Life Cycles

Some Thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions

Some Thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions – January 3, 2016

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. It reminds me of rules, restrictions, diets and to-do lists. Having been a marathon dieter in the past I cringe at anything resembling a set of limitations and constraints. Change and growth is a process and releasing old patterns and developing new behaviors takes time and not simply turning a page on the calendar. It is determined not by will power and self-control but by self-love, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. And it comes after (as Abraham says), making peace with where you are.

That being said, I love sitting down during these first days of January with my new journal, colored pens and drawing paper and getting in touch with what I want to create. I savor the rare silence in the city, the soft music, the candles glowing and my morning coffee. But I must remember to let my inner wise person take the lead and not my crazy inner critic. There has to be inspiration, joy and passion otherwise we simply don’t have the fire to stick to our dreams. I love David Whyte’s quote: Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

What I am trying to say, dear friends, is be gentle with yourself. Be patient. Have enormous compassion towards yourself and this New Year so young and full of promise. You may fail or falter; it’s part of the process. Make room for that. Keep in mind what Samuel Beckett said: Fail. Fail more. Fail better. And remember, we are all a beautiful work in progress.

Only dreams give birth to change, writes Sarah Ban Breathnach in her January 1 entry of her beautiful book, Simple Abundance. She ends the page with this: Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous new year by believing. Believe in yourself. And believe that there is a loving source – a Sower of Dreams just waiting to be asked to help you and make your dreams come true.

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The Sixties – Part 3

It’s official – You’re 65 and you can’t hide!

There are certain ages that seem to carry more weight and sixty-five is definitely one of them.  We can color our hair, work out, and eat lots of kale but at sixty-five we can no longer ignore the elephant (or rather the senior) in the room. We may not feel or even look old but let’s face it, there’s a stigma attached to sixty-five; it’s serious. And once you cross that mountain it’s an express train to seventy and you know what that means; early bird specials, brittle bones and walkers – or it can seem that way! I’m not trying to be depressing but let’s face it, on a bad day we all think of these things. I know I do.

The first stage of becoming an elder is our Second Saturn Return at fifty-eight but as I wrote in the last chapter, we are merely entering that phase; we’re an apprentice elder and still in our fifties. OK, we’re barely in our fifties but hey, there’s time to deal with it or so we feel. The second phase of eldering takes place around sixty-four to sixty-five when transiting Saturn makes a square (a challenging aspect) to its natal (birth) position. No-frills Saturn is that planet of reality; cold, hard and sobering and turning sixty-five can be a wake-up call. Although it’s not a prediction, many people are vulnerable to depression at this point and depression is associated with the ringed planet.

                                                          If you fall into a rut, don’t furnish it. –Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s not unusual to find yourself in a rut once you retire. You’re used to being busy, having a career and a role in the world and suddenly there’s a void. Saturn is a “do something” planet; you need to find another role, another purpose. Once again, it doesn’t have to be an important career that pays big bucks; just something that gives you pleasure and allows you to be engaged in the world. If we haven’t done that at our Saturn Return we may find ourselves drifting and that can often lead to becoming isolated socially. Saturn represents structure; even if you’re not working you still need to create a routine and make new habits to support your current life. And if you haven’t done that, then this is the time. Saturn is a course corrector; a chance to refine and re-establish goals and priorities.

                                                                                                    Achep!

How to get out of a rut? Years ago my friend Roger was attending a spiritual gathering. A revered guru from India was seated on the stage answering questions from the audience. After every question, which included everything; health, love, money, the whole gamut, the guru would exclaim, “Achep.” Roger couldn’t understand what he was saying and thought perhaps he had a cold and was sneezing. Finally, out of frustration, he turned to the woman next to him and asked what the guru was saying. “Accept!” the woman replied. That kind of sums it up – about life and aging.

  Acceptance leads to expansive change. -SARK

What Saturn is asking us to do at this stage is to accept the limitations of aging but that doesn’t mean we have to be defined by them. In fact, once we accept something and stop fighting against it, it has the chance soften and ultimately shift. It’s important not to label or demonize it. Just be with it. Allow it to be there but also open up to what else is there. What are you grateful for, what’s good in your life, what brings you alive? As Pema Chodron, says in her book, When Things Fall Apart, “The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

That is why the Uranus phase in our early sixties is so important; taking risks, having adventures and discovering new sources of energy, creates the impetus that allows us to embrace this new elder phase with a sense of excitement and not dread.

