Take All The Time You Need

Once we reach adulthood, it’s assumed that we pretty much know who we are, and the general direction we’re headed, based on what we want for ourselves. Aren’t we all, on a daily basis,  acting-out our desires for our lives? This is where it gets a little tricky; where I make a point about ‘life down the road’…my way of defining Growing Up, and Growing Older.

Just because we think we know who we are at a certain stage, doesn’t mean that we stop evolving as people. Ongoing change is not only inevitable, but necessary, to get the absolute ‘max’ out of life. On the other hand, some people seem to grow ‘old’ without ever getting a good grasp on self-fulfillment.

I used to think, when I was in my twenties, that this time of life was the most fraught with Who Am I ?, and, What Do I Want? quandaries.  Turns out, if we’re living life bravely – without fear of what others think and how we might be judged – Life constantly nudges our hearts and minds with questions like, Why am I doing this (fill in the blank) ? I totally hate this situation!

Sometimes we just feel miserable, but lack the energy or motivation to suss-out the reasons for our ambivalent-sad-disappointed-frustrated-confused-resentful emotions. Maybe we’ve struck a bargain with someone or something:  a job, a relationship, or a commitment of some other kind. We’ve told ourselves Considering what others want, and compromise, is good – being selfish is bad.

A single, but super-important question needs to be asked, as we consistently check-in with ourselves – in our twenties, thirties, forties and even beyond:  Am I content with how things are? I’m not talking about the trivial stuff we fuss about – you ordered-in pizza, but I really wanted Chinese. I’m talking about major life decisions:  in committed relationship, or not; buying a house, or not; having kids, or choosing a lifestyle of non-stop spontaneity. Full-disclosure:  I got to this ‘party’ a little late. Even though I had a really strong sense of ‘self’, even in my twenties, it wasn’t really until my forties that I acted on some of my most life-sustaining desires.

Statistics are encouraging. More younger men and women are taking whatever time they need to explore all aspects of who they are, and what they want in life, and from life. Still, it surprises me that so many succumb to what I call “accidental choices”:  life-altering commitments made without asking, Is this what I really want?

And speaking of desires and charging ahead to fulfill them, just a few days ago, the top travel company (in terms of guided, and independent travel bookings) cited some amazing data. It seems that female travelers 50+ years old represented a 53% increase in solo travel in 2018.

Not only single women and widowed women, but married women whose husbands don’t enjoy travel. Women are choosing to create and live-out travel dreams all on their own. Savvy companies are alerting to this trend and (thankfully) re-considering the higher prices of solo travel for all.

From my perspective, it’s a good thing when people — whatever their age and circumstance –think for themselves and try to live out their desires and goals. I don’t consider it selfish, or short-sighted in the least. Compromises can of course be made along the way, but ‘compromise’ shouldn’t feel like a relentless push-pull – in our families, our social circles, in the workplace, or in our personal lives.

Marie Kondo’s demo: “not Joy”

Marie Kondo, the ‘tidying up’ lifestyle guru, tells us that our surroundings should ‘Spark Joy’. Her brand of uber-organizing might seem silly and superficial to some. But Kondo’s method is ruthless in helping us zero-in on what makes us happy, by tuning in to who we are and what feels right. If the process needs to begin with a closet, so be it. Take all the time you need.

Being "Set"

I try not to consciously compare myself to others in my age group – in any major category of ‘status’ (health and well-being, financial stability, the successes of our children out in the world). But sometimes the differences smack me in the face, urging me to take a look at The Good Stuff in my life. If anyone ever asked me, I’d share that my achievements feel somewhat random and accidental:  I’ve made some big blunders along the way, and am grateful that I didn’t do more damage to myself or those I love.

Talking recently with a friend (who also lives across the street from me), added to my sense of gratitude. And wonderment. A “There, but for the grace of God” moment. We don’t know each other that well, but more than just superficially. His cancer-scare. The current downward spiral of two of his adult children. The recent death of his father – a pillar in his world, now ashes in an urn on the mantle. Over time, I’ve discovered that my friend’s outward appearance of Success (a beautiful house; a cabin in the mountains; a wide array of vehicles; four- now adult- children that had apparently never given him much concern growing up) is only a small part of his Story.

