Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


612 (076) Learn to Relax

This is Retirement Talk. This is Del Lowery.

Relaxing is one of my favorite topics. Probably because I have always had such a hard time doing it. Tenseness seems to follow me around like a shadow. I think that is true of many of us. Living under pressure becomes a way of life. Retirement seems like a good time to ease out of many old habits and this is just one.

I was reminded of this yesterday while doing my daily Tai Chi when all of a sudden my hands just felt so much lighter than they had ever been. I was doing what is called the “cloud hand” movement and all of a sudden the hands did feel like clouds. They just floated. I have only been doing this move in Tai Chi daily for over twenty-five years. But there it was. Obviously I had been tense while not even noticing it. This incident reminded me of my introduction to tenseness decades ago.  

My hands hurt so bad that my doctor prescribed pain pills. Another doctor prescribed surgery – carpall tunnel syndrome. Then I found another doctor in Seattle: a hand specialist. He saw my condition and correctly diagnosed it as a mind problem. I talk  in more detail about this incident in Episode 16 entitled “Health and A Second Opinion”. It wasn’t pressure from my job, not pressure from my wife and not pressure from anyone in particular. It was pressure of my own making. I never realized it. Retirement brings many changes into our life. And one of the changes is an allotment of time to realizing why we are like we are.

My hands were hurting and I associated it with playing the classical guitar. When I retired I decided to spend a couple of hours every morning learning to play a musical instrument. It was one of those things that had escaped my previous life. I bought a good guitar, got myself a teacher, and sat for two to three hours each morning playing the guitar. This routine is still part of my daily habits.

Just a couple of years into this attempt of playing music my hands started to hurt. Really hurt. They would just burn; even when I went for a walk. I thought that I might be having heart problems. A good doctor, a hand specialist discovered that I was pressing on the strings too hard, much too hard. I was pressing life to hard, not just the guitar strings. I was a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Why was I so tense?

I belong to a guitar society where we gather every third Tuesday of each month and play and listen to classical guitar. I helped start the group over 25 years ago. I tried to play at our meetings early on thinking that I would adjust to performing in front of people. I tried but I never relaxed. I blamed it on nerves. Now I know that it wasn’t just nerves. It was the age old habit of being constantly on guard; constantly tense. As all musicians know, music does not come from a performer who is tense.

When the doctor told me of my “disease” he told me to go home and relax. He advised me to check for tenseness periodically on a daily basis. While doing dishes I would pause and consider the tenseness in my checks or tongue. They were always tight. I could relax them – and I did. I would be walking down the street and give my hands a check. They would be tense. I would relax them. I would be driving the car and give my hands a check. I would be squeezing the steering wheel. Even when sleeping at night I would wake and give my hands a check. I could relax them. Eventually I learned to relax – most of the time. Imagine, I was fifty years old or so and never realized the pressure I was storing up inside

Where did this tenseness come from? Retirement has given me time to reflect on my inner self. Why am I like I am? I was the second son in a family of five children. I had, and still have, a brother that is three years older – my big brother. My life was formed in his shadow. Where he went I followed. When he did something, I tried, but of course, never could meet his level of achievement. When he got frustrated, I was sometimes on the receiving end of that frustration. My mother use to always say that she didn’t know how I lived through it. I know competition was part of my youth. At home and at school I was  always alert to challenges wherever they might come from. I do know that I grew up on the defense; always alert and ready to move. Perhaps that was part of the reason for the tenseness that lead me to the hand specialist.

My life is much more relaxed than before the revelation of inward tension. It is not totally gone, but greatly reduced and managed. I know that it must be considered and addressed.

Retirement gives us time to examine ourselves better than ever before. We can pause and linger over inward thoughts. New light can shine into unlit corners. We may surprise ourselves at our findings. One thing I have learned – living with such tenseness inside does nothing for one’s general well-being. As the good doctor said when I left his office, “You need to learn to relax”; still good advice to anyone – at any age.

You might want to give yourself a similar test. Just pause during the day and check the tension in your hands, your checks, your tongue, your shoulders. It can’t hurt and it can do immeasurable good.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

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