I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter,
how they’re experts at letting things go.
One of my favorite self-indulgences is going to the nail salon for a manicure or pedicure. When I lived in a large metropolitan area, there were nail salons on every corner. The technicians were typically not interested in conversation with the customers but they did converse in their native language with other technicians in the salon. I noticed that customers didn’t seem to mind this but it always bothered me. Why is it that we are satisfied with our isolation and detached from the possibility of having real conversation or building relationships? But, like all the other customers in the nail salon, I learned to bury my head in a magazine or my smart phone and initiate conversation only when I wanted something. When I left my suburban life and all its trappings to retire and move to small community, I found myself initially lamenting the lack of choices among typical conveniences, such as salons, grocery stores and retail chains. For heaven’s sake, how does one live without Trader Joe’s? And only two nail salons?
Now, a couple of years into retirement, I’ve embraced small town living – even though I still miss Trader Joe’s! I frequent one of the two nail salons, where I’m growing a new friendship with my nail technician. She is a Buddhist and has acquainted me with a yoga studio in the area. On my last visit, she suggested that we meditate together sometime. Quite a change from suburban isolation, isn’t it?
Retirement is a major transition. It’s hard to let go of so many familiar things in our lives. But I have found that by living more mindfully, I am able to let in the present and appreciate its possibilities. Not that it’s easy. It’s much easier to focus on what I miss about my former life. But it’s all about our attention, isn’t it? In order to shift focus to the present, we have to first accept our thoughts and feelings about the past. And it’s not only about a change in life circumstances. It’s also about residual feelings from past events in our lives – poor choices, toxic relationships – just about anything that causes us ongoing pain. As I discussed in my last post, the RAIN formula is very useful for moving forward.
R: Recognize it.
I have residual pain about a family relationship that went terribly wrong. I recognize the familiar and lingering resentment, bitterness, and shame. By just recognizing the feelings and not diving into the dark pool of blame, I can stay present.
A: Accept it.
I no longer fight these feelings or try to shame myself for having them. I don’t say, “I need to forgive this person and move on.” Now I say, “Okay, I can’t forgive this person and that’s okay. I’m moving on.” It amazes me how powerful this subtle shift in perspective is. I am liberated to focus my attention on new, current relationships more fully. Life is too short to miss out on the present.
I: Investigate it. Be curious.
Meditation on this acceptance is the pathway to letting in the present. During meditation, I’ll notice my attention wandering to my negative feelings about this relative. I notice my physical reaction – my muscles tighten and my breathing speeds up. I notice my emotions – resentment. Then I explore my thoughts – I’m a failure for not letting go of my feelings. Ah, this is a familiar thought.
This final step is critical. My negative feelings come and go; they are not who I am.
Jay Solomon (The Zen of South Park, 2008) tells a wonderful Buddhist story about learning to let things go:
Two Buddhist monks were walking along a path when they came to a shallow,muddy river. A woman in a beautiful dress waited there, not wishing to cross for fear of ruining her beautiful dress. One of the monks lifted her onto his shoulders – something that he was absolutely not supposed to do – and carried her to the other side, where he set her down (dress intact) and proceeded along the path with his fellow monk. After a few hours, the second monk, unable to continue keeping quiet about what he understood as a violation of the code by which they lived, asked his companion, “Why did you pick that woman up and carry her across the river?” The first monk replied, “Are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”
My life vision has changed from focusing on success and achievement to one of mindfulness and happiness. I now invite in relationships and activities that will fit this vision. I don’t try so hard to let go of my past. I embrace it and then, give up the battle. What a relief!
One last story on letting in the present. I have joined a book club. This week, I had the meeting at my house. My little cottage needed a lot of fixing up when we bought it. Still more is needed. But my attachment to my past ideas of status and materialism (e.g. large, expensive home) have changed. I welcomed in my book club members and felt happy that my new friends could understand me better by seeing my home, my fewer belongings, and how Jim and I revel in the nature scene 15 feet from my back window. We had a great time at our meeting and I am thoroughly enjoying my growing friendships. It was a milestone in my mindful retirement journey.