We’ve all heard and read about Glass Half Full, and Glass Half Empty people. Even though Pop-Psych tends to rely on super-simplistic ways of organizing complex human stories, sometimes it does ‘nail’ it. What I recently learned, however, is that the human heart can actually talk itself into either perspective. So, my friend/neighbor (calling him Dan, here) and I were discussing the stage in life – so adverts, articles and even greeting cards would have us believe – where ‘carefree living’ is finally accessible. I call it, being “set”. Money in the bank; work that you love; vacay when you choose; a comfortable home space; and of course, health and well-being.

But the unspoken truth is that being “set” is really more about the heart than the head. You might think that you have all of the trappings of it, but then something or someone ‘tanks’ your happiness in a way that causes a re-think. So it was, with Dan. It wasn’t his own personal situation gone awry, but the decisions and actions of one of his adult children that suddenly put Dan into a tailspin. When he put his angst into words, it came out like this:  “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go! At this stage of Life, my children are supposed to be a comfort, not a worry!” (I couldn’t help but think – Wow:  did I miss the Memo guaranteeing ‘Golden Years’?)

Turns out, Dan’s 30-something son appeared to be “set”, then did a 180 and nose-dived into personal and financial crisis. The (married, with children) son had boomeranged back home, needing all sorts of emotional and material care. Dan stepped-up, as he felt he needed to do as Papa, and took-charge. But then, once he’d taken charge, he resented having his Peace obliterated by an adult who had the emotional power to pluck heart strings.

Trying not to feel smug – that always provokes a humbling ‘poke’ from The Universe – I listened to a perspective (Dan’s) that reinforced what I’ve learned along the way. Being “set” isn’t what media, especially social media, would have us think it is. It’s like the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘feeling’:  the former producing something; the latter being fluid and kind of ephemeral. Turns out, whatever feels like it should be ‘in stone’ seldom is. Careers, love affairs, seemingly ‘successful’ (whatever that means) adult children, friendships; and, stages in life that we’re led to believe will be ‘carefree’.

Over this past weekend I traveled to California’s beautiful Central Coast and watched – for a long while – the surfers enjoying what appeared to be very decent waves. Wet-suited (our Pacific being notoriously cold), tenacious (no matter how many times they were tossed under Winter’s gray-blue waves they popped up like corks) and exuberant as they deftly (and not so deftly) tried to stay poised and balanced for The Best Ride.

Random Attack

I try not to give any energy or focus to ‘negativity’; it seems to have enough power already. Also, I don’t want any of it boomeranging back to me if I can avoid it. Having said that, it’s a fine line between avoiding hateful people and situations, and feeling the urge to say something. Maybe…just maybe…by saying something, could words become a pebble in a pond, sending ripples out to those who need to hear the message?

As I write my Blog posts, and re-read what I write, I realize how important humility is. In the writing process; in the whole Interweb atmosphere (which I’m still learning); and in the Life Experience arena. Like that insane (because it seems to be everywhere) YouTube advert that starts with, “Who am I, to write a book?!” Downplay self-doubt, believe in what you have to say, and hope that others will want to pay for the pleasure of reading your writing. Which makes Blogging so liberating for me:  it’s a forum for self-expression and sharing what might be common themes in Life, for others to learn, or get a smile from. The satisfaction is not in payment or props (and might never be, which is “ok”).

So this was the mindset behind a recent trip to another social media site, where the discussion in progress happened to be Relationships. (In my view, Relationships are the Center of the Universe.) I made a short entry on the site, which had to do with the all-important-relationship that we have with Ourselves. Self- Love, and Self-Care.  Not a new concept, but so under-estimated in value. “For me”, anyway, which is always my disclaimer when I share thoughts about sensitive topics.

