A More Contemplative Lifestyle?

This post captures my reactions and take-aways to the book: From Age-ing to Sage-ing by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Written almost 25 years ago, you would think that the perceptions of retirement would have progressed further. The book covers the ideas that retirement removes primary source of self-worth and the lack of positive role models to show us how to best transition and live the next life-stage.   While the author uses the term “elder” (it was written in 1995), the concepts feel very true still today. This book made me realize that it can take generations to shift social belief systems!

The “elder” life-stage under discussion is the now-longer-than-ever “retirement life-stage”. The author proposes that this is not just a continuation of the previous life-stage (continued focus on competition and achievement, addicted to productivity and activity, continuing to live as the hero/heroine archetype), but a next life-stage that is slower paced, more contemplative, and focused on individual spiritual growth. The book explores the challenge of this point of life – the choice between continuing the activity focused lifestyle (which seems to be easier since it is familiar territory) or becoming more individualized through a more contemplative lifestyle.

 

Our goal-oriented culture is all about expansion and achievement – movement, building/growing things, make more connections, start new projects. Many post-retirement individuals feel the need to simply extend the middle years frenzy of activity, living the dominant hero/heroine archetype’s courage and perseverance and the youthful ideals of strength, beauty, and personal ambition.

There continues to be a perception that retirement is old age – wrinkled skin, gray hair, chronic disease, non-productive, simply awaiting death. There is a perception that seniors are either imposing their (outdated) knowledge unsolicited or being a useless drain on society.   Neither is a positive, aspirational image.

Our culture is uncomfortable with the concepts of contraction, lack of activity (stillness), inward contemplation, deepening our connection with our inner self, focusing on spirituality and generativity, or the nature of being.

While psychologists talk about individuation in this post-retirement life stage, there are not a lot of role models for the archetype of the Inner Elder. Who is highlighted for becoming increasingly in contact with their inner-self; working on understanding the deeper, often elusive, patterns of our life; having a wisdom of the ages based on self-knowledge of life long experiences? Where are the Sages who offer their balanced judgment and wisdom, unattached to the outcomes, tolerant and patient, willing to teach in ways that allow others to learn? Instead we see the role models of individuals launching second careers or going back to school, turning hobbies into money-making ventures, volunteering in charitable organization to save the world. When we retire, we are often encouraged to get another job, pursue new hobbies, keep going, keep doing …. keep being middle-age.

 

Unfortunately, there is a strong preaching element in the book about leaving a legacy. While there is some discussion about no longer needing to live according to the litany of outer voices and the should/ expectation of society (permission to be my authentic self, delight in my uniqueness), the author also points out the 5 M’s “appropriate” for elders – mentors who teach the young, mediators who resolve conflict, monitors of public bodies, mobilizers of social change, or motivators of society to focus on public good. On one hand, no more expectations; and on the other hand, what is expected!

But I found the elements of how to live a more contemplative lifestyle most intriguing. It goes against the concept of aging as an activity oriented approach of continued intellectual growth, increased (not merely sustained) physical vigor, and continued meaningful work. A contemplative lifestyle:

  • Focuses on undertaking the inner work that leads to expanded consciousness through journal writing, life review, mediation, and spiritual exploration.
  • Is no longer about having to devote time to meeting other people’s expectations, but rather unleashing energy into self-awareness, spiritual development, and creativity.
  • Is pursuing activity not for any desired outcome, but for the sake of the activity, whether it’s yoga, gardening, journal writing, painting, or something else.

Through the deeper consciousness of the contemplative lifestyle you find a sense of “enough-ness”, cultivate calmness, and find satisfaction in being, rather than doing.

The life review process that facilitates some of the contemplative work is similar to Julia Cameron’s memoir work in her latest The Artist’s Way series. Life Review involves also re-contextualizing our failures into successes (valuing the learning from the choice made, recognizing the shift made in life’s journey, an acceptance of unenlightened decisions), releasing grudges and resentments (anger and resentment imprison vitality and creativity), and reconnecting to unlived life and sacrificed dreams.  The goal of this process is the understanding of what life has meant up to this point (to help see where you’re heading), reconnecting with the inner artist/inner child, and us forgiving ourselves for our imperfections.

Basically the author encourages a release of the mid-life goals of acquisition (addiction to materialism, mindless consumerism), competitive dominance (climbing the ladder, mastery achievement), and the status of leadership to focus on inner development, an increase in spiritual understanding, and self-awareness for a sense of oneness with a Higher Order.

