On Aging

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"There is not a more preplexing affair in life to me, than to set about telling anyone who I am--for there is scarce anybody I cannot give a better account of than myself; and I have often wished I could do it in a single word and have an end of it" (Lawrence Stern).

So here I am growing old, and far from wearing the bottom of my trousers rolled, I find myself in cargo shorts sailing around the Caribbean in a sailboat that is now my only home. And in a few months we plan to sail to Bermuda, then to the Azores and from there over to Cork, Ireland. Who would have thunk it? This radical change in lifestyle is undoubtedly the most perplexing and convoluted transition I have yet experienced. I don't seem to know who I am in this phase of my life. I find I'm unclear on how to go about being me. Where do I want to focus my energy? What are my goals, my hopes, my expectations of me? What, if anything feels left undone? What do I want from myself? How do I visualize myself two, three, five, ten years from now?

This extraordinary transformation and all it's complex challenges was initiated by a series of major life altering occurrences confronting me in rather rapid sequence over a two year period. First my marriage of 25 years ended in a break up not of my choosing; I then moved out of my home and into a small apartment; and then on my annual medical check up was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Next, I fell in love, formulated a new primary relationship, bought a house, retired from active employment, took courses in sailing, piloting and navigation, diesel mechanics, marine electronics, and celestial navigation all of which lead to my moving onto a sailboat and, together with my new life partner, Pat, adopting this live aboard, cruising lifestyle.

In many ways, this transition has confronted me, much more directly than I anticipated, with my own aging process. The cruising lifestyle while being quite physical, is not very aerobic. I'm deeply mindful of the various changes taking place within me, many of which are not very welcome or easy to deal with. I don't yet know how to respond to or grieve what I perceive as the decline, decay, deterioration, ebb, or waning of my vitality, stamina, agility, dexterity, nimbleness, strength, and libido. Where is my determination, resolution, tenacity, certainty, conviction, confidence, self-assurance bounce, vigor, potency, willpower and sexual passion? Is my imp hibernating, dormant, dead or merely truant? Due to his absence I seem to have become a good deal more introverted and quiet than I've ever been in the past.

Being long given, possibly addicted to, extensive self-reflection, I have contemplated, deliberated and reflected on these changes at some length. As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, we are the only species cursed with explaining ourselves to ourselves. So how do I explain myself to me in this current context? One would speculate from what I said above, that I'd be somewhat frustrated or distraught or even depressed, but such is not the case. Frustration requires more desire than I can presently recruit or find available within myself, and distress is a product of being confronted with something one does not like but feels helpless to change. And I don't believe I'm depressed. I do look forward to every day, am rather consistently in reasonably good humor, thoroughly enjoy my early morning ritual of making coffee and doing a bit of writing and like doing my share of the cooking. I anticipate with delight the visits of dear friends or the next port we're sailing toward. And I willingly do my share of the innumerable chores maintaining a boat of this size demands.

What is this all about? Why my low affect and lack of drive? My current list of suspects includes:

That's a pretty good list, plenty of things to blame for the absence of my imp. Not my fault, not my move, its just the way things are. Disconcertingly however, I know precisely what to do to get myself into excellent physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual shape and don't seem to have the initiative, incentive, inspiration or drive to act on what I know and as the t-shirt says ‘just do it'. Part of me knows that reducing my weight to 150 lbs. and adhering to my regimen of the kata (yoga, relaxation, and meditation), aerobics, and weight training would radically increase my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy and vitality. And another part of me says: "so what, to do what?" Yet another part thinks I should make myself do it and then after 90 days assess my level of satisfaction with the effect of the regimen. And then there's the part of me that says: "why not stick with day to day gratification and simple pleasures: eating, drinking, reading, visiting people, playing tourist, etc.? Focus on enjoying retirement." My inner dialogue sounds more like a squabbling family reunion than an organized planning meeting. All talking and no listening!

Is all this a predictable product of the unique transitional state into which I've placed myself? Or is it simply part of the aging process that one confronts when one retires? Do I find a way to get myself to do my regimen for three months? Or do I just go the easy ‘take the cash and let the credit go' route? Simultaneously, I know that for some years (more than 20) I have been trying to learn to ‘flow' with my life instead of being and feeling driven. Well, I've made it. I am now flowing with my life. And therefore, not surprisingly, part of me is reluctant to ‘pick up the whip' and make myself do the above regimen.

I know that when I was a practicing psychotherapist thirty years ago, I'd, have had some tough questions to ask of any client who came to me with these concerns:

Those are difficult questions to confront myself with because I'm quite aware that in some ways exhaustive analysis and diagnosis of my current impasse is easier than acting on it. My responses to them might lure or seduce me into action. I might even convince myself that this assessment process itself is a form of action. And I've long been aware of the pitfalls of excessive self-reflection: "If you spend too much time looking up your own ass hole, you get a stiff neck!."

So there's my aging dilemma as I now frame it, my psyche taunting me with a choice between flowing with this stage of my life (or is that merely coasting out?) and doing what I believe will recharge my batteries and crank me back up from 60 to 220 volts. I suspect that if I do the latter the mermaids will not only sing to each other, but will also sing for me.

Stay tuned.

 

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This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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February 25, 2004
by Bill Dillon