Aging Gracefully: Another Lesson for this Aspiring Crone

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This aging, saging crone has recently learned that aging gracefully can be, well, clumsy. In a previous blog, I espoused the gifts of elder women when they have taken the hard challenges of life and incorporated and internalized the lessons learned as opportunities to grow wiser and more mindful.  To me, it is the gifts of these experiences and the wise wisdom that emerges, that defines the essence of the aging gracefully woman.

So, why then did I spend a year worrying and obsessing about a doctor’s appointment? Where was my wise woman wisdom when I really needed it?

From August 2012  when I first walked out of my ophthalmologist’s office after my yearly check-up, I have worried, fretted, obsessed and terrorized myself with my very own original scary story. The plot of my original drama revolved around me  having to have cataract surgery. Okay, you’re saying, “HUH?”  CATARACT SURGERY for a plot?  Okay, have some compassion. I understand that probably to most “normal” and admittedly, some not so normal people, this would not be any kind of a plot and certainly not a traumatic event.  And while of course, no one wants surgery of any kind, the reality of cataract surgery is that it is safe, quick and has positive results – like immediate improved vision – even for higher risk patients like me.

Most people do not perseverate over this for a year……But I did.

I worried about this 2013 exam the minute I walked out of my 2012 appointment. In May of 2013, I took my first major step when I called and actually scheduled my eye exam for the following August 12..  I kid you not when I tell you that I dreaded just making the appointment……Once THAT was done, as I continued to worry, obsess and develop my scary story to newer and higher levels, I then began preparing myself for the  August 12th appointment.

Months before the appointment,I  began a regimen. I meditated, did guided imagery and visual imagery exercises.  I prayed for best outcome. I asked for support from the women in my women’s circle. I brought my spirit guides and my partner with me to the appointment.  And while some of these helped and the support was wonderful, the reality is that none of these steps got to the crux of the problem.

I was so fraught with fear and worry and panic. I was so caught up in my head, that I became increasingly detached from my emotional body.  In retrospect, I realize now that I was in a fight or flight mode.  You can’t be in  fight or flight and feel your feelings……that’s counterproductive -it’s not what it was designed for. Vulnerability went out the window as fight or flight took over. Fight or flight requires being defended and tough and strong…….not soft and tender and caressing……which in retrospect is really what I needed all along.

During that challenging year, had I been able to tap into my vulnerability and had I been able to experience the feelings of sadness, loss, powerlessness and even fear,  I know that I would at least have been able to feel myself……..But once fight or flight took over, any connections to my feelings were cut off. Going into fight or flight is strictly about survival, requiring toughness and rigor  It is a primal instinctive reaction to danger. Vulnerability would have required my soft and tender self to be available: to allow my deepest feelings to emerge; to cry and be in touch with my softness. The two are simply not compatible.

I know my fight or flight mode was trying to protect me, but the reality is that this kind of protection didn’t serve me.  While fight or flight might be very appropriate for some life threatening experiences, it was not appropriate for this one.

It took a year for me to finally understand what dynamic was driving me to fear.  This well-intended misguided protective modality never served me at all because it wasn’t what I really needed. I didn’t need to be out of my body, I needed exactly the opposite.  I needed to be able to feel myself, caress and hold my scared self.  I needed soothing and tenderness and most importantly to feel my vulnerable self.

I am grateful that I have gained great insights into what happened and have learned a very valuable lesson. When facing frightening, upsetting and scary events in my life, I don’t have to put on thick armor and protective gear to defend myself.  I can be much better served by embracing my scared child; soothing and holding her, all the while allowing my feelings to flow, emerge and be…….I understand that real inner strength is not about being hard and defensive, but instead it’s about being soft, and tender and real and true to your inner core……..It took me a year of fumbling and stumbling and eventually I got it.  I learned that vulnerability is a powerful and rich gift.  I learned that by embracing my tender, soft, frightened self; by loving my scared little girl, I was able to feel and be true to my real self. The defensive stance melted away and I was left stronger than ever. And so I learned.  By embracing my deepest feelings, and not stuffing them or covering them up with defensive armor, I came home to myself. I was able to be present in my life without future thinking and creating scary stories .  Being vulnerable put me back in my  heart, mind and body. I understand now how by allowing my tender, soft and vulnerable and real being to emerge made me invulnerable to the defensive actions of my thoughts and old patterns of being  Thank you my wise woman for finally helping me glean this most important lesson.

