in My 50s: That’s a wrap!

Life in My 50s: That’s a wrap!

Just about one decade ago, I began a series of blog posts I labeled “Life in My 50s.” When I hit the half-century mark on September 26, 2012, it felt momentous in a really good way, a turning points of sorts with lots of room for more. You can read my first post in that series, “Life in My 50s: The Adventure Begins,” HERE. At the time, I talked about how I didn’t need a special gift or event to mark the day because it seemed much bigger than anything so superficial. “It seems as though 50 years presents a nice, self-contained package of sorts, something to be archived in the basement. And today I’m unwrapping a new, empty box just waiting to be filled, but with what?”

Ah, what I didn’t know at 50. I had no idea at that time that I’d end up leaving my full-time office in the basement of my house to take on a full-time job at the Diocese of Albany as Director of Communications for more than six years. I had no idea I would train to become a yoga teacher at 58, fulfilling a 30-year dream that I’d started and put off multiple times, and that I’d end up teaching at an amazing studio multiple times per week every week. I had no idea I would end up leading large retreats that draw 40+ people in various places and that I would develop a growing community of people who now make up my NSS Tribe. I had no idea I would sign up for Holy Ground, a spiritual director training program, from which I will graduate in the spring. I had no idea I’d walk away from my full-time office job at 59 to pursue my true professional love again: writing spiritual columns and books, leading retreats, teaching yoga. I had no idea how my body would begin to age in obvious ways that would, at many times, hamper my ability to do things I always took for granted, like bending down to unload the dishwasher or carry a laundry basket or do the work in the yard I love so much. I had no idea that the hair I stopped coloring almost ten years ago would not just go gray immediately, and now I wait — no, I anxiously anticipate — finally going fully gray, although my stylist tells me that it’s a long way off since I was a natural-born red head and apparently we gray slower/differently. Check back with me in another ten years.

At the time I wrote: “I don’t want the rest of my life — however long I get — to be only a time of fading, even though part of me welcomes that idea…I think whatever comes next should be a time of growing in the important areas of my life, as a spiritual seeker, as a wife and mother, as a human being, and maybe in some of the less serious and more fun areas as well, things I haven’t yet had a chance to try but have always wanted to tackle.”

I smile as I read that now, because it was all true. Was it true because I just got lucky, or was it true because I worked to make it happen? Both, I would say, without question. Last night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, I lay there with my hands on my heart, my trusty rosary beads there for comfort (as they are every night — my version of a favorite stuffed animal), and I smiled and felt so incredibly grateful and content, peaceful and in harmony with everything around me and with God. And I thanked God for all of it — for the blessings I am so grateful for today and for a full life that has had its share of sorrows and challenges and hardships but that remains a complete gift. Everything has led me to this place, and I have no doubt that whatever is coming next will lead me where I still need to go, to what I still need to learn — however much I might want to avoid some of it.

Life in my 50s has been a ride and a half, and I can tell you that as I stand on the cusp of life in my 60s, I’m excited by and grateful for the freedom, wisdom and growth that is still waiting for me, if I dare (and I do). When I turned 50, I remember thinking that if I lived as long as my grandmother, I would get to do my entire life over again. Now, at almost-60, I am past that possibility, making it very clear that I am on the downward slope of a beautiful life, a slope that I hope will be long and gradual. And I could still get 40 years if I duplicate my E-ma’s arc!

So I’m going to live this last week in my 50s full of gratitude and joy, reflecting on this life of abundance that has been mine for six full decades. That is no small thing, and I am grateful to the point of bursting — either into laughter or tears or both. I’ll be back next week as I herald in my 60s with more thoughts on all of this, and maybe some fun goals and hopes and dreams. Because dreaming is free, and it is definitely not just for the young.

When I wrote a birthday post last year at this time, when I was turning 59, I said: “As I round out this decade and prepare for the next — if I’m given that opportunity — I hope to become even more Mary than I’ve ever been. You’ve been warned. More writing, more meditation, more yoga, more retreats, more spiritual direction, more speaking truth to power, more travel, more learning, more cooking, more dancing, more singing, more creating, more exploring, more dreaming, more, more, more. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, I have no intention of “breathing just a little and calling it a life.” Full breaths until my full stop.”

Amen to all of it. I’m going to take that plan and kick it up a notch. I’m hoping life in my 60s will go to 11. (IYKYK, and if you do, you’re probably old like me.) 😉 Peace out, 50s.

Life in my 50s: the final frontier

Life in my 50s: the final frontier

Today I begin the first day of my last year in my 50s. Feels significant in some inexplicable way. I guess all the birthdays become significant, or more significant, as we age. I woke up this morning with my usual aches and pains in hips and knees and lower back, with eye issues that have become chronic, and the ability to jump out of bed becoming a distant memory, and yet I thought: I’m breathing. I woke up to see another day, another year, another birthday, and for that I am grateful. At one point this morning I remember thinking: I am now 12 years past my mother’s age when she died. Trust me, that is no small thing. And most people who have lost a parent too young totally get that.


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