At the end, the author does encourage one of the following in this next life stage: altruistic activism, responsible citizenship, ecological stewardship, legacy inspiring creativity, OR a search for faith and inner peace. One is encouraged to become the “Wise Woman” (elder archetype) who has achieved a deeper level of consciousness based on forgiveness, compassion, and wisdom.

 

So what do I plan to do based on this work?

  • Slow down. Take the time to find wonder in each day, most notably in the cycles of nature. Take the time for acts of everyday kindness. Make time for creative activities.
  • Preserve my legacy though writing this blog – information (wisdom) freely given.
  • Continue harvesting the wisdom of the years through (restarting) my memoir work.
  • Re-commit to live my (unique) life in accordance with my values, free from expectations of others. Continue healthy lifestyle practices and living my unique journey. Find validation and self-worth from within.
  • Work on creating inner strength and the ability to find equilibrium in a world of unceasing change/stress. Model a joyous positive attitude.

While a challenging book to read (no, I would not highly recommend it), it helped me feel more comfortable with my current focus on self-acceptance and to live each day mindfully and with gratitude. (Yes, I still need the external validation!)

37 thoughts on “A More Contemplative Lifestyle?

  1. Hi, Pat – I did read this post in January. I ruminated on a few of the points that you made so neglected to leave a comment at the time. Giving permission to be ourselves and not to be busy all of the time (or to be busy if that is what truly makes us feel alive) makes sense to me. Thank you for saving us the read and sharing this so candidly.

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  2. I will have to read that intriguing book. I’m certainly willing to give up “mid-life goals of acquisition (addiction to materialism, mindless consumerism), competitive dominance (climbing the ladder, mastery achievement), and the status of leadership”. I like the todo list you came up with,

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  3. Thanks for the synopsis and for “taking one for the team.” I definitely see that I have continued the highly active life from pre-retirement, but the activity is just in different vectors than it used to be. This is what I am used to and what I like. I love always learning new things and having new experiences. I may someday tire of the incessant activity, but right now, it is my lifeblood and I don’t want to put it down. I think part of this desire is because I had to put so many personally interesting quests on hold during my working years. Now I have the time and energy to explore all of those someday/maybe items.

    That said, I am not opposed to developing wisdom and contemplation. I think it is also a necessary element in one’s life and it may very well become more attractive to me at some point. I just know that I will never be an 80% contemplation/20% activity person. When one is an ENFP, there’s just too much out there to do to spend excessive time on quiet introspection. 😉

    I also do not appreciate anyone telling me what I MUST do. I am a big boy and I can decide for myself what is appropriate or not appropriate based on my values and beliefs. I feel as though we have already left a significant legacy in our four intelligent, productive, well-adjusted children who will continue to have a positive impact on the world. Could I do more? Undoubtedly. But it will be up to me what that turns out to be.

    I think your action steps sound good. They are very consistent with what you’ve been writing about for a long time.

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    1. Bob, I really think this book gave me permission to not be busy all the time. [Yes, I still look for external validation… when will that end?] I look at my calendar now and see a good mix of activity and reflection time – time to read and write. And I’m feeling good about it. So even if it was external validation and a slog to read, it’s what I needed! LOL.

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  4. Hi Pat! I’ve not read “Aging To Saging” but I did see it in the lineup of potential books on the subject. Thanks for saving me the time AND for giving me and all of us a great synopsis of what it is all about. As you might have guessed, I agree with most of the observations that it mentions. I’m not even really retired–mostly ‘semi-retired’ by choice because I believe that I am called to grow and learn regardless of whether it is attached to a job or not. It’s just what makes me come alive. If I don’t have things to look forward too and ideas that generate curiosity and interest in me, I might as well not be around. Of course I know others who seem to have a different outlook on that and that’s great for them because I’m convinced our “third-act” is all about discovering that still small voice within and living from there. I’m not completely there but I do feel I’m making progress. And one thing is for certain, with all of us baby-boomers coming on board we are bound to change what it means to get older in the world. Back in the 90’s (when you said the book was written) it was just a hint of what is to come. I can’t wait to see where we go with this! ~Kathy

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    1. Kathy, I like how you put it – “discovering that still small voice within and living from there”. I do think I am trying to discover that voice. Not the voice of expectations or the search for external approval. That’s how I’ve lived my whole life. I’m not there yet finding a new way. I realized that this book gave me external validation for the contemplation I think finding that voice/that me-path will require. LOL. I agree with you that the “third age” is changing. I see my mom, who is 85, as the older perception of retirement. Me, at 58, at a very different place!

