Sunday, June 25, 2017

Positive Ageing - a State of Mind

Growing old gracefully ...disgracefully ... outrageously ...or whatever other term that's been used to embrace ageing in the last few years, has now been replaced with a more optimistic term "Positive Ageing" - the principles of the Positive Psychology movement.

Our ability to have a more positive experience, compared with peers who are perpetuating the old paradigm (that ageing is fraught with misery), has a lot to do with our attitude, personal qualities and flexibility.

Jean Shinoda Bolin encourages us to turn to the Greek Goddess, Hecate, who can midwife us if we face a major transition, or need to birth new aspects of self.   A Hecate woman is also one who pays attention to synchronicities and dreams and draws upon past experiences and intuition for guidance.

Cultivating flexibility I think is a key indicator of how we reframe our lives in these years. It requires us to feel and think differently, to counter any maladaptive patterns by engaging in life-enhancing practices. Some of these are altruistic, others may be practising gratitude, and appreciating what you have to offer to the world.

Go on now, write a list of your qualities, skills and resources! And think about how some of these could be used creatively to enhance your life or the life of others.

For instance, in the last 2 months I've become immersed in intuitive painting. I've always been creative, but never gave myself permission to paint. Having said that, I've gone without a few other needs to achieve this. The JOY I've felt, plus the wellness benefits that flow on from this, are priceless - my daughter commented recently that she notices a difference in my being. So as well as it benefitting myself, I intend to offer it to other women in the near future so that they too can benefit.


Do you also have a gift or experience to share? Resources you could utilise?  A new skill you could learn this year?

These years don't have to end in illness, regret or worry. Most often we need to adapt to possible declining health or stamina, but we CAN adapt. We can choose to embrace life-enhancing choices over ones that limit us. If we marry these with our values, and choose from our heart, we're better able to live fulfilling and meaningful lives way into our 90's. Whatever ailments we might experience, there's a way to still enjoy our lives, but maybe a little slower.

I'm finding that my mind is just as sharp as it was 20 years ago, though sometimes a word or two takes longer to recall. Our mature minds also work better in later life - we use the left and right hemispheres together more effectively. New learning is great for our mind, and we need to exercise it, as Joan Baez says as she begins her Forever Young song.   

A couple of times when I've needed a pick-me-up I've played this song!  

Lastly, don't forget to call forth more LOVE into your life. Did you know that love increases our endorphins and endogenous cannabinoids? It also increases the secretion of nitric oxide that allows our arteries to relax, reduces your blood pressure, and improves circulation. Love also improves our DNA, enhances our wellbeing, and inspires us to care for self.

Being open to love, loving self, loving others and your life, is the key to positive ageing, in my opinion.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Art of Living Alone

Alone versus Lonely has come to my attention lately when I read that more women are living alone today than at any other time in herstory. 

Given that therapists in the USA are a little concerned about the emotional health of these millions of women, it piqued my interest.  On googling this topic it seems there are many variables when it comes to how people feel about living alone.  As I'm a passionate informal researcher (post Social Ecology academia) of our 3rd chapter, I will continue to gather stories, and the next 20 years will no doubt attract much interest from other social researchers.
To give you a glimpse of the growing singledom status, let's look at the USA for example. 
  • 1/4 of adult American women have never married
  • Divorce has tripled since the 1950's
  • Nearly 12 million women are widows
  • 51% of women live without spouses
The number of single person households and life alone has been gathering public health attention especially in relation to possible long term emotional health consequences. And studies in the UK revealed that loneliness is in epidemic proportions across the lifespan. So it appears its not just we older folk.  I'm sensing though that one's economic situation has much to do with one's emotional health at any age, whilst living alone.
image: dearielovie


So what does it take to live artfully alone? Without feeling the pangs of loneliness.

Most would agree that having a sense of purpose, feeling connected to others or one's community, feeling resilient and vital, having a sense of adventure, a faith to fall back on, and a feeling of Joy about life, are important ingredients when living alone.

On the occasions I've felt lonely during my single life of 25 years, I've learned to not deny these feelings, and to dive in deeper with them. Thankfully, as I've aged I've become more accepting of my solitude, and view it as a space to follow some long-held dreams or interests.  Lately its painting!! 