By Roberta Teller

Aging Gracefully: Flexibility of Body, Mind and Spirit

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Deng Ming-Dao says in his 365 Tao Daily Meditations, “When young, things are soft. When old, things are brittle.” Brittle things break easily, fall apart and die. I contend for a woman to age gracefully, she must  be able to maintain her suppleness and her flexibility not only in the body, but equally important in the mind and spirit as well.

I came to this understanding when I was confronted by experiencing two disparate emotions and thoughts at the same time.  I was stymied and stuck at my inability to comfortably hold them both without judging, criticizing and blaming myself. I remember how shut off I felt to myself and others. My chi was stuck and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I was mired in feelings of annoyance and frustration, kvetching about my life circumstances while I was equally aware of the huge amount of gratitude I felt. I was about to learn a great lesson from a simple discovery; While I understood that in this case, Kvetching and gratitude  could in fact be (strange) bedfellows,  I have come to understand that life is often complex, nuanced and sometimes downright confusing. Being able to accept and hold two seemingly disparate emotions and experiences allows for a flexibility of mind, body and spirit. And flexibility, whether metaphorically or not, keeps one supple, fluid and nimble…..a most important component of an aging gracefully woman. 

Several months ago, I reached a new milestone in my life.  Never before had I realized that I could have 7 medical appointments in one week……but I did.

The truth is that I was getting a bit worn down from all of this.  It had been a year and a half of dealing with chronic pain, discomfort, information, opinions,, doctors’ appointments and finally hip replacement surgery, and then of course, the recovery; only to be followed by more doctors’ appointments and physical therapy. The older I’ve gotten, the less I like sitting in those usually stuffy, noisy and uncomfortable waiting rooms……..only then to be called to sit in yet another small and even more uncomfortable space with less air and windows that don’t open as you wait and wait and wait some more.

So there I was complaining that I had to suffer through 7 medical appointments that week.  I was feeling grumpy, irritable, tired and annoyed that instead of going to the gym, doing yoga or taking a walk, I, instead had to park my ass for who knew how long in yet another doctor’s office……

But, how can I complain??????  How dare I kvetch, moan and groan when I have excellent medical coverage, a doting partner who took meticulous and loving care of me and a wonderful support system of dear friends and my sister who supported me throughout my ordeal.  I have a lot to be grateful for…..I know it and I appreciate it. And yet, I was miserable.  I didn’t want to be around myself at that time.

And then my Wise Ass, NYC Crone dropped in for a visit.  In her less than subtle tone and dramatic flare, she belted out ,

You can have an attitude of gratitude while you kvetch, whine & complain

You can have an attitude of gratitude while you kvetch, whine & complain

Have a party of pity if you feel shitty……go ahead and kvetch, whine  and complain

Enjoy your attitude of gratitude while you kvetch, whine & complain”

And I got it.  I understood how important it is as we grow older to maintain the tender pliancy of our youth……certainly in our bodies but equally important in the ways we think, feel and behave. I had started to feel like an aging plant that was becoming  rigid, stiff and hard……And once I realized that I could  embrace and gently and kindly hold that which confused, frustrated and annoyed me, while accepting my attitude of gratitude,I relaxed and felt more  fluid, flexible and limber. Where before, my breath was shallow, now I could breathe deeply and easily.

And, I thanked my Wise Ass NYC Crone.  I thanked her for showing up and giving me a valuable lesson on listening and trusting my inner guidance. And I thanked her for connecting me to the bigger message…….that aging gracefully requires fluidity, flexibility, and gentleness of the mind, spirit and body……..

By Roberta Teller

Aging Gracefully: Inner Radiance Creates Outer Beauty

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Recently I wrote that aging gracefully is an inside job meaning that the internal process of tapping into our wise woman wisdom creates a beauty and majesty of spirit and energy that supersedes the superficial manifestations of our bodies.  Ours is a youth oriented culture obsessed with the young.  We are perpetually bombarded with artificially reconstructed older faces and the overly thin and air brushed images on the big screens and magazines.  Whether a woman chooses to have plastic surgery or not, is an individual choice, hopefully made with clarity, thoughtfulness and enough money to pay for the procedure outright.  Of course, we all want to feel good about ourselves.  Of course, we all want to look our very best and have a swagger in our step as we strut our stuff…….that’s a no brainer.  But……..