                                                                            Happiness Peaks at age 65!

Yes, you read correctly! According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California and author of The How of Happiness, happiness actually peaks at age sixty-five! In her book she describes a 22-year study that was done with about 2,000 healthy veterans of World War 2 and the Korean War which revealed that life satisfaction actually increased over the course of these men’s lives, peaked at age 65, and didn’t start significantly declining until age 75. So if you’re not happy at 30 or 40; don’t give up; there’s still time!

                                                                                                 Transitions

One of my favorite books is The Way of Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments by William Bridges. I’ve quoted it often in previous chapter because what he says about transitions is so valuable in dealing with any kind of crises and change including these generational cycles. But what I want to tell you here is William Bridge’s own story. Bridges was an author (Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes; Job Shift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs, etc.) and a consultant to organizations on transition. Don’t you love the fact that his name is Bridges and his specialty is transitions? When he was in his early sixties his wife of thirty-seven years died and although he was an expert on the subject of transition, he wasn’t prepared for the unknown and uncomfortable place he found himself in. He suddenly felt as if he didn’t know a thing about this business of transition. Being around people was difficult; so was working. To his credit he hung out in that in-between place and mined it for all it was worth. He spent time alone; he travelled, but mostly he thought deeply and consciously about his life, his marriage and the choices he made. In a sense he did his own version of Life Review.

What he discovered made him rethink the whole subject of transitions and to open his heart in a way that had been impossible before. This led him to write the book, The Way of Transition. Unlike his other books, this one is deeply personal and intimate; he shares honestly and openly about his own struggles, the challenges in his marriage, his wife’s illness and his own journey, which is why I resonate with it; I learn best from knowing people’s stories and finding out how they transformed. Around the same time he met and fell in love with the woman who would become his second wife. He was sixty-three years old. His story is an inspiring example of what is possible when we are willing to do the inner work and how that exploration can lead to change in the outer world.

 

 The Coming of Light, By Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Even this late the bones of the body shine

and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

 

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The Sixties: Part 2

Tell Me, What is it You Plan to Do with Your One Wild and Precious Older Years?

Mary Oliver’s beautiful line from her beloved poem, A Summer’s Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has inspired countless people. We think of someone asking that question at the beginning of their life but in fact, we can ask it at any time and at any age. Who do you want to be in your older years? What kind of life do you want to be living? Perhaps most important of all, what kind of attitude do you need? What actions can you take now to help create that future? And what habits, thoughts, and old baggage do you need to let go of? Thanks to the Uranus square, in our early sixties, we have some momentum and we can use it to move the decisions and choices we made at our Saturn Return forward.

Role Models

What we all need, whatever our age, are personal role models of living in the present – and a chance that never ends. We need to know that life past sixty or seventy or eighty is as much an adventure as it ever was, perhaps even more so for women, since we are especially likely to find new territory once the long plateau of our role is over. –Gloria Steinem (Doing Sixty)

My friend Marguerite was one of my greatest role models. When we met in Rome in the early Sixties I was just nineteen. Marg was in her early fifties, drop-dead gorgeous, feisty, and funny.  She was also an avid reader (she devoured a book a night), a world traveler, a gourmet cook, and she could repair, restore, and sew just about anything. When I was growing up, my own mother was ill, and I had to become the parent. Marg was not only a role model but the mother I never had; her home became a refuge. When she was around sixty she relocated from Rome to Lisbon. A move to another country with a new language is daunting at any age, but Marg pulled it off and made a life there. She had always loved music but never formally studied. In Lisbon she found a teacher and began studying the viola seriously; the viola became her late-in-life passion.

