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Posted April 14, 2010

Book: Creative Aging: Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World
Author: Marjory Zoet Bankson
Skylight Paths, Woodstock, VT. 2010. Pp. 138

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In a practical and useful way, Marjory Zoet Bankson explores the spiritual dimensions of retirement and aging. She offers creative ways for you to share your gifts and epxerience, particularly when retirement leaves you questioning who you are when you are no longer defined by your career.

Drawing on stories of people who have reinvented their lives in their older years, Bankson explores the issues you need to address as you move into this generative period of life:

Release: Letting go of the vocational identity associated with you career or primary work

Resistance: Feeling stuck, stagnant, resisting change

Reclaiming: Drawing energy from the past, discovering unused gifts

Revelation: Forming a new vision of the future

Crossing Point: Moving from stagnation to generativity

Risk: Stepping out into the world with new hope

Relating: Finding or creating new structures for a new kind of work

Resistance: Moving Beyond Security

If you are not facing one of your tigers, itís already eating you -- John J. Scherer, Five Questions That Change Everything

At the end of a day packed with meetings, I feel restless, suspended in time. I pick up a magazine, but I canít concentrate, so I put it down again. I look at a catalog, vaguely admiring the young bodies and turning down the corners of pages I will never actually look at again. I glance at the clock. Itís getting late. I should go to bed. Getting up early to walk in the moring will be hard if I donít get to sleep soon. I sip my herbal tea, waiting for the end of the newscast to tell me itís time to end the day.

When I am in the middle of a major transition, this little playlet of resistance happens nearly every night. My thinking self refuses to turn off and go to sleep. My spirit feels weary with the worldís many needs, yet my mind doesnít want to rest. I have a hard time letting go of the day, as if I could squeeze some last bit of life from these final hours. In truth, some part of me fears that if I stop thinking, sloth will prevail and I will never wake up. I will have no reason to get up in the morning. I will sleep away the rest of my life. Maybe thatís part of my reluctance to go to bed. But the daily rhythm of night and day can also be an assurance that morning will come. I will awake, but for that to happen I must enter a time of unknowing, when I am not in control.

Unknowing is fearful terrain for the modern mind. We like to plan, organize, and take charge, and yet our bodies rebel when pushed too hard, too long. Changes in our physical bodies are ushering in the next season of life. Our reflexes arenít as good as they once were. The phone directory is hard to see. We notice creaking joints in the morning as we get out of bed, or sexual impotence arrives unexpectedly. A stiff neck or stiff back limits our lifting.

Resistance is usually the first reaction to these physical changes. Our response is to find a reason, assign a special cause, take more pills, buy a pair of magnifying glasses at the drugstore. We set a goal of reaching some former level of activity and deny these early signs of aging if we can. Our rational selves get creative about hanging on to the illusion of control by treating these changes as problems to be solved. Itís a workplace habit. We automatically try to plug in the skills we have relied on in the past to deal with the unknown territory ahead.

Resistance is a natural part of the ending phase of any transition. We deny the reality of change because change feels like death. And, at a certain level, it is. As we age, our bodies are different. Our personal sense of safety feels threatened. Fear haunts the hallways of transition, fanned by ubiquitous ads on television. Our fears may focus on money [will there be enough?] or our time [what will we do if we canít work?]. Worse yet, our fears may grow stronger without the bulwark of daily work demands to soothe our anxieties.

Resistance to change reminds us how difficult it can be to move into a new terrain when we donít know the geography and think we may not have an accurate map. The denial and anger stages that psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying, described in facing death also apply to reaching the end of our primary identity in the workplace. No matter how attentive we have been to closure, there is a residual feeling of loss, emptiness, even despair. We may feel stuck or numb. Living with resistance can seem like being stuck in molasses, and we tend to use activity to cover an uncomfortable sense of being stalled.

We knew how to meet external demands at work, so the temptation to repeat our successful strategies is strong. We all know people who trade the frantic pace of progammatic responsibilities for an equally full calendar of volunteer activities. They simply transfer a demanding career to another setting.

Yet, the more we fill our lives with external activity, the less energy we will have to give to the internal work of transition. Recovering the creative energies buried under the bedrock of public performance may take some time. A good place to begin is with the restorative power of doing nothing. Giving ourselves permission to experiment before committing to a new form of work offers us time to explore the neglected parts of ourselves and our lives.

Doing Nothing

Each night, when we let go of one dayís worry and toil in order to rest, we are actually being called to trust the restorative power of doing nothing. We need to refrain from activity to remember who we are as human beings, not human doings. There is wisdom in rest ó and in ďwasting timeĒ between purposeful activities.

. . .In addition to the physical necessity for nightly rest, every religious tradition invites some practice of silence, some form of meditation and prayer for spiritual renewal.

. . .Like the ocean, beneath the turbulence of the surface chop, there are deeper currents full of life if we will only make space and time to go there.

Table of Contents:

1. What now? Rethinking aging

2. Release: the inner work of leaving

3. Resistance: Moving beyond security

4. Reclaiming: Riches from the past

5. Revelation: where does newness come from?

6. Crossing point: joining inner and outer worlds

7. Risk: beginning again with more focus

8. Relating: finding the right form for now