What is so much more important than the number of wrinkles or age spots is creating a culture where women themselves grow into an appreciation of their own individual and collective inner greatness.  We, the boomer women, must become the change agents ourselves where we not only tap into our individual and collective voices, but it is incumbent upon us to SHOUT OUT our messages, visions, and life lessons.  We must reclaim our long lost tradition of being the heart and soul of the community – the historian, the healer, the teacher, the advisor, the voice of a long life of lessons learned and wisdom gained.

While it is a daunting task to think about challenging and restructuring a very ingrained system that does not innately cherish and revere or seek out elder woman wisdom, I would like to suggest some first  steps…..steps that begin first with an inner journey into ourselves.

1.  SELF AWARENESS:  Ask yourself: What are your gifts?  What life lessons have you learned?  What stories can you share about your life?

2.  PAY ATTENTION TO THE SUBTLE AND MAYBE NOT SO SUBTLE DYNAMICS  OF THE FAMILY, SOCIAL, BUSINESS, EDUCATIONAL GROUPS YOU ATTEND Who does most of the talking?  Do some people monopolize the conversation?  Is everyone engaged? Are you?  Why or why not?

3.    SHARE YOUR WISE WOMAN STORIES AND LESSONS: Tell your stories. Share   your life lessons with friends, family, your children. Leave a written legacy of your life.

4.  ENCOURAGE OTHER  WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR STORIES AND LIFE LESSONS:  Invite friends over with the express purpose of a story telling night. Ask elder women to tell their stories…..

5.   WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL FOR EVERY  GIRL OR WOMAN YOU MEET:   Be aware that your views and opinions about growing older are being expressed covertly, nonverbally and through actions, attitudes and conversations. What messages are you actually sending?

6.  TALK ABOUT GROWING OLDER: Let’s bring the topic of aging into mainstreamconversation. How is it different from the perspective of a 20 year old or an octogenarian? Ask yourself and others of all ages, “HOW DO YOU WANT TO AGE?”  Let’s begin to demystify growing old by talking about it, taking power around it through right choices, and bringing it into our culture through awareness, conversations and visibility.

 I believe it is essential for each and every one of us to take the time and make a commitment to ourselves to explore the richness of our own lives as well as to affirm and claim the lessons we have learned, and to honor the gifts that we have bestowed upon the world. 

 And it is through our own self acceptance and appreciation of who we are that our inner radiance will glow ever more brightly and we can move to shine this light on the world.

By Roberta Teller

Aging Gracefully is an Inside Job

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This boomer woman is aging gracefully.

This boomer woman is aging gracefully.

As a boomer woman, I have been pondering what aging gracefully actually means. On the surface, the term has a benevolent tone – a compliment of sorts or perhaps a kind appraisal of an older woman’s physical appearance.  But underneath this idiomatic facade, I see the language of this phrase as one that demeans, negates and undermines the richness and depth of the woman inside. It has become a euphemism for someone who is physically aging, yet it ignores the spirit and substance and breadth and experiences of this woman. It is another example of how the superficiality of a woman’s  physical self trumps the essence of who she really  is.

I would like to create a new paradigm for aging gracefully.  I propose that we look at growing older with grace as an opportunity to comment and honor the wisdom learned from the accumulation of one’s life experiences as opposed to how many wrinkles one has or how many more pounds have been added on over the years.  l suggest that we give voice to a life lived and listen to the lessons learned from the good and maybe not so great choices that were made along the life path.  I ask my fellow boomer women to proudly tell their stories so that all of us – young and old – may gain further insights and understandings about life – all the while getting to know you…….the real you…..the person.

I envision that we look to women from all walks of life, from all economic, class and racial backgrounds and we must not forget women who have been physically,  mentally or emotionally challenged.  I implore upon us to seek out women who have achieved great success – success not measured in dollar signs but in creating meaning and purpose and living their authentic life – whether they ran a large corporation, worked as professionals or in blue collar jobs or were stay at home moms.