We’re living in an aging society. As a result there is more research, information, and inspiration about aging and the second half of life than ever before. There are also more fabulous role models—beautiful and vibrant people who are leading rich, full lives in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. These men and women are creating a new paradigm for a fierce elder, a juicy crone. Gloria Steinem, Helen Mirren, Diane Nyad, Edie Windsor, Mary Oliver, Ram Dass, Billy Crystal, and Pema Chödrön, to name a few. No doubt you have many examples from your own family and friends. Create a vision board of beautiful and fearless older women and men. Find inspiring quotes and articles. One of the greatest things we can aspire to as we age is to become a role model for the younger generation.  Inside the elder the eternal youth remains awake to its life vision. Inside the youth an old sage is beginning to stir for knowledge. Awakened elders are necessary if youth are to awaken to the inner dreams of their lives.-Michael Meade

Wabi Sabi

I love the Japanese term, wabi-sabi which, by the way, is not a garnish for sushi. Wabi-sabi describes an aesthetic based on imperfection, irregularity, simplicity, economy, modesty, intimacy. Wabi is associated with rustic simplicity, quietness and an understated elegance in nature as well as in man-made objects. Sabi refers to the beauty or serenity that comes with age. The most common examples include a bowl, a tea cup, wood, paper or fabric. Imagine a bowl whose patina has been worn off; one that contains some cracks and chips but is well used and loved and has with the passage of time become more interesting.

Several years ago I did some work with a Jungian psychotherapist, a lovely woman who I guessed to be in her late sixties. I was talking about her with a friend who had met her. Although I could describe the sessions we had and what I learned I found it difficult to describe her physically. My friend said it was probably because she has let go of a lot of ego which made perfect sense. When I think of wabi-sabi in relation to a person, I imagine someone who has shed a great deal of ego to reveal what is essential and eternal within. It’s as if the outer veneer of personality traits become more porous so that the soul can shine through. I want to age like that; perhaps less shiny and polished on the surface but hopefully more real and authentic, fully present; at ease with myself and the world.

The Bucket List

The Bucket list is a great ritual and the perfect metaphor for this period. In our early sixties, when Uranus is making as aspect to its natal position, we’re feeling restless, frisky, adventurous and more inclined to push the envelope. You don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right but we don’t learn anything by never venturing outside our comfort zone. If you have never thought about sky diving and the idea of it makes you sick to your stomach, then it’s probably not for you. But if you’ve always secretly dreamed of going white water rafting down the Colorado river or learning to Tango, maybe even in Argentina, but simply never got around to it, then perhaps that’s something you should consider. You know it is right if, in spite of your fear, you feel really excited about doing it.

What’s on your Bucket List? What have you always wanted to do but never allowed yourself to try? It doesn’t have to be dangerous or cost a lot of money; it just has to be something that gets your juices flowing. Maybe it’s researching your ancestors, getting a tattoo, self-publishing a book of your poems or stories or finally learning to meditate. What about learning how to design a website, reading War and Peace or The Lord of the Rings, being photographed nude or learning to speak Japanese? With hundreds of websites devoted to Bucket Lists, there’s no end to the rousing ideas or possible adventures. And although a Bucket List experience may be temporary it gets the energy moving in the right direction and builds momentum. Besides, you never know where it will lead. Just like a casual date can turn into an enduring  love affair or marriage, a bucket list jaunt may transform into a late-in-life passion or career.

What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that. –Billy Crystal at sixty-five (Still Foolin ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys.)

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The Sixties: Part 1

The Closing Uranus Square: Age 62-63

“Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more, and some days I feel I have wings.” -Mary Oliver

Following the Second Saturn Return (at age 58) is an aspect that is colorful, energizing and even a bit feisty. This is the Closing Uranus Square and takes place between the ages of sixty-two and sixty-three when that maverick Uranus is in its home stretch. By our early sixties Uranus has traveled three quarters around the chart and has another quarter to go before it returns to the place it occupied at birth. That happens between the ages of eighty-three and eighty-four and is called the Uranus Return. At that time it will have contacted every planet in the birth chart and ideally (as Carl Jung might say) we become fully individualized. Providing we’ve been living authentically. If we haven’t been living authentically, then the closing Uranus square in our early sixties is when a have a chance to correct that.