Surprisingly, there was an immediate ‘chat’ back to my Post. Astonishingly negative, hateful and sarcastic. The icy-aura that television ghost-hunters say they walk into, in an empty, but so unhappy house. It  surrounded me in a swirl of cold colors that felt like a nasty bruise:  the deep-tissue, really painful kind that transition from purple to red to yellow. I was the one getting cyber-punched in the face, and I suddenly said out loud, with only the cat listening, “So…this is a ‘Troll’. This is what’s ‘out there’; this is the utter misery in the hearts of some people. This ( social media) might be the only outlet for this person’s incredible pain.”

I’m not naïve. In my career, I’ve had many instances where unhappy (and clinically ill, on several levels) people have vented toward or at me. I can think of only twice where I knew that actual harm could be inflicted if I didn’t take some action. On social media, however, an ‘attack’ is somehow stranger and more disturbing than an angry face and loud voice in real time. The quietness of written expression, but the screaming of the words themselves. Even though I knew what I’d written was benign, it was a clear Trigger for the person responding. A reminder for me of several things; but, most importantly, never to assume we’re all on the same page; or even in the same book, when it comes to the Human Experience.

I didn’t apologize; there was no reason to. I didn’t keep ‘talking’; there was nothing to say. But I came away from the experience feeling like I’d traveled to a new country, ventured into a sketchy part of a major city at twilight, let my guard down, and experienced the consequences. I can full stop and call the World ‘crazy’, or appreciate what just made me a better Traveler.

Ready to Forget

Lately I’ve noticed what powerful emotional triggers certain sensory experiences – especially my sense of smell – can be. My dentist  tells me (I know, a dentist?) it’s all about the aging process, but I’m not so sure. I think I’ve always been what people who know about such things call a Super Receptor:  the hearing of a bat; taste buds that seem a little too responsive to extremes of sweet and sour; and a reaction to certain smells/aromas/fragrances that can send me floating up into fluffy pink clouds, or hurling into a vortex of panic.

Yesterday, for example, I was heading into a Sephora as a person was coming out.  I looked up, as I always do, to smile a ‘thank you’ (it’s official:  younger people of all genders are now holding doors for me), while catching a subtle whiff of her instantly-recognizable perfume. A very sweet floral:  the same scent that my beloved maternal grandmother (so influential in my life, until she passed at age 91) always wore. My breath caught in my chest, and for a minute I spaced-out as to what I’d come there for. The fresh flowery fragrance instantly took me back in time; so comfortable in the presence of someone I loved dearly. My grandmother’s smile came back; the house in the country came back; parts of me, came back to myself, as I stood before the store’s maze of goodies.

My dentist is involved in this mix because I’d recently shared with her how the odors of certain chemicals and diabolical medications they use (hospitals and doctor’s offices as well) freak me out. Which is why, I suppose, she felt she had to offer that, now that I was “older”, I should consider sedation for dental procedures, so that I wouldn’t “feel stressed”. That actually scared me more than medicinal odors do. Thankfully, most of the memories that come back to me via certain scents are really happy; even blissful.  

I look forward to hauling-out the sweet and savory spices that I use in dishes when the weather turns colder. Their aromas bring recollections of cooking lessons, in my early years, from now-passed family members that I still sorely miss.

The smell of spring blossoms on my lemon tree can put me into a trance of re-visiting Sicily; sweet cherry blossoms, and I’m longing to return to Japan. But some sensations trigger memories that I’d really rather forget. I get mixed-messages from lilacs:  the sprays were everywhere, at my mother’s funeral. The smell of a hospital (as well as the sounds) brings back the visceral fear I felt, as my son struggled with a life-threatening illness. A view of the setting sun, from a mountainside perch I’m still drawn to, brings longing for the happier times in my marriage.

Our sense of smell, so I read from experts, is one of humankind’s most primitive and potent vestiges from our ancient origins. I sometimes wonder if it’s part of Nature’s Wisdom, the fact that so many people in their 80’s and 90’s seem to experience a diminished sense of smell and taste. Being able to avoid reminders of Life’s darker moments might not be so bad.