To me aging gracefully is about the content – not the container. It is the culmination of a life lived, challenges met, obstacles overcome, and through the lessons learned, mistakes made, chances taken, so we gracefully age.  And, like it has been said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” I say, it’s never too late to begin to age gracefully and to give honor and respect and voice to our sisters who are already there…..Aging gracefully is not about what we look like, but about how we get to be who we are. It’s an inside job.

 

By Roberta Teller

Aging Gracefully: Reflections from this Boomer Woman

This boomer woman is aging gracefully.

This boomer woman is aging gracefullly.

I am one of many boomer women struggling with aging gracefully  I flip flop between being so grateful to have lived to my 66th year in good health with vigor and vitality and on the other hand, sometimes I  feel like screaming,  “Oh my God, what is happening to my body.?” The truth is up until recently, age never much mattered to me.  While some of my friends bemoaned turning 30 (yes, that is true), and some of my friends wouldn’t tell their boyfriends or husbands, or even their girlfriends how old they were (How could they get away with that?), the truth is I have always been proud of my age; maybe that was because I always looked younger than my years, or at least that’s what people said.  Or maybe it was because growing old was so far out of my way of seeing myself, that it just didn’t resonate with me; “Me, Roberta Teller, an old lady?”  Disconnect!

As matter of  fact, I have always enjoyed honoring my birth. I have had  a long standing tradition of celebrating every birthday-especially the ones that started a new decade.  I remember my 30th birthday party with the male belly dancers gyrating  around my Berkeley apartment living room with plates of lit candles on their heads…….And my 40th birthday party with all my friends stuffed into my tiny Mabel Street living room.  And that short black dress I wore to my 50th and the long skirt I had on for my 60th birthday……..hmmmmmm……maybe that was a clue of what was ahead……..

So, the truth is age never much mattered to me…….until now.

 To be honest, I’m not sure that it’s really the age thing…..I think it’s more of what I see and notice and feel……I wonder sometimes if  the scaly skin on my arms and legs are signs that I am perhaps a descendent of a fish or perhaps even worse, I’m a mutant specimen who is evolving back to the sea……..I am a water sign, after all.     And, where has the elasticity gone in my skin…..?  Now, if I happen to pinch myself, my skin seems to stand at attention like a soldier who has forgotten that she was dismissed.   And then there are those things they call “age spots” that appear all over my body.  Can’t they call it something else, like wisdom mounds or beauty dots?  I have a special relationship with the ones on my face…..I just bought a product at Aveda this week called a “concealer” so I can hide these facial intrusions.  I keep forgetting to put it on……

 And then there’s my neck……that protrusion of soft skin that no longer wants to adhere to whatever it was attached to before…….and the gray hair that I strive to color back to its natural state that I can no longer even remember.   And, oh how I miss my naturally wavy hair that the grey hairs insist on keeping straight.  I feel a sense of shame about my unkind and  judgmental self.  And then I feel more shame and guilt because I shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts, at all.  But I am.

“Well”, I tell myself, this is just superficial crap.  It’s the youth culture mentality of our society and I don’t buy into it…….But I do…..on some level at least.  That’s why I color my hair and I bought “the concealer”  the other day.  I want to look good, be considered attractive, pretty…….young????   Younger than I am??????.  And while  I probably would never really consider plastic surgery, I can kinda understand why (mostly, but not only) women spend huge amounts of money buying all kinds of cosmetics and promises of a youth returned, and pay exorbitant amounts of money to remove wrinkles and tighten up that loose skin.  And yet,  recently,  when I was watching the Academy Awards, I was shocked and revolted when I saw the new and improved John Travolta who looked mannequin like and other worldly.  Or have you seen Joan Rivers lately?  I don’t want THAT either.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I too, am a victim of the youth oriented society and the ageist language of the culture we live in.  But with that said, never liking to consider myself a victim, I am also a survivor.  And while I haven’t come to completely embrace my physically aging self,  I have stopped trying to hide it or deny it or fix it…….I am moving towards  acceptance of growing older. I am learning that the physical manifestations of aging are far less important than the richness, and meaning and vitality that I infuse into my life.  And, I see myself as  a beautiful 66 year old woman with some wrinkles and beauty dots who is aging gracefully as she passes each year.

Oh, and if you happen to see me in the middle of the summer with a gorgeous shawl wrapped tight around my neck, remember, I am a work in progress……and wink at me in solidarity.

By Roberta Teller