How? Remember, change-at-all-cost Uranus is the chief architect of our midlife journey at age forty-two when it is exactly opposite its natal position. It’s the planet of freedom, rebellion and individuation so we’ve got to break some rules, make some trouble, and take some chances. I’m not talking about rebelling for the sake of rebelling but if there is something you want to do, be, or have, then now’s the time to act on it. Who do you want to be at eighty-four? Hopefully someone well marinated from a full, rich, and juicy life; someone who is wise, compassionate and spirited; the kind of person who can look back at his or her life with satisfaction and not regret. The decisions we make in our early sixties will determine what kind of older person we become in our eighties. How’s that for incentive? Think of Georgia O’Keeffe, Diane Vreeland, Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell in their eighties. These great role models lived fully right up to the end of their lives; they didn’t put on the breaks in their sixties, they kept going!

The Showgirl Must Go On! -Bette Midler

In June of 2008 Bette Midler appeared on Oprah to talk about her new show, “The Showgirl Must Go On” that was about to open in Las Vegas. The Divine Miss M committed to performing five nights a week for the next two years; ambitious for any age let alone at sixty-two! In the beginning she alternated with Cher (also sixty-two). Bette, Cher and this fabulous show is a great metaphor for the closing Uranus square. Not everyone at sixty-two has the stamina or talent to sing and dance like a showgirl but we can all invent or reinvent our own third act and perform it will all the spunk and bravado of a star! And if we need more inspiration, just listen to Dolly Parton sing her hit song Better Get To Livin; she was in her early sixties when she recorded it.

“You better get to livin’, givin’/Don’t forget to throw in a little forgivin’/And lovin’ on the way. You better get to knowin’, showin’/A little bit more concerned about where you’re goin’ Just a word unto the wise/You better get to livin’.”

 

 

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Gloria Steinem 80!

On March 25 Gloria Steinem celebrated her 80th birthday. Still travelling, writing, and speaking out, Steinem is going strong and working hard. Here are some of her thoughts on getting older. The first is from the recent (March 22, 2014) article in the New York Times, This is What 80 Looks Like,by Gail Collins. The rest are from her essay Doing Sixty (from her book, in Moving Beyond Words). More than her words, her life with its fierce passion and commitment, continues to be an inspiration for women of all ages.

“Ever the positive thinker, Steinem composed a list of the good things about starting her ninth decade. A dwindling libido, she theorized, can be a terrific advantage: “The brain cells that used to be obsessed are now free for all kinds of great things. I try to tell younger women that, but they don’t believe me,” she said in a pre-Botswana interview. “When I was young I wouldn’t have believed it either.”

“It is different because it has a ring of mortality – so it has a big message to stop wasting time.”

“Clinging to the past is the problem. Embracing change is the solution.”

“As you can see, I’m just beginning to realize the upcoming pleasures of being a nothing-to-lose, take-no-shit older woman; of looking at what once seemed outer limits as just road signs.”

“More and more I’m beginning to see that life after fifty or sixty is itself another country, as different as adolescence is from childhood or the central years of life from adolescence.”

“What we all need, whatever our age, are personal role models of living in the present – and a change that never ends. We need to know that life past sixty or seventy or eighty is as much an adventure as it ever was, perhaps more so for women, since we are especially likely to find new territory once the long plateau of our role is over. Explorers of this region have always existed in some number, but now their lights dancing on the path ahead will guide many more.”

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It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love!

Evelyn De Wolfe has had an adventurous life and a fulfilling career; born and raised in Brazil, she left at twenty-one, traveled the world,  became an author and a journalist, ultimately settling in southern California where for forty years she worked for the L. A. Times. Widowed for 14 years, she had grown children, grandchildren, and a full life. She was in good health and living contentedly in Hollywood, California. “What better place to be at eighty-two,” she writes, in her book Five Honeymoons, A True Love Story.

Then she received a mysterious envelope in the mail  from her childhood sweetheart and life suddenly took an unexpected turn. Juan had been her first real crush at age thirteen. She hadn’t seen or heard from him for over sixty-five years. Like her, he was in his eighties, had grown children but had remained in Brazil. An old friend put them in touch and they began emailing. It wasn’t long before they fell in love and began a passionate affair. But that isn’t the most amazing part of the story; it’s the form their affair took that makes it unique. Every year for five years they met in a romantic location; a farm tucked away in the Rain Forest, Santa Barbara, Mexico, Hollywood, and Rio de Janeiro. Five Honeymoons is the story of their love affair and the cherished moments spent together. The book is beautifully written and is an inspiration for anyone,  young or old.

