A week ago, I wrote that I was going on a sabbatical from my … well, from everything. I found my life severally spiraling out of my control. Nothing was going as I had planned and I felt lost. So I decided to take a week off from my self-imposed hectic life to go on a spiritual journey in search of a truth of a few things that were on my mind.
I am back, and as I write this, I can tell you that I am more fully focused on the future than ever before. If you have not gone on a true spiritual journey, – not a vacation, which can be more hectic then your day-to-day life – but to a quiet place where you will not be disturbed by any distractions and able to completely and clearly focus on your self-introspection journey, I highly recommend that you do.
I suggest that any real self-introspection should take place in solitary – away from any and all distractions, alone for a week at a minimum. You don’t have to go far. Rent an isolated cabin in the mountains for a week with no contact, no Internet, and no phone. Put your mail on hold, tell your family where you are going and why, then unplug, disconnect, and walk-away. It will be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself – and you may find it, much like I have – becoming a habit.
As I wrote, the journey was to step outside of the reality that I had created in my mind. Yes, we all have those thoughts, that we create to fool us into believing it is a reality. I was looking for the truth, and to find it, I decided to step out of the reality that I had created to look back inside of the world that I left behind to see what was real and what was not. The Truth!
The goal was to avoid holding any expectations that I would find complete resolutions to my problems within a week. Intent on uncovering as much truth as possible, I was searching for a week of self-exploration in which I could uncover the misconceptions that I had instilled in my mind.
And, as I knew would happen, as I uncovered one problem and came to a resolve, another problem would be given to me that I had not considered. With patience and acceptance I grew to a better understanding of the issues I had been facing and came to a resolve.
While I was gone, I celebrated my 70th birthday in complete isolation and content, as I have not actually celebrated holidays of any sort for decades. I will honor those who do celebrate and help them, but celebrations of holidays is simply not for me. There was no party, no birthday cake, or candles to blow out. I did however make a wish, which did come true almost immediately.
There are those who wondered what problems I could have. I am in great health, thank goodness. I have a number of close friends, a great many followers and mentees, the world over. I am living my dream life in my home in beautiful Cuernavaca, Mexico, which is called the City of Eternal Spring due to the year round spring-like weather. I have enough money to afford a good life for myself. I make every attempt to live a life of peace, serenity and tranquility – happy in every way. I have appeared to others to be living a great life as it were. But, none of us is without problems.
Problem No. 1 - I am growing older – day-by-day – with no recourse other than to allow it to happen. No matter how young or how active I attempt to stay in my mind, I cannot escape this simple fact. According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, I have almost reached the average life expectancy of 71.0 years for a male. While I have male friends who are in their nineties, I can only hope to follow in their footsteps and last another 20 years.
Problem No. 2 - As I approach a little over 2-billion seconds of life, 25,574 days on this earth, the fact that I presently live alone with no one to share my life has given me concern. Yes, I do have someone in my life to converse with and visit from time-to-time, but she lives in another country and our time together is limited.
I know that for many reading this, who still have some amount of years left, having only two problems seems trivial, but I can assure you that it took a considerable amount of effort to overcome the many problems I had when I was your age. I worked diligently on eliminating them and was successful. I intend to leave this earth without a problem in the world. I wish you the same success as I have found, but know that you must work on the problems if you have any hope of eliminating them. They don’t go away if you hide them in some dark space and try to forget them.
Solutions to Problem 1 - Aging
During my sabbatical I spent time accepting my aging and the inevitable changes of aging, rather than seeing them as aberrant crises.
For those who have not accepted the fact that we are all aging and will someday be quite old – and having come within a year of my own life expectancy – I can tell you that getting old is rife with emotional landmines, including fears of losing one's independence or getting a serious illness.
Aging gracefully isn't always easy, but I have learned that having a healthy attitude matters. While society is obsessed with the negative aspects of aging, I have found that the obsessiveness was unfounded. I have never been one to obsess over what I cannot change. The anxiety of doing so, never complements a healthy lifestyle.
Having a healthy attitude is important. Naturally, I tire more easily and have to take things slower. But, I counter that each morning as my feet hit the floor, with the thought I am able to relish another day that life has given me. While many others have become depressed over growing old – moving into isolation, becoming bitter and with no sense of meaningfulness – I have attempted to grow old with grace and acceptance.
I have navigated through all of the emotional challenges of growing old by acknowledging that I have survived the threats of my physical and psychological integrity that have taken the lives of so many others. And, that there are many others who have survived – including my friends who are 20 years or more older than I am.
During my many conversations with those much older than I, I have found a commonality in their thinking – they all have a very healthy outlook. They think of what they can accomplish with this one more day that they have been given. How they can make a difference that they lived this one more day. They do good – each and every day that they have received – by giving to others. They focus on what is still working rather than mulling over what doesn’t.
Whether through good genes or the luck of having taken the right plane or highway – I have avoided death in the many near fatal accidents I have been lucky to live through, the many times I have had a gun pointed at my head and lived to tell of the experience, so far avoided any major disease, and lived through the many foolish acts of my youth, as one also-old friend recently pointed out, who was there during those follies.
I feel that I have aged well. I am still working daily – writing, reading, working with my consulting clients – and doing so with an ability to continue thinking quickly. Yes, wisdom, resilience and a mature perspective are a result of growing old.
I came to the conclusion that life changes everyone and that I accept that my life won’t stay the same. Accepting that in advance will make it much easier to manage, when I can’t climb the stairs, go on extended long walks, or drive a car. By anticipating that changes are inevitable I will be more flexible in my thinking. As I encounter the changes in my health status, I will deal with them as a natural occurrence in growing older and will be better able to negotiate through it with positivity.
