Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 527 Meaning (part 2)


This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.



"Take a deep breath", she would say, "fill the belly, then the lower chest and then the upper chest. Hold it. And then very slowly exhale through the mouth. Let all the air out in one smooth motion. Hold it when you are all out of air. Pause and then very slowly repeat again." We would do this several times each session. It has been twenty some years since I took a couple of Yoga classes but this still makes sense to me. I replaced Yoga with Tai Chi but this exercise still inhabits my routine on a daily basis. I try to do some of it everyday at various times. It always brings a certain sense of well being.



Finding meaning in our lives was the topic of the previous podcast. I wanted to continue that train of thought. We know having meaning in our lives is important but sometimes we have trouble finding it. Many times It may be more of a problem of recognizing it. We may already have found meaning in our life and just not recognize it as such. We may be looking to hard.


"Reduce it down", that is a term my wife uses when she cooks. She places some sauce in a pan and turns the heat relatively low and leaves it a long time. The sauce slowly changes viscosity; it get thicker; more concentrated, stronger in taste. Some times I think life is this way. When we slow down; when we concentrate our energy, when we focus; our life becomes stronger, more flavor-able and more meaningful.


Just recently I have been practicing the scales on my guitar. I have been doing this on a a daily basis now for over twenty-five years. You would think it would drive me crazy. But it doesn't. They are always different to me. I have slowed down because I would like to play them perfect and fast and the only way to do that is to slow down. I now spend a half-hour to forty-five minutes doing this each day. It is hard to explain how good it feels. Time just disappears. I'm lost; each note, the placement of each finger on the string, the striking of the string, the strength, the angle, the flexibility. Was the tone to thin? Too  thick? Did it have just the right resonance? Was it beautiful? I am possessed. It is a reduction.


I have a shelf lined with sheet music of beautiful pieces to play. But the more I practice the more I seek the scales. Maybe I will move on past this. I suppose so but right now I just want to hear those notes with crystal clarity. There is a certain beauty in simplicity.


Over forty years ago my wife and I were visiting an old college friend of hers and spending the night. As the conversation and the night wore on we finally reached that moment when we had to get some sleep. Our host got up out of his chair and said, "Time to brush the teeth and head to bed." He walked a few steps toward the hall; then turned and said, "Isn't that one of the most pleasurable things you do all day. Brush your teeth. It is so refreshing and so simple and we get to do it every day." We are living in the moment.


My wife does that when she cooks. She doesn't hear me. She doesn't hear the radio or the music. She disappears into the task at hand. Her mind does not wander. She doesn't dream of being somewhere else. She has found her bliss and it is in the kitchen preparing some recipe she has never done before. She is focused. She is very good at it and everyone tells her so. I know that I do on a daily basis.


When we forget where we are, when we forget the time, when we forget our worries or our plans for the future and focus on the present, that is when we can bet we are doing what we should be doing. That is what kids do in play. That is where we find our bliss. That is when we know we have meaning in our lives.


This all seems so simple and straight forward. I know that giving meaning to our life seems like such a Herculean task that it might be difficult; it should require sacrifice; it should require extreme effort. Are we saving the starving children? Rescuing the homeless? Or writing the great American novel? I'm not sure it requires such effort in our retirement years.


When pause to review my own life this is what I recall. Working in the Poverty Program to establish Head Start in the mid sixties. Trying to be an effective teacher and help high school student step off into the adult world. Working with my community and Amnesty International for almost 20 years on human rights issues. Working to establish a local farmers market in my community. Serving on several boards to enhance parks and trails. And lastly to create these podcasts in hopes they might bring more insight into peoples lives through self examination and more critical thought about what we are doing with our lives. It is a list that may be very similar to yours if you just stop and think about it.


By the time retirement rolls around we have all moved through many phases. We have found our meaning in a variety of pursuits. If we take the time to pause and consider what we have done with our lives we will probably be amazed and satisfied. We will find that we have done something positive. In my friends book on finding meaning in life all of the individuals seemed pretty well satisfied with their life work; including the guy who wanted to serve the best eel in all of Japan.



From breathing to brushing our teeth to practicing scales; from cooking to community work or teaching; the common thread is the sense of enjoying the moment; the sense of immersing yourself in the chosen task. You pick the action and then commit. It isn't that hard.


Retirement is a time to reflect on our lifetime efforts. We may wish to pursue one or two more goals or we may wish to just sit back in a rocking chair and take a few slow, deep breaths which you may very well deserve. Your choice.


This is Retirement Talk.


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