Another story about late in life love is Last Tango in Halifax, a Masterpiece Theater special that debuted last Sunday (September 8) on PBS. This charming British drama  originally aired in 2012 and got rave reviews. The writing and acting are superb and I can’t wait for additional episodes. Although the details are fictional the story is real; writer Sally Wainwright was inspired by her mother’s second and extremely happy marriage late in life. The protagonists are Celia and Alan who are both widowed and in their seventies. As young teens they had strong feelings for each other but when Celia suddenly moved away they were separated. Celia wrote Alan a note explaining her sudden departure as well as her new address and asked her friend, Eileen, to give it to him. Her friend never passed the note along; both Celia and Alan assumed the other didn’t care; in fact, the opposite was true. They are reunited via Facebook which their grandchildren encouraged them to join. Nervously they agree to meet for coffee and quickly discover the love they shared never died and decide on the spot to get married, much to to disbelief of their grown children.

Dear friends, it is never, ever too late! Love has no timetable and life is mysterious. As you well know, life can “turn on a dime” for better or worse. Believe in the miraculous; trust your own timing. It’s tempting to compare ourselves (and our timing) to others but ultimately destructive; we simply don’t know what’s waiting around the corner. Make peace with the present but have faith in what lies ahead. As my friend, Irene Young, always says, “Anything can happen, including something wonderful!”

 

The Coming of Light, by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillow,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Even this late the bones of the body shine

And tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

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Darlene Love: An Unlikely Late Bloomer

With her powerhouse voice and dynamo energy Darlene Love is one of the all time great singers. She is also one of the greatest Late Bloomers although an unusual one since from a young age she seemed to be headed straight for stardom. While still in high school producer Phil Spector invited her to join a little known girls group called The Blossoms. By the time she was twenty, in the early sixties, she was singing lead on such monster hits as “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” except nobody knew her name; she was  hidden behind Spector’s  legendary “Wall of Sound” and The Crystals and the Blossoms got all the credit.  Phil Spector let her go and because of a contract snafu she was unable to sing lead. Her powerful voice got her work singing backup for the likes of Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, Dionne Warwick, and Elvis.  In the seventies the music buisness changed and she ended up cleaning homes in Beverly Hills.

Dave Letterman deserves credit for helping to revive her career; in 1986 she appeared on his Christmas show to sing her signature hit, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and it became an annual tradition. She found work singing on Broadway (Grease) and acting in films. Then in the early nineties the owner of the Bottom Line  (in New York City’s Greenwich Village) created a show called “Portrait of a Singer.” In those days I still owned my restaurant on 10th Street in the West Village. One of Darlene Love’s backup singers, who was a regular customer, gave me tickets and I went. I was blown away and returned a dozen times. Like many in the audience I had grown up with her songs (“Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep, River High”) but never knew who sang them. It’s hard to imagine that one woman had so many hits. A few years later she sued Phil Spector and won; now when they play her songs on the radio she gets credit and royalties. She also wrote a biography (My Name is Love) and began recording.

There is a new documentary entitled “20 Feet from Stardom” about the talented women who sing backup but Darlene Love is clearly the focal point and the star. Recently she appeared on the Late Show with Dave Letterman, not merely to sing but to sit beside Dave and be interviewed. Another milestone. In the recent July 1 issue of The New Yorker there was an article about the documentary and Love’s appearance on Letterman. “The leap from backup to star is no larger than the gulf between singing on Letterman’s show and chatting by his side.” She has come a long way.

Most people go from cleaning houses (or waitressing, etc.) to singing backup and then (if they’re lucky) rising to lead singer. Darlene Love went from lead singer, to singing backup, to cleaning houses, and then to lead singer and star – and at 72 she’s bigger and better than ever!   

 

 

 

 

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Your Hidden Symmetry

Here’s some inspiration from Jean Haner, author of The Wisdom of the Face, The Wisdom of Your Child’s Face, and her new book, Your Hidden Symmetry.