Could the stories we grew up with, the "get married, live happily ever after" ones, continue to impact us across the lifespan, and how we view our single lives?  Since my research and listening to Bella, I think so. There seems to be a culturally induced fear of being alone, and the pressures of how a woman should be. Bella, who is 63, has been single her whole life, and is an academic studying the single life. She says the "happily ever after" story was not her story, and has made it her life's work to find true stories of single life. Bella's video brought me back to myself somewhat. 

I also resonated with her view that the good life is not just about finding love, but much more.  It's about finding meaning, autonomy and achieving mastery... and having children and a family if one desires.  In retrospect, I've only been able to grow, to follow my dreams, and to finish University studies, post marriage. I always felt held back by partners.  Often when coupled, we lose a sense of ourselves having invested much of our energy into the other.  Florence Falk shares how she mentors women to discover their deepest longings and connection to self.

However, if these happily ever after fairytale stories are still playing out unconsciously, self doubt and shame could be hiding. It's possible that many women lack awareness of this shame - of being single, of it being a personal failure of the loss of a marriage or partner.  Or if we were more successful, we wouldn't be alone? 



There are, of course, huge differences in women and their needs. Some are introverts and are comfortable living alone. For me , though I need solitude and re-energising periods, I'm an extrovert and love connecting with others usually on a daily basis. Being out in the world, involved and sharing myself, is essential to my wellbeing and soul.  
And many rejoice at finally only having to look after themselves.  I've heard this often! Remember Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 in the Get Smart TV series? She's now 83 and shares how living alone became one of the most enriching and joyous period of her life, and her secrets for loving it.  

This post is mostly for we elders, but a post by a younger woman, Alethia  and her peers who are loving their single lifestyles, paints a different story. I wonder...if they're still single when they reach 50 or 60, without having partnered up, or had children, might they feel the same?   Only time will tell.

Further into my research, I googled 'single grey nomad' and was stunned to find so many websites supporting the single travelling life!  So I guess many women have let go of the romantic myth of finding a partner, riding off into the sunset as a coupled grey nomad, but are living their own dream!  


       

One of my friends, Rafaela, in 2014 then around 55, did just that. She travelled from the Blue Mountains to South Australia, then up to Uluru, across to Queensland and her final destination was the Northern Rivers.  
I think she is still tripping about!


I hope the following links where women are nomad-ing alone, inspire some of you to get up and get going!



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holding Space for Elders

Recently I developed and facilitated two Writing Groups for Elders in my local community.  I believed it was important for them to explore topics and emotions that might normally remain hidden, for healing in their 3rd Chapter. To hear others' stories and realise that they are not alone.  
beginnings . . .
I set about creating a safe container for these feelings and stories to flow, in a non-judgmental way, where they could feel safe in sharing their life if they chose to.  They also had the opportunity to practise writing more creatively.

The feedback from participants has been encouraging, and positive. And I am grateful for their trust in me, in each other, and their own process. 

One said she "liked the topics and themes that you suggested for us and the quotes and poems were a bonus...I loved the warm feeling that was created in the group and I think one of the reasons for this was the way we were led into some deep little recesses of our lives that we felt secure enough to share with the others because of the 'keys' that you gave us in your guidance."

the facilitating . . .
I've held space for many, many clients over the years, facilitated an Art Therapy group, co-facilitated a women's circle, but have never facilitated any class before in a formal setting, with a group of people and a variety of personalities. At times the learning curve was rather steep.

With my gathered years and experience, with my heart open, I didn't foresee any challenges. Only a little anxiety about putting on a new hat - holding space for my peers. A time to tune into their feelings and experiences, to write about them, and share.   Simple.   Aha.. There I made an assumption!

I was so passionate about my project that it didn't enter my consciousness to consider anything but smooth sailing, though given the topics I chose for them, it was clear they would be tapping into some deep feelings - grief, loss, longing, etc.  After an experience when I appeared to show too much empathy, I quickly gathered myself and tossed the Therapy hat in the bin!  I took the middle path - not as a teacher or a therapist, but a facilitator, whatever that means.

