Read an Excerpt
Freedoms After 50
By Sue Patton Thoele
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1998 Sue Patton Thoele
All rights reserved.
After fifty, I am free to ...
Laugh at Forgetfulness
Fleeting thoughts skimming Across the lake of my mind Skipping, skipping ... gone
Around our house, conversations between my husband and me often sound like this: "Gene, honey!"
"Oh rats! I don't have a clue!"
Between my office and Gene's there seems to be a black hole that impishly sucks ideas directly out of my head and drops them into a bottomless lake, never to be seen again. I've learned that it is best to deal with this situation in a lighthearted manner.
Although it's true that our foibles and frustrations—not the least of which is forgetfulness—seem to increase as the years go by, so does our ability to laugh at them, thank goodness.
Let's hear it for laughter ... and for lists!
Roll with the Punches
A dear friend and I were talking about the quiet joy we feel over our burgeoning ability to greet almost all circumstances with equanimity. Laughing, we decided that is probably the reason why our once-youthful, firm bottoms now look less like basketballs and more like the sand-filled bases of those clown punching balloons that were popular when our kids were young.
Age is reforming our bodies to better roll with the punches!
Realize That Attitude Is Everything
Albert Einstein once said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." I couldn't agree more. It is not circumstances that dictate how we feel, act, and even look; it is attitude. Having an optimistic, loving, and heartfelt attitude toward life means that we will have a better life, no matter what hand we are dealt.
Even if we are dedicated downers, choosing to live from the HEART can help us create an upbeat attitude.
When we can
H—Honor ourselves and others
E—Be Enthusiastic and Encouraging
A—Appreciate everything and everyone
R—Respect all forms of life, nature, and property
T—Trust that we are loved and lovable we'll find that both our attitude and our mood will elevate.
An attitude brimming with appreciation and enthusiasm invites miracles.
Angst is defined as "a gloomy, often neurotic feeling of anxiety and depression"—something we can well do without. Eliminating angst doesn't mean that we won't have pain and grief or be discouraged and disappointed at times. We will. Such feelings are part of the human experience, and growing through them is a large part of the maturation process.
Being afflicted by angst, however, stunts our growth and magnifies pain exponentially. If you are normally angst-free, congratulate yourself. If plagued by habitual angst, please do yourself the life-enhancing favor of finding help. Angst is a habit that can be broken.
Graceful aging is graced by an absence of angst.
Honor My Wrinkles
Whenever I look at photographs of weathered elders, I think "Look at that beautiful face" or "Each of those wrinkles was etched by experience. How I'd love to hear the stories she could tell." However, I'm finding it harder to look in the mirror and think such sweet thoughts about my own face. So, in order to view my winkles and sags more gently, I've created the WOW (Wise Older Women) club. The club's only mission is to honor aging. So far, the membership is quite small, but I'd love for you to join me.
As a good club member, when I stand, semi-aghast, in front of the mirror, I try to reframe my negative thoughts into honoring ones, such as, "Look at the softness of my body. How great it is for hugging and lapsitting." Or I may remark "The melting of my jawline is symbolic of the mellowing of rigid and judgmental patterns and beliefs." Although these statements are definitely rationalizations, they are also true. And WOW! They sure make me feel better.
As Wise (and Wrinkled) Older Women, we can become models and mentors for the generations to follow.
Speak My Truth
In her later years, poet May Sarton once noted: "It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard." One of the empowering commitments we Wise Older Women can make is to discover our unique truth in any given moment and then either share it constructively or remain silent, not because we have to, but because we choose to.
In the Great Wheel of Life, an ancient circular symbol used by native cultures for thousands of years, one of the Four Noble Truths is:
TELL THE TRUTH without blame or judgment. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
KEEP NOBLE SILENCE. From an empowered position, choose to remain silent without resentment or bitterness.
This wise guideline helped me realize that there is often nothing at all noble about my silence. But it is also teaching me that it's perfectly all right to gently speak my truth even when doing so is very difficult.
Choosing to honor our truth is choosing to honor our authentic selves.