“We’ve been talking about the design for each decade of your life and now we’re up to your 60s! In Chinese culture, turning 60 is the single most important birthday of your life, considered to be the completion of one full life cycle, when you are now freed of old responsibilities and can move forward in a new way! This decade is a phase where you feel revitalized, with a new sense of freedom, and a need to more deeply integrate creativity and spirituality into your life. Your chin represents your life experience during this time – If you have a horizontal wrinkle on your chin, it’s said to mean you’ll make a significant life change in your 60s!”

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Happiness Peaks at 65!

Yes, happiness Peaks at 65! Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California and author of The How of Happiness. In her book she describes a 22-year study that was done with about 2,000 healthy veterans of World War 2 and the Korean War which revealed that life satisfaction actually increased over the course of these men’s lives, peaked at age 65, and didn’t start significantly declining until age 75. So if you’re not happy at 30 or 40; don’t give up and don’t rush. There’s still time.

Want to boost you ability to be happy? Her research also showed there are many ways, some of which may be surprising. The following is from an article on yahoo’s Shine, April 24, 2013 by Beth Greenfield.

1. Perform random acts of kindness

“The generous acts don’t have to be random and they don’t have to be a certain kind (e.g, anonymous or social or big, etc.). We have found that almost any types of acts of kindness boost happiness.”

2. Live in a home that’s rented, not owned

Lyubomirsky takes the American Dream to task, saying that renters are happier than owners. “Homeowners are no happier than renters by any of the following definitions: life satisfaction, overall mood, overall feeling, general moment-to-moment emotions (i.e. affect).

3. Count your blessings

Learning to practice gratefulness is particularly key to happiness, Lyubomirsky says. And there are many ways to do it: by keeping a gratitude journal, in which you ruminate on 2-3 things for which you’re currently grateful, “from the mundane (your dryer is fixed, your flowers are finally in bloom, your husband remembered to stop by the store) to the magnificent (your child’s first steps, the beauty of the sky at night).” Alternately, you can choose a fixed time that’s set aside for thinking about your blessings, or when you can talk about what’s good in your life with a gratitude partner, or even tell people directly that you’re grateful for them or their actions.

4. Be thrifty

Materialism, over consumption and overspending will ultimately get you down, Lyubomirsky has noted, reiterating the point by using age-old tropes (possessions break, while memories only get better) and quotes (“Our necessities are few, but our wants are endless”). “Promoting sustainable happiness means helping people transcend set points and setbacks to live more rewarding lives,” she writes in one study. “Thrift can complement this endeavor by extending the meaning of sustainability, ensuring that the collective can flourish as well as the individual.” In other words? Greed makes everyone sad.

5. Become a parent

No, it’s not for everyone, and definitely not a quick or simple fix. But parents experience greater levels of happiness and meaning in life than people without children, according to research that Lyubomirsky led in 2012.

6. Learn to savor positive experiences

“The ability to savor the positive experiences in your life is one of the most important ingredients of happiness,” according to Lyubomirsky. How to do it? Put together a small album with happy photos or mementos and carry it around with you. Try to be present and fully appreciate small, happy moments—from taking a shower to eating a meal. And tune in to natural joys, from the sound of a bird singing to the smell of fresh spring blossoms in the air.

7. Take baby steps toward life goals

Making a list of your big goals in life, and taking baby steps toward them, is very happy-inducing. That’s because a component of happiness is the sense that your life is good, “that you’re progressing towards your goals in life.”

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Sex and The City for Seniors

Can you imagine Sex and the City’s famous gal pals Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda at 70? Well Barbara Rose Booker could and wrote a book about it. The Viagra Diaries didn’t meet with immediate success. The first publisher Barbara Rose approached wouldn’t even read the manuscript. “A novel about a 70-year old woman who has sex and makes a career for herself? That’s simply disgusting.” Other publishers responded pretty much the same way. Barbara Rose soldiered on and published it herself. The initial edition of 10,000 copies sold out quickly. The book got great reviews and Barbara Rose was invited to take part in several TV shows. Then Simon and Schuster became interested and bought the rights to the novel; they are preparing to put out a second addition in the spring of 2013. Not only that; the novel caught the attention of Darren Star, producer of Sex and the City; he is currently planning to shoot a new series for HBO based on the novel. Barbara Rose Booker has been involved in the literary world for most of her life but never expected she would have her biggest success when she was 75 years old.