I shared with a friend how things were for me. She was empathetic but said that "teachers have to develop a tough skin". This felt alien to me. Firstly, I'm not a teacher, per se, but a therapist. I value my highly tuned senses that a tough skin would affect as it would inhibit my ability to tune into the subtle nuances and non-verbal behaviour. Having said that, perhaps there is a middle way.

After much reflection and research on this topic, holding this space has also been a valuable one for me. I've learned heaps!  About myself, and about my peers. Understanding as I do with clients, if one is still running their child story, then the child is bound to come out to 'play', and some transference can occur.

It would be my guess, though intuitively I had a sense, that in nearly every one of my participants, mother love, or the lack of (neglect, abandonment, not understood, needs not met), was a factor in whether they felt relatively at peace in their elder years, or not. As mothering is often a tough role to play, I had immense empathy having experienced my own challenge. 

As most of us live in stories designed by our 3 year old, we can stay trapped. There are many voices and selves that propel us subsconsciously to behave in ways that our reasoning mind would not. And these outdated narratives are still causing some misery in elder years. Also, we're often carrying around a backpack of stuff from our past lives to further inhibit us.

Given my own narrative that has hopefully now run its course, I'm feeling more compassionate for self and my participants when I reflect on this facilitation experience.

So, how would I hold the space differently next time?

I would put my Therapy cap back on, when appropriate! As I began with a deep respect for my peers, I would not assume, whatever age someone is, that they have 'done the work'. 

I would weave into the exercises, more theory and therapeutic insight of how our stories influence our present lives, and hinder us from feeling fulfilled. Without even our adult selves being aware!  

Life is a story we tell to others, and it plays out in our life, in our behaviour and actions. So if we can change our story, we'll get to experience life differently.   I would also help my participants "learn how to distinguish whether they're living in an adult narrative or one crafted by the mind of a child" (Rosamund Stone Zander). If they were of the latter, I'd encourage them to shift themselves into a new story, thus liberating them to live with more contentment, peace and wellbeing. 

As upgraded stories are catalysts for transformation, rewriting our stories in elderhood should have a flow on effect to our future generations, changing the patterns and offering a new story of elderhood.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Turning Back the Clock

I shared a memory with a friend recently, on Facebook. It was a photo of us 20 years ago that evoked a feeling of shared joy. But she also commented that she'd like to "turn back the clock".

That started me thinking about how life would be, even if we turned the clock back 10 years, to pre FB. How might we be using these hours in a way that nurtures us more deeply? The time that social media has snatched from us?

And who would we be without our technology? Michael Harris, in his book The End of Absence suggests that soon enough people will struggle to remember life before the Internet. 

Would we be more engaged in our local community? Be more able to churn out that book, or paint more pictures?

So how do we extract ourselves, even a little, for fear of losing our seemingly community of 'friends'. Many would have withdrawal symptoms. The longest offline time for me was a week. 

Michael goes on to say "And today’s rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your own thoughts". Thankfully I still make time for a lot of that. He urges us to look up from our screens and to remain awake to what came before. What did it feel like then? And this same topic is what I brought up with another friend recently. I expressed wanting to return to a time when I wasn’t plugged in (I wanted a few days to be free of my Smartphone). This time was only 16 years ago, in 2000. Yes, I needed to remember what it felt like then!  

The days of only having a landline.

Michael says that "if you were born before 1985, you are one of the last people, the last generation on Earth who will have known a pre-digital world. Who will know the difference between Before and After."

One of my loves is to capture the natural world on camera - wanted to be a photographer once - so the other day when I had the impulse to stop my car on a country road, and capture the roadside pinkish grass that danced in the wind, I didn't, as I heard the words "who wants to see your grass pictures?!" This prompted me to think about why people share so many images of what they are doing, and who they are with. I wanted to go deeper into the Why?

Prior to Mobile phone cameras, when we printed out our photos from our cameras, we usually only shared images of the birth of a baby, a wedding, or holidays. And when people did I would hastingly bypass the landscape ones as I found them a little boring. I wanted to see people in the images.  But now, when I see a beautiful sunset or field of flowers on FB, I am in awe. 

So what has changed?