Judgment, the offspring of fear, ignorance, and expectations, is definitely a habit worthy only of the dump. A few of the synonyms for trash are filth, debris, rubbish, and waste, none of which are desirable as collectibles.
Although we women usually reserve our most severe criticism and censure for ourselves, judgment has a tendency to get out of control, to slop over, and to contaminate both giver and receiver. In order to change our judging behavior, we need to gently and lovingly gather the courage to face our fears, bring understanding to those areas in which ignorance lingers, and temper our expectations. For, as we judge ourselves, we will surely judge others.
Judgment is trash. Let's toss it away.
Give Up False Humility
Don't toot your own horn.
Smart girls know when to act dumb.
What gave you such a big head?
Boys won't like you if you're too smart.
The meek shall inherit the earth.
Pride goeth before a fall.
The nail that stands up tall is the one that gets hit.
Did any of these proverbial prickly thorns or ones similar to them overrun your garden of life? Sure did mine. It's high time we uproot these nasty weeds and put the false humility they helped create in the compost pile.
Damn, I'm good!
Find My Spiritual Home
One of the most significant freedoms of midlife is the opportunity to pursue spiritual beliefs and practices that feed our souls. Whether we are happily ensconced in a spiritual home or have rebelled against religiosity in one form or another, our spirit-whispers are never completely silent. Quietly but persistently the still, small voice within invites us to dance toward everevolving spiritual maturity.
As women over fifty, we have the right and responsibility to embrace the spirituality that resonates with our hearts while allowing others to follow what speaks to theirs.
Each of us is empowered to drink from the cup of spirituality that quenches her own thirst.
Sprout Soul Seeds
Each soul comes into this world carrying a little packet of seeds, unique and individually mixed just for it. Within these soul seeds resides the mystery of our life's purpose. As we plant our seeds in the fertile soil of our experience, nourish them with awareness, and tend them with commitment, they flower into the creativity with which we are called to bless both ourselves and others.
Emulating the plant kingdom, some of our seeds bloom early, while others are formulated to bring color into our later years. You have already grown many seeds to fruition—perhaps those of teacher, scientist, mother, artist, healer. Grounded now in the wisdom and ingenuity you've gleaned over the years, what seeds still yearn to blossom within you and bring beauty to the world? It doesn't matter what it is. As long as it is truly your own soul seed, it will be complete and right.
We do best what we were created to best do.
Transform the Hideous Holiday Hag
Right up front I'd better admit that I'm a holiday junkie, one of the only people I know who says "yea" instead of "yuck" when Christmas decorations go up before Halloween. I love even the corniest aspects, most notably the day when the local shopping-mall Santa poses with people and their pets.
For many years, however, my love affair with the holidays was more of a fatal attraction. In those trying-to-be-perfect-times, I was the Hideous Holiday Hag swept into an abyss of obligation and overwhelm. Because I wanted to do each tiny thing absolutely right, everything became a hassle. Only two aspects of the holiday season remained heartful to me: Christmas Eve church service and Christmas morning filled with my children's excitement.
What transformed the Hideous Holiday Hag? The answer is so simple that I'm almost embarrassed to write it. I remembered. I remembered that Thanksgiving is about gratitude and that Christmas honors the energy of Love ushered into the world by a God who cared and still does. I remembered to simplify, simplify, simplify. And I remembered to make a commitment to remain centered in my heart as much as possible.
By remembering the essence of the holidays, we can more easily enjoy them in a heartful way.
Weigh What's Comfortable
Who among us doesn't have an issue or two about weight? I certainly do. Over the years, I figure I've lost about 2,000 pounds. As of today, all of them have been found.
But through the following conversation with myself, I had a little breakthrough on the subject while trying on clothes recently.
"Darn, this makes me look chubby!"
"You are chubby, m'dear, grandma chubby. You love the material and comfort of this outfit, so buy it."
It has turned out to be one of my favorite garbs, and I try—with fairly frequent success—to feel soft in it, not chubby.
After fifty, we deserve to be free from over-worry about weight.