“Contemporary society thinks that love, dating, sex, and carers are not for us. Actually, we all need these things and it doesn’t matter how old we are,” says Booker.

Imagine that all of the main characters in Sex and the City are over 65. They go on dates, search for the men of their dreams, have busy careers and in their free time, share amusing details of their intimate lives with their girlfriends. You can’t imagine it? Too bad. That’s exactly the story Darren Star, producer of Sex and the City, is putting into production for HBO. The new series is based on The Viagra Diaries, an autobiographical novel written by 75 year-old Barbara Rose Brooker.

Barbara Rose Brooker has been involved in literature for the greater part of her life, but she never thought that real success would come only at age 75.

“When I reached 60, I realized that our society was full of monstrous preconceptions with regard to age,” she says. “I understood that that this wasn’t as terrible as homophobia or racism. Even so, it made me very angry.”

Barbara decided to write a novel toppling age stereotypes. Its main character is Anny Applebaum, a 70 year-old journalist. She’s been divorced for 30 years and, therefore, she is trying everything to work out her private life and achieve literary recognition.

“She’s 90% me,” says Brooker. “Nearly all of the descriptions in the book are situations that really did happen, either to me or to my friends. I don’t write about what I don’t know.”

Barbara Rose’s own experience shows that it’s difficult for men and women to achieve mutual understanding at any age.

“Do you believe in real love?” asks the heroine.

The hero scowls. “I believe in Viagra.”

Barbara’s characters meet, fall in love, try to make an impression on one another and get into awkward situations. In short, they lead active and fulfilled lives in all respects, despite the fact that they are well over 60.

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Searching For Sugar Man: A Resurrection Story

The documentary, Searching For Sugar Man, is more than just a film; it’s a tale of redemption and resurrection; it’s a Chiron story, the phoenix rising, and the ultimate hero’s journey. Rodriguez was a twenty-eight year old singer-song writer in Detroit playing in a seedy nightclub called the Sewer. It was in the late 60’s and his Dylan-esque voice and haunting lyrics impressed local producers with ties to Motown. He got a record deal and in 1970 he recorded his first album, Cold Fact. It sold six copies. He should have been a star; he should have had his moment. Instead, his career was over. He returned to working at demolition and renovation and he continued for almost 30 years. The story might have ended there but it wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.

One of those six copies found its way to South Africa. His lyrics, filled with references to sexual and social mores, political, racial, and economic inequities, resonated with the youth and his music became an anthem for anti-apartheid protests. He was bigger than Elvis, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. But no one told Rodriguez. He never knew about his fame; he never received royalties. There was a rumor in South Africa that he had committed suicide. His music continued to spread; his legend grew but no one knew anything about him.

Two fans spent years trying to track him down; one was the owner of a record store in Capetown; the other a journalist. Finally, in 1998 they created a website; one of Rodriguez’s daughter’s saw it and contacted them. Rodriguez was still in Detroit, making ends meet doing manual labor. That year they brought him to South Africa and he played six sold-out concerts. He was 56 years old. He has since returned to South Africa three times and continues to tour. The documentary was made by Malik Bendjellou and released this past July. It has gotten great reviews; it is a beautiful film and deeply moving. As a result, Rodriguez’s music is finding a whole new audience. And now he receives royalties. Interestingly, the documentary came out 42 years after his first album; in a person’s life that is the peak of midlife, a time of enormous change. Events, too, have a chart and a life of their own.

What amazes me is this: First of all he comes across as a gentle soul who is extremely private and humble. No bitterness or regrets; no animosity towards the music business. He did back-breaking work and yet, his daughter says in the movie, he did it with great pride and dignity. You can’t linger too much on your decisions, so yes, I chose to face reality. I’m a family person, and you make your choices. he said in an interview.