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  5. I really appreciated this post Pat! I’ve been very contemplative since I’ve passed the 70’s mark. I’m finally finishing up my story by having someone do a final edit. I really felt it was time to pause and look back and reflect on lessons learned. Blogging helps with that too. Thanks for the inspiring post and I’ll be sharing on FB and Twitter for #MLSTL

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    1. Mary Lou, Thanks for your kind words. As I am a young retiree, I keep thinking I need to be active. But I feel that I’ve now given myself permission to be contemplative. It’s a balance, like everything. Being active and being contemplative!

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  6. While you do not highly recommend the book, I am intrigued 🙂 Perhaps I will plan to skim rather than read closely – but I love all the insights you found and shared with us. I do have a strong pull to leave a legacy … mostly in terms of leaving family scrapbooks that tell the story behind the photo. But I am also interested in leaving behind the hectic pace of teaching and ease into a more contemplative lifestyle of retirement 🙂

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    1. Molly, It really was a slog to read through…but do let me know your take on it if you decide to read it.

      I’ve only ever done one scrapbook. I enjoyed putting it together, then put it on the shelf and have never looked at it again! I do have hundreds of photos that I need to deal with…but I don’t have any kids/grandkids who would care for them. I’m really not sure what to do with them, so they just stay stacked in a corner of my office. Hah.

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  7. The only legacy I have thought I want to leave is being a good grandmother. I am always amazed at some of the things people advise about for retirement. As I have found life has a way of changing any plans I did have for retirement and I work with what I am thrown.

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    1. Being a grandparent is often said to be one of the best legacies. I don’t have that option (no children), so it’s been a challenge to think about legacy without that option. And yes, life has a way of changing your plans, but I am a planner at heart and need a beginning plan!

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  8. I’ve noticed that a lot of retired people try to keep up a busy life so that they don’t feel like they’re sitting around with nothing to do. I think a lot of people have lost the fine art of doing nothing and enjoying it. There are so many joyful pursuits that retirement gives you time for – why not sit back and let life happen to you – it’s been earnt! Running around trying to prove your worth is such a waste of this great time of life. I’m really looking forward to when I am fully retired and have nobody to answer to and all the time in the world to pursue what’s important to me. I like that you’re heading in that direction Pat.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

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    1. Leanne, It’s a hard thing to let go of the busyness, the proving your worth, the external validation that says you belong. I’m still a work in progress on it, but happy that perhaps in some small way, I can be a role model to others. I know I look at many of my blogging buddies as role models for me – in acceptance of self, living healthy habits, living each day with gratitude, etc. We will all head in the direction together!

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  9. When I started my blog I thought about trying to make money with it. After one year, and reading the posts of those that do, I have decided it’s not for me. My blog is often my opportunity to be contemplative and I don’t want it littered with pop ups and ads. Since I “make things”, I’ve been asked if I think about selling. Yes, I have. But I’ve also considered how it would disrupt my life, adding deadlines and stress. I retired to escape all that!! I am content making things for myself and others. There’s more joy in that!! Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. We all need reminders … it’s why I read other people’s blogs. They remind me to be grateful for what I have, to be accepting of who I am, to find the joy in the small things, to reinforce healthy habits, and to realize I’m not alone in this journey. This year I want to “make things” for the joy of making things… a new mindset for me.

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  10. After 2 1/2 months of retirement I find I’ve gravitated toward more contemplation – and I didn’t read a book about it! I think I had no choice since my thoughts tortured me during the first few weeks after I quit working. I was living in the past and the future, without the ability to enjoy the present moment. So I started meditating and reading daily inspirations. This has helped me immensely and now if feelings of anxiety come over me, I focus on my breathing and relax. I thought I’d launch into more writing and promotion of my book once I retired – making that my second career. But I found it was too much for me and I was not in any state to be a go getter. A dear friend gave me some sage advice when she told me that being myself was enough. I’ve been trying to live one day at a time knowing that being myself is all I need to do for the day to be a ‘success.’

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    1. Molly, Someone once said (someone possibly famous even) that “you cannot fail at being yourself”. And it’s great you have friends that tell you that being yourself is enough! I guess I’m working on that belief. I still need external validation that being just me, being contemplative, and not doing all the “should” (be a go getter, make money at blogging, travel more, have a second career, etc.) is OK. That just being me is a enough.