Accept Responsibility Without Blame
Don't blame, don't shame, don't play the game.
To keep a firm hand on the helm of our own ship, we need to accept responsibility for all aspects of our lives. Not taking responsibility abandons us to the mercy of each stray wind, storm, and piece of floating debris within and around us. Buffeted, bucking, turning, twisting—out of control.
However, and it is a big however, it's crucial that we don't burden responsibility with the onus of blame. We will make mistakes, do things poorly, and be less than wonderful once in a while, and we need to take responsibility at those times. But that doesn't mean we should assign blame to ourselves or others. Shaming ourselves with blame only punishes us for taking responsibility and causes us to hesitate to do so again.
Deep-six blame and cruise away, joyfully responsible, on the yacht Me 'n' My Life.
Meander and Savor Rather Than Scurry and Gulp
God did not create hurry.
Do you remember front porches or side yards furnished with comfy swings, gliders, or rocking chairs? As a kid I spent untold number of hours "doing nothing" in our front porch swing. I often went there to be comforted by the rocking rhythm when I was experiencing sadness or pain. In that swing I savored both solitude and solace. Luckily, I had other places to meander for adventure and exploration, as I imagine you did also.
As children, we intuitively know that meandering and savoring are good for our souls. It is only as adults, besieged by demands on our time and energy, that we succumb to the tendency to scurry and gulp. Let us hope that after we reach fifty, those demands have lessened and we can slow down and let our souls catch up with our bodies.
Let us once more meander and savor the sweetness of life.
Get Out of an Overheated Kitchen
There is a lot of truth in the old cliché: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Although we've been taught to tough it out when the temperature rises to an uncomfortable degree in our relationships, occasionally it's simply wiser to run away.
A woman I know had used up her allotment of marital verbiage trying to get her husband to understand the subtle—and not so subtle—ways that he put her down. Nothing seemed to get through to him, and as a result she was worn down to the point of depression. I encouraged her to stop talking and to tell him that the next time he behaved disrespectfully she would silently leave. He did and she did. (A very nice hotel was her destination.) Her temporary departure turned out to be exactly the jolt he needed, and I'm happy to report that their kitchen is now comfortably cooler.
At times it is exceedingly wise to exit expeditiously.
Remember the adage "Anything worth doing is worth doing right"? But what is right, and who is determining the definition? Does right mean flawless or perfect? If so, we're doomed to failure because it is impossible to be perfect. Expecting perfection of ourselves breeds a fear of failure, and fear of any kind chokes our ability to love—ourselves and those around us.
I've certainly been known to bludgeon myself black and blue with the perfection pole, but I received a valuable lesson one day while helping my son paint the interior of his house. Very concerned, I wailed, "Oh, Mike, I've gotten all sorts of little smears on the ceiling!" He came sauntering in, glanced casually at my imperfect work, and said, "Oh, Mom, relax. It looks great compared to how it was. It's good enough!"
Good enough ... What a beautiful phrase. The rest of our painting time was a laugh- and love-filled story-fest. Free of the need to please him with perfection, I was able to let love pour through.
Being who we are and doing what we do with love is what's really important. If things turn out perfectly once in a while, hallelujah! If they don't, oh well.
Anything done with love is good enough.
Forgive with Abandon
Because no one is perfect, each of us needs to forgive and be forgiven.
Imperfect actions are spawned from fear, and although we may never condone certain behaviors, true forgiveness includes total acceptance of ourselves and others as people trying to do their best. Only when bathed in an aura of acceptance can we feel safe enough to face our fears, heal our wounds, and invite happiness back into our lives.
Therefore, may understanding guide our hearts and compassion our words as we move from the land of fear into the realm of forgiveness. It's crucial to remember that we should be the first recipients of our own forgiving love and acceptance. Sometimes not easily done, but essential, nonetheless.
Love-in-action throws open its accepting heart and forgives with abandon.
Excerpted from Freedoms After 50 by Sue Patton Thoele. Copyright © 1998 Sue Patton Thoele. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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