Sunday, October 20, 2013

Renewing Our Hearts and Minds

Many of us, sometime in middle-age, come to the point where we so desperately need to renew our hearts and minds. Recently, I was scheduled to meet a prospective student at a private, all-women college. I arrived forty-five minutes early and hadn’t thrown a book into my bag to read. I found myself feeling awkward and out of place on this campus that I had never been to before. I was surrounded by women who were decades younger than myself, many proudly wearing college t-shirts. So, I found a bench, closed my eyes, and went deep within myself. I had to find the place where I fit into the campus. Perhaps this is a bit of a Buddhist idea.

I found myself blessing these young women. May they create memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. May they form friendships that will last a lifetime, finding women who will celebrate their successes but who will also give them courage when they go through times when they find it difficult to find the light within themselves. May they find ideas that will change them, helping them to be bigger and brighter than they ever thought possible. May they find their true paths, ones that will bring them joy and also help them bring more good into the world.

When I finally sat down to talk with my prospective student, I saw someone who was excited about the future. She was filled with the possibilities that life held for her. She felt part of the college community and had found a place where she belonged. She enthusiastically talked about what she was learning from her fellow students.

In contrast, I see so, so many middle-aged folks who look defeated, disillusioned, and filled with cynicism. For all practical purposes, they will probably need to work for a few more decades. They self-medicate in different ways or get put on prescription medications. What if there was a more mature version of the college experience I witnessed, one that would help people go into their later work-years filled with a sense of possibilities, supported by a new, like-minded community, and motivated by fresh, exciting ideas? We need a place to go to where we can learn how to dream new dreams and create new visions. At the same time, we need a place where we can gain the intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills to make these new insights a reality.

I came out of my quiet time in a different place from where I had started. In someway, I belonged on that campus, if only to bless the young women and to bless those of us a little further on in our lives.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Location and Thinking

My friend Kirsti coined the expression think & drink to describe a ritual that I have enjoyed almost once a week this summer. In its most common form, I start out on my two to four mile walk and stop at McDonalds for a large iced-coffee, going in one door and coming out the other. While drinking the coffee, I commune with the Universe and enjoy the scenery in the neighborhoods. I usually stop by the local library, reading the current issue of Success Magazine or finding something interesting in the New Book, Non-Fiction section. Oftentimes, I find myself jotting down ideas that inspire me. Sometimes I run other errands; other times I just go back home. Variations of the theme have revolved around trips to coffeehouses in different local communities or people watching. What these experiences all have in common is that I take a break from my usual way of looking at the world – a mental vacation – and open myself to new ideas. The inspiration comes from print materials, my surroundings, or out of nowhere.

One of the aspects that interests me about this summer’s think & drink is that it involves both novelty and ritual. I’ve primed myself for new thoughts. It’s like I press a switch that indicates that I am now ready to entertain new ideas.

We tend to associate particular places with particular ways of thinking. After a couple of years away from Tai Chi classes, I recently dropped in. I felt things that I rarely feel when I practice at home. Yes, a good part of it was due to my teacher and the students. But, a lot of them talked about the feeling they have just walking into the old gym. In other instances, people talk about turning into dutiful children when they visit the house of an older relative. Some people feel moved when digging in their garden, others looking at the stars away from the city lights, and still others sitting in a deer blind in the woods during hunting season. Writers often talk about the special place where they wrote a particular book. Many artists have been known to change their painting style when they moved to a new location. In their biographies, some scientists and philosophers talk about their ritual walks.

Sometimes when we get stuck in a way of thinking or have a problem that we can’t seem to solve, instead of continuing to spin our wheels, we can physically go to someplace else. It may be as simple as my think & drink ritual or going for a walk with the dog. It may mean visiting a friend who lives in a different city. Whatever we do, the goal is to break out of our habitual way of thinking.

With winter fast approaching, I suspect my summer ritual is quickly coming to an end. Perhaps, a new ritual will rise up to take its place.