Could it be that in an increasing digitised world, though it might appear we connect to so many virtual friends, make a comment here and there, or have a virtual conversation, still our soul is crying out for a deeper, day to day, real life experience where we are met and heard in the presence of another soul? And in an attempt to feel even the slightest of soul time, the only way is sharing what moves us, online, whether it's a selfie, a scene, or something one is eating.  I drove the rest of the way home feeling more at peace as to why I love to share what moves me, or inspires me, in images.

Thankfully I stopped using Instagram, and found it hard to learn how to Tweet! There's two techno bits I don't have to concern myself with anymore.

Michael Harris says we have formed a deep intimacy with our gadgets, much like a lover, and because of the need to connect with others, our technologies are good at providing this intimacy.

Who would love to turn the clock back to the days of receiving and sending letters and birthday cards? I tend to prefer the paper variety of correspondence.  Even though we spoke on the phone weekly, Mum and I would still send each other a letter, sometimes with enclosures. Reading these letters was a treasured moment of my week.

There is now no need to wait for the postie til 2 or 3 in the afternoon when we have instant contact with 'friends' all over the world. I would hazard a guess it's one of the first things most people do in the morning, checking into FB.

Meeting 'Wonder Woman' at a Design Market on the weekend took me back in time. On her stall she was selling beautiful, colorful, hand-crocheted shawls and blankets. She told me she also had a full-time job when I inquired as to how she had the energy to crochet all these goods. And she has four children!  

I forgot to ask her for her FB page!  Perhaps she hasn't the time to have one.

Returning now to we Elders in wanting to turn the clock back. 

Albeit technology has slowly crept into our lives, it has also taught us new skills, and connected us up with a wide range of people. And though it's possibly caused us to be more sedentary, the benefits of slowing down and reflecting on our lives, might counter any negatives. 

So why would we want to turn back the clock, to the 'old days' when we can write about a lifetime of memories, plus remember all the selves we have been, or imagined our selves to have been?  And let's not even contemplate any baggage we've held onto. Hopefully most of us have lost it somewhere in our travels!

On reflection, perhaps we have the best of both worlds.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Meaningful Elderhood

In these winter months it's an opportune time for reflection. 

What makes your life meaningful in your elder years?

As our lifespan is greater than any generation before us, we can shape ourselves into the kind of elder we want to be. It's an extraordinary time to be alive! 

We now have a smorgasbord of activities and experiences to delve into.

Waking up feeling optimistic about your day is a sure sign that your life has meaning. 

For many, this time is for re-defining oneself. 

Perhaps mourning the loss of our younger self, or identity? 

Letting go of one's former identity can be difficult for some.


In our quest to live meaningfully, I believe it’s to live authentically, in alignment with our values and personal ethos. With renewed confidence and a “so what” attitude, our 3rd chapter can be the most joyful and meaningful time of our lives.

Have you ever asked yourself "Who am I ?"

During our early years we may have searched outside for meaning, but who we are usually results from an inner search. So you could say that ageing is an inside job!

In the past, ageing was usually associated with growing old, disease and ultimately death. But no, ageing can be a source of growth, happiness and wellbeing, and the cultural narrative we've been given has got it wrong" (William Thomas). 

It can be seductive to buy into the 'forever young' look, or see hope in a bottle, and deny reality. Our lives are etched in our faces. What is the point of gathering years of experiences if only to erase them?

We can certainly feel vibrant and look young, but the value and meaning of our life experiences cannot be forgotten.
(Image source: unknown)

Even the gathering of wisdom is meaningful, don't you think? As is the remembering of our own unique life that is full of gifts, like the Elder tree in your garden.

Friday, May 27, 2016

a Loving Heart is a Healthy Heart


Your heart is like a compass, it speaks to you moment by moment. It is your wisdom bank, and is much more than an efficient pumping machine.  

Science has shown us that the heart possesses its own intelligence, has its own brain. In fact, the HeartMath Institute has identified that the electromagnetic field of the heart is 5,000 times stronger than that of the brain. And the heart and brain work together.

It's believed that our emotions play a huge role in the health of our hearts, and they can positively impact our state of health more than all the vitamins, exercise and organic food combined. So feeling and expressing all of our emotions is good medicine! By intentionally attending to them we can rewire the neural circuitry of our nervous system, and the stress pathways begin to atrophy. 