While for some, who worry about the physical changes in their looks, I refuse to dye my hair or worry about the veins on my ankles. There is so much more to life than how I look and what other people think of me.
Having met thousands of older people in my life, I have replaced the stereotypical thinking with a positive view of aging gracefully. All of the people I have met have had incredible lives and careers and still have a great sense of humor with a lot of intellect and I am proud to be right there with them on that level.
What the Future Holds
As for my immediate plans, I intend to continue to find meaning in my life. I long ago gave up my childhood dream of becoming a cowboy on a ranch in Montana. Instead I became many other things; an educator, designer, father, friend, inventor, learner, lover, painter, philosopher, writer, and consultant who has been fortunate enough to travel – beyond Montana – and see the world, several times over. Yes, I put them in alphabetical order, as I always tend to do to avoid giving priority to one over the other, which seems meaningless as the order changes minute-by-minute.
These have all brought meaning to my life and are important to me. And, I will continue to do them as long as my feet hit that floor for another day. I have no intention of retiring and will follow where my passions lie.
Solutions to Problem 2 - Relationship
The need to have someone share the remaining years of my life with has perplexed me for some time. During my many Saturday conversations over the past several years with my best friend, Enrique Fuentes, I often bring up the subject. We are quite different – Enrique and I – in many ways. He has been married for over 30 years to his childhood sweetheart, where mine drifted away. He remains close to his two daughters, where mine drifted away. He is a bit younger than I, but more intelligent in many aspects and I value his friendship tremendously.
I wish I had recorded our conversations over the years, as I could write a best selling book similar to Mitch Albom’s, “Tuesdays with Morrie: An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson.” Who knows? I may write, “Saturdays with Enrique” someday - before my memory begins to fade.
Enrique’s most common advice is, “Stop wanting love to happen and let it!” only in many more words. Enrique’s advice is well taken.
What I learned during my sabbatical is nothing more than a reinforcement of what I have known for decades, but was not living what I thought. I had allowed myself to slip into a false reality and stepping outside of my life and looking back I could see that I what I have been searching for was to share my life with another person – not to take from another, but to give freely.
Wanting things has always been the greatest problem for mankind. Giving up on wanting almost always assures a better chance of actually receiving the very thing that wanting it will deprive you of.
This does not mean to give up on the relationship, but to think in a different way. It should come as no surprise to those who are or have been in a relationship that being in a relationship can often be difficult, but it is only because of our way of thinking.
There are a few other concepts to consider, two of which are:
1. Love is not a feeling or emotion, it is a gift that you give to others – without strings!
Emotions are a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others; instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge. Emotions move about – depending on the circumstances.
Feelings are an emotional state or reaction; a belief, especially a vague or irrational one. Feelings also move about.
While emotions and feelings are constantly changing - love is neither – as it remains steady.
2. Most relationships are based in needs or wants, rather than love.
For most people, they enter into a relationship in order to get what they need or want, rather than the desire to share what they have to offer with another person. When a relationship is based on sharing – rather than one of needs and demands, it is a much stronger and more desirable relationship.
Love is reciprocal only in that it is given and returned. It is mutual, common, and shared with another – without strings, without demanding anything in return, without the demand of if you do this then I will love you.
While I fully realize that the majority people believe differently, it does not mean that I have to live with someone who does not share my idea of seeking a non-emotional love, a love that is not based on how you feel at the moment. A love based on sharing.
Long Distance Relationship
For the past 15-months I have been in a long distance relationship. We have spoken via video conferencing on the Internet almost daily for the past 464 days, exchanged 109,454 words on Messenger and even more words in the hundreds of lengthy emails and during our visits.
In the past long-distance relationships have been impossible to sustain due to travel costs and time. The internet has made it much more feasible, but as you can imagine – and as I have found out – relationships are a different beast when thousands of miles separate you.
The phrase "Absence makes the heart grow fonder” was first published in Francis Davison's Poetical Rhapsody in 1602, where the words appeared as the first phrase of a poem in the edition, written by an unknown author. And, while the phrase continues to have a profound place in and effect on society, I am not so sure that the author was completely aware of the implications of long distance relationships at the time. Speaking for myself;
Long distance relationships can be a very steep roller coaster ride.
Adages offer warm and fuzzy feelings for the confused. No matter how confused they are, there is an adage that will give them comfort and allow them to believe that they are entirely right – no matter how disoriented their thinking. The confused are reassured that someone else felt the same way that they do, and has already figured out the right thing to do — and, most importantly, they’ve already created a convenient saying for it — so they should believe in the adage. It does not matter how right or wrong an adage is.
Cognitive neuroscientists explain that there is great danger in repetitive learning of the misconceptions or mistruths of a thing and that repetition can lead to confirming thoughts that are incorrect.
In this instance, we have at least two adages that are often repeated that are in complete contradiction to one another. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Out of sight, out of mind” are two common sayings we associate with romance that has been forced apart by distance.
Which one is true? It depends on your own need for truth, doesn’t it? Both can be true, but for different thinking individuals – as if both were to be believed by a single individual, then it would only lead to confusion.
While the heart may indeed grow fonder in absence – when one of the parties believes in common adages, there is opportunity for a complete and confusing contradiction of beliefs.
I do not believe in most of the adages that exist in our culture. I often preach to others the danger of actually taking them to heart. That most have more than one meaning and can be interpreted in multiple ways - always giving you a false sense of security in your often erroneous thoughts. Yes, we have all been wrong more times than right – have we not?
I am in hopes that my relationship – this last attempt at finding a steady love – will be successful. That it becomes a mutually accepting and giving love. A more relaxed and authentic love, where there is acceptance of the other as they are. A healthy and more satisfactory interaction that provides for peace, serenity and tranquility.
I wish this for all – not just for this week – but forever.