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  11. Pat, I always enjoy having a conversation like this with you – reading your thought provoking posts is like sitting down with a cup of tea and discussing these issues. I find it interesting that you wouldn’t highly recommend the book but yet you gained some great insights from it. I love your plans for the future and think we could all take those on into the new year. Always a pleasure to chat with you #mlstl

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    1. Debbie, I love when I’m thought provoking! Probably because I love when other people are thought provoking towards me. I wouldn’t recommend it because it was a “slog” to read. The writing style was a bit repetitive, used old-dated terms (it was written in 1995), and the preachy parts got a bit heavy. I forced myself to finish it (OK I did skip some sections that just felt too preachy) because of the things I pulled out – the acceptance of a more contemplative, spiritual focus lifestyle and what that entails. It was a message I needed to hear I think.

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  12. Always such thought provoking posts Pat and I look forward to your posts each week. I definitely want to start to slow down but not give up on life if that makes sense. I want to be more aware of how I spend my time and make each day count as I wrote in my post this week about what I’m committing to in 2019. I don’t fit the stereotype Senior or Retiree and I don’t intend to. I also think that in time this stereotype will fade away as people of our generation make our voices heard and lead by example. Thank you for sharing with us at #MLSTL and have a beautiful week. xx

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    1. Sue, thanks for saying you look forward to my posts. When I do one this “heavy”, I often worry how it will be perceived. I do think in time stereotypes will change, but it’s amazing to me how long social beliefs take to change. I shouldn’t be surprised … the women’s movement has been around how long?

      I think what I really got from this book was the feeling it’s OK to not be doing all the time, not be pushing to achieve the next amazing thing, not feeling guilty for not saving the world (or a small part of it). It’s OK to live each day just being more aware. I’ve been trying to live that way these past few weeks… enjoying the moments and not trying to rush to the next thing to do. It’s amazing to me how hard that can be at times! I’m going to start singing “slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last”!

      Have a wonderful week!

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  13. Love your plan, Pat. Mine will be similar. I feel no need to maintain my work life pace/leave a grand legacy either. After what seems like a lifetime for caring/working for others, why can’t my retirement years be for finally putting me and my interests first?

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    1. Deb, I, on the other hand, sometimes feel like I’ve been putting myself first all my life since I’ve got no kids, was not in a “helping” career, etc. I’ve often felt selfish. I also feel guilty about not leaving a legacy. And then I have people point out that I have made an impact. Bob (a friend and blog reader) compared me to George Bailey recently and it gave me a thrill. Maybe I am leaving a legacy in my own unique way? And maybe you are as well? No, not a grand legacy, but an impactful one, never the less. Even now, in how you/I approach this next life stage.

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  14. Pat, Thank you for a well-written post on this stage of life. I find with Martin’s dementia and my role as a caregiver, I am much more contemplative about life. I try to focus on today, this minute, and focus more on spirituality than physical doing. Small pleasures have a sweetness they didn’t have during my work and early retirement years. Money and activity for activity’s sake certainly has lost its importance.

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    1. Kathy, I had not really viewed my life as more contemplative until I read this book. I still like the activities, but I’m really enjoying the other aspects of self-discovery. I’m also trying to figure out what aspects of spirituality I want to further explore. Thanks for commenting…It’s good to hear your voice.

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    1. Tom, More than happy to do book reviews! I was known to do it at work as well…. Pat’s version of Cliff notes. I would recommend Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way if you’ve never explored that one – that one is worth it.

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  15. It’s an interesting concept. I’m not retired yet, although my husband has (he’s 57 and doing voluntary work). What has struck me is that we tend to be fitter older now – if that makes sense – and therefore all the old paradigms of retirement have changed. Your plan sounds like the way through.

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    1. Jo, I’m also fitter now that ever before, mostly because I now have some exercise program (versus none), eat better (more time to shop & prepare food), and sleep more. But the “contemplative lifestyle” was intriguing language. Although I do like my out & about activities as well (rediscovered today!). I guess it really is more about balance.

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  16. “Is pursuing activity not for any desired outcome, but for the sake of the activity, whether it’s yoga, gardening, journal writing, painting, or something else.”
    Pat, I found connections for myself in this excerpt from your post. I am often asked if my blog will be monetized, or will it make money for me. I have to say that right now it is for the sale of the writing and not for any other reason except that I find pleasure in it. Maybe money will enter the picture at some point, but right now I am not worrying about it and living in the moment…writing what I want to write about and responding to the written word of others (like you) that resonate with me.

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    1. Nancy, It surprises me how often I’m asked if am monetizing my blog. (No plan to.) And even what my plans are for expanding my book writing into money making opportunities. (No plans to.) I even want to extend this idea beyond my writing and into some other creative activities as well. It’s not always easy to find satisfaction in just the pleasure when others are expecting so much more.

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