In our culture women have been socialised to keep the lid on their anger which then gets internalised, causing stress.  

Yes, its OK to be angry!  

But as heart disease is a significant health risk  for women, it's important to find a way to process any bottled up anger. A loving heart floods our 75 trillion cells all at once, revitalising our being with powerful hormones, whereas a closed or angry heart can increase our likelihood of illness.

Personally, I start my day with a brief check in with my heart. If I'm ever upset, or in doubt, I put my hand on your heart and bring up a loving thought of appreciation for someone. This practice has an immediate calming effect, and activates the Oxytocin hormone of bonding, safety and trust in our brain.

If you want to boost your immune system and have a healthy heart, then remember to seek out tender, heart to heart connections with your loved ones this month.  

Nearness, not absence, makes our hearts grow fonder!  





Sunday, April 24, 2016

Friendships and Loneliness

I've been lacking a good dose of oxytocin lately!  That feel good hormone that primarily reduces stress and makes one feel loved. 
A woman's vitamin pill!
In writing up this blog, it's become clear that friendship and loneliness can be explored together, so I began researching how other women felt, and had long phone conversations with a couple of these 'old' friends on this topic. Had they ever lacked deeply meaningful friendships at one time or another? How did they feel re the ending of some? And others they may have avoided contacting in case another flare-up happened. I don't think there's a woman alive who hasn't experienced a challenge with a female friendship.
In a Melbourne writers group, the following writers and academics - Maya Linden, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott, Natalie Kon-Yu and Miriam Sved, also discussed female friendships, and discovered that they had all been "dumped by a female friend" at one stage in their lives. 
With honesty and humour, their insights revealed how "our friendships with other women define us and shape our lives, even when they end...
Then they wrote a book about the pain of female friendships, and the joys.  
I've also been dumped once!  Have you?
With one of my new friendships of a few years there has been a hiccup or two, but in respectful dialogue we've been able to accept each other and our differing philosophies, understand that we've led contrasting lifestyles, and yet remain friends. I think the important factor is that we're both committed to our shared sisterhood. This has been the glue despite any differences or defences. 
Grappling with this 'friendship' or lack of friends issue, led me to the topic of Loneliness!
In a recent discussion with another, we shared the same sense of occasional loneliness - though technology has enabled us to connect up with thousands of people worldwide, it also has been a curse. We rarely speak to people on the phone, and we both felt less lonely before engaging with FB and the internet. We can have 100's of friends but few to sit with on a daily or weekly basis to share our dreams, challenges or fears.
Did you know that a recent study in the UK revealed that loneliness is in epidemic proportions, across the lifespan? Being a lone ranger in our later years can significantly affect our health and wellbeing. Our emotional life. A six-year [Yale University] study, which focused on people age 60 and older, found that men and women were 45% more likely to die during the study if they reported feeling lonely, isolated, or left out. 
George Monibot, in his article "This is the Age of Loneliness.” says "we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness".  
Friendships are a key factor to a happy middle age and beyond, it's good for our souls. It's believed that at midlife its important to maintain and nurture the relationships that have lasted for decades, to experience the timeline of life with friends. But how, as we get older, navigate these lonely times - sometimes without those decade old friendships if we single women have moved away to be with our children?  Some have retired from full time work, with endless hours to fill apart from some possible volunteering, checking our messages on FB, tending the gardening or reading. Many in this age group spend a lot of time watching TV as one woman said in a friendship blog by the Friendship Doctor, Irene Levine! And in a survey on the popular SixtyAndMe website, 75% of the participants felt lonely.

(image: Clauda Tremblay)
Other women found their respective towns or communities where they had moved to, were not very welcoming however much effort they put into making new friends. Conversely, when they holidayed at other places, they found people were very friendly. One woman said "I do not belong to any category – I tried when I first moved here – three tons of parties, invited neighbors over, cooked, served wine etc. Not once was there ever any reciprocity. I won’t go into detail but I tried again two years ago and had awful comments made behind my back – by guess who? Women".
Maybe you have a friendship story to share?  
Please feel free to comment below.