Decades ago I had a friend, a medical doctor, whose specialty was Companion-Medicine. He traveled to many different countries, learning unconventional ways, alternative methods, of treating physical and psychological dis-ease. David’s interest and focus eventually became releasing and completely erasing deep sadness, even trauma, through Breathwork. Healing through certain types of breathing, combined with visualization, is even more widely-used today. I’m here to say, if done correctly and consistently, it does work.

Having lived a bit of Life, however, and so being acquainted with the spectrum of mild unhappiness all the way up to debilitating grief, I also have to say that Step One (for me) is being Ready to Forget. Despite what I knew would happen in my heart when it bloomed, I planted a lilac bush in my yard a few years ago. And, I’m still not ready to stop going to that special mountain spot, to watch the sunset and recall Love’s bitter-sweetness. In fact, I think I’ve decided that I actually like being a Super Receptor of the sights, sounds, and smells that sometimes, literally, take my breath away and rock my emotions. They make me feel alive, sparking appreciation and gratitude for every moment, and its eventual memory, that I might hold on to.

Cute, But Psycho

There used to be a popular product line when my son was in grade school – kids’ backpacks, school binders and  t-shirts featured the (registered trademarks featured in this Post) brand image:   a simple cartoon-bunny meme. An adorable little rabbit that made the most obnoxious and sarcastic comments. My 4th grader loved, because he so identified with, the bunny who had license to do and say ‘whatever’, because of his (or her, it was gender neutral) extreme cuteness. Over the years, the meme’s become a lot darker (as has our collective sense of humor, I guess). Kind of like the state I’ve spent life so far in:  California.

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Today I read an article that US presidential candidates for our 2020 election are pretty much avoiding campaigning in California, even as our March primary nears. It’s not that they don’t recognize the importance of our huge electorate – more that they just can’t figure California out. The attraction (cuteness) is strong; but the edginess and diversity (the ‘psycho’ part) creates wariness. Tell me about it. If Californians themselves recognize what a unique state we are, I can understand completely why the rest of the nation (and World?) is both intrigued and repelled.

Living in The Golden State offers huge potential for getting your mental, emotional and spiritual wires crossed, as you go about your daily life. What represents The Good Life can feel skewed, compared to the rest of the U.S. You feel it more, as you head south, where Hollywood Culture is so deeply ingrained. Tanned skin, fit bodies, perfect teeth:  Is the entire county waiting for that breakthrough audition and (Tesla’s or Virgin Atlantic’s) rocket to fame? To the north, where Big Tech (Google, Apple and Facebook, among thousands of other companies) has anchored itself, there’s an intensity (frenzy) that’s all about ‘retiring’ at the age of 35 (with billions in the bank and shares generating more cash every day). The center of our state is a bit of a neutral zone.

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I recently heard someone call it, The Green Vortex. ‘Green’, because of the tremendous amount of agriculture (we literally feed the world, I’m proud to say); but also the ‘green’ of operating suites. (Yes, there’s a reason why a certain shade of green sets the tone in so many hospitals everywhere). Calm. Sedate. The Central Valley of California’s vibe is “Relax:  what’s your hurry? Try this BOMB street taco!” Friendly, non-competitive, easy-going, more affordable housing. But the CV gets ‘ripped’ for exactly what it offers:  a kind of ‘rehab’ for frazzled nerves.

Which brings me back to the “Cute, But Psycho” bunny meme. As I travel the country and the world, it’s clear that many people ‘get’ that about California. Celebrities and their mesmerizing lifestyles (cute); vast chasms between the plight of our Homeless and our Tech “nobility” (psycho – “Why can’t California manage these things?” Well, how long have you got?)

People I engage (from other parts of the world) day-dream of moving to The Golden State. But to live happily in California, you need to have your head on straight, no matter where you choose to live. See, accept and appreciate the ‘cute’, but never turn your back on the ‘psycho’. Ground yourself in what you know is real, and just enjoy the fantasy-like quality of our entertainments. California is way more than Hollywood and Tech:  we’re also Yosemite and Big Sur, Napa and Death Valley. And yes, there’s a whole bunch of us that don’t obsess over wealth, popularity, social status, or the latest fashion trends.

Good luck, Political Candidates:  Californians are “all over the map”, which is just how we like it.

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