Dear Older Self,
You have been a doer. You have been a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a helping professional. Doing has been a big part of your identity. And, more specifically, it has been a big part of your identity to do for others. The many needs and tasks around you have kept you moving, kept you busy, kept you tasking. Sometimes this has overwhelmed you. Sometimes it has been stressful. But often it has given meaning and focus to your day.
Your role as a doer has often been a source of great satisfaction. Preparing meals, gardening, working full days. All of it dependent on gifts of health and energy.
Sometimes you remembered to acknowledge and express gratitude for the health and strength that made all the doing possible. In those times you experienced your energy and your capabilities and the tasks that you were given as gifts. Often, however, you took all of this for granted, missing the gift and the Giver.
Now, your energy and health and strength and capabilities are probably waning. You most likely can’t accomplish as many tasks in a day.
I encourage you to do what you can. I encourage you to stay as active as you can, to a point. Listen to your body and to the advice of others about this. Reflect on whether you might be overdoing at this point, or under doing. Even as I encourage you to stay active, I encourage you to embrace the gift of being. You are not what you do. I am hoping that you have been learning this truth in new ways through the years. There is no teacher as effective in the school-of-learning-to-be as the actual experience of having to slow down, do less and be more.
So what does this mean? What does it mean to simply be?
Recently you took your 92 year old mother-in-law for a walk, pushing her wheel chair around the block. A few hours later, you took your 2 year old granddaughter for a walk, around a different block. It was a warm spring day. With each of them you moved slowly. Together you let yourselves become lost in whatever you stopped to notice: insects and flowers, budding trees and fallen sticks, neighborhood cats on the prowl, blue sky and wispy white clouds. Sometimes you simply stopped to soak in the warmth of the day’s sun.
You were being. You were not doing. Not accomplishing any task. Not checking anything off a list.
You were being creatures among many creatures. You were being with each other. Your minds were quiet, your bodies slowed, your hearts opened.
We often compare the young and the old in terms of their dependencies and vulnerabilities. But the young and the old also have this in common: the very young and the very old share the wonders of simply being.
It was often the very old and the very young who drew you into these moments of being. For you, in midlife, these moments were like an oasis in the midst of a life filled with both the pressures and the satisfactions of doing. Now, dear older self, these experiences of oasis can be a more regular gift.
As wonderful as slowing down in this way can be, it can be a challenging transition. There will be a lot of ‘letting go’ that needs to be done. To the extent that ‘doing’ has been a central part of your identity, this being-focused life might pose a threat to your identity.
Even if your body is sending signals that you will die if you don’t stop doing so much, your brain may be sending you signals that you will die if you stop. The more your sense of value comes from your doing, the more uncomfortable this transition might be.
So, dear older self, stay focused on the promise that this transition from a doing-centered life to a being-centered life offers you gifts. It offers you gifts like walking around the block with your granddaughter, taking in the wonders each step of the way. There will be more opportunities to soak in the beauty of the earth and sky. And more time to enjoy your family and friends. And who knows what other gifts and surprises.
Listen to your body. Is is asking you to work less? To task less? Are others suggesting you slow down in some way? Where can you let go of doing and embrace the experience of being? Ask for God’s help. Ask for the help of others who care about you and support you. Then take it one step at a time. Let go of doing little by little. And as you do so, embrace more time to be.
Let you mind quiet, your body rest, your heart open in gratitude and wonder. Let yourself get lost in the light of the moon, the intricate design of an iris, the sound of your favorite music. Let yourself relish the gift of being. Let yourself experience that you are so much more than what you do.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com