The other thing is his journey; what a strange and extraordinary karma; it was as if he was deliberately kept out of the music business. So many music producers believed in him; he was talented, charismatic, and yet nothing happened; a dead end. Yet it was all happening, just on another level, on another continent. But even that was kept from him. Until a particular moment in time. Was his dream so big that he needed to grow into it; become the person who could embody it? Or perhaps he wasn’t meant to be another rock star; touring the world, living large. In many ways his essence, his goodness and humility was preserved, which makes this story even more powerful. And his success, now at 70 more meaningful. Even without the money there have been rewards just from the opportunity to do all this. I guess we all want to get there right away, but I believe it’s never too early, never too late.

See this movie; listen to his music. And remember: you are never too late; you are never too late; you are never too late!

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Some Thoughts on Aging

One of the many things I love about the Sun magazine is that it’s always introducing me to fascinating, new people; authors, poets, activists, and regular people who write with great heart and soul. I didn’t know who Michael Meade was until last November when the Sun published an interview with him; now he is one of my favorite writers! Storyteller, mythologist, and author, Michael Meade uses song, story, and mythology to help people discover their inner wisdom and inherent gifts. His latest book is Fate and Destiny. He believes that We have a seeded self that begins to germinate at birth. Our true goal in life is to become that self.

In the interview he talks about his work with young people, gangs, veterans, as well as with elders. I was struck by what he says about aging. Aging is a biological process that happens to everyone. Everybody gets older, but not everybody gets to be an elder. Becoming an elder involves a lifelong awakening to and reflection upon the story embedded in one’s soul. I love this because although we may retire from our job or cut back on certain activities as we get older, our inner process can deepen. As David Whyte says on his inspiring CD, Midlife and the Great Unknown, (I’m paraphrasing) The great adventure as we age is exploring the inner landscape. In fact, one of the most meaningful goals we can have as an older person is to become ourselves and in doing so inspire future generations. Bringing consciousness, acceptance, and compassion to whatever age we are makes it sacred, no matter what our condition or circumstance. To go into the world as one’s true self is an act of courage. -Michael Meade

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Late Bloomers Part 2

The other kind of late bloomer undertakes many different jobs and may seem to be a dilettante as he or she gathers a variety of experiences and skills. Theirs is a circuitous route full of detours and delays and yet eventually it all comes together. In the end the various skills and talents they have acquired turn out to be exactly what they needed for their particular mission in life although no one could have predicted it, least of all themselves.

Frank McCourt is a great example and one of my favorite late bloomers; he didn’t even begin writing Angela’s Ashes (his first book) until he was sixty-four (yes, you read that correctly). When he was nineteen he left Ireland and returned to the U.S. where he took a series of jobs working in banks, on docks, and in warehouses. After serving in the Korean War he used the G.I. Bill to enroll in New York University and became a teacher; during his career he taught in six different schools in the New York area. It was only after he retired that he began writing. When he was fifty-nine (at his Second Saturn Return) he met Ellen Frey, the woman who became his second wife. At one point she told him (I’m paraphrasing), “Enough of telling your stories to your cronies in bars and taverns; write them down!” And that’s exactly what he did. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes and went on to write Tis and Teacher Man. If you’ve read Angela’s Ashes then you know that this deeply moving tale about growing up poor in Ireland is not the kind of book a young person could write. Writing talent and a genius for storytelling distinguished this memoir but it also required great maturity, wisdom, not to mention emotional and physical distance from the heartbreaking childhood that defined his life and forged his gifts.

Dick King-Smith grew up in England’s West country surrounded by his beloved animals. After serving in World War 2 he returned home where for twenty years he worked as a farmer. His father purchased a small farm for him adjacent to the family’s paper mill but Dick wasn’t much of a business man so when the mill closed, the farm closed as well; a second one he took over went bankrupt. He loved children so at forty-nine he returned to school and earned a degree in teaching. He wasn’t a success at that either; he was demoted to teaching the younger kids because he couldn’t do long division. Yet both experiences were absolutely perfect for the man who would become famous for his children’s books about farm animals. He wrote his first book (The Fox Busters) at fifty-six; became a full time writer at sixty, and went on to write over one hundred books translated into twelve languages; his most famous being Babe, The Gallant Pig.

One would hardly think of Arianna Huffington as a late bloomer, she seems like the exact opposite – a prodigy. At sixteen she moved to London from her native Greece to study economics at Cambridge. She began writing books in her twenties and by the time she was in her early thirties had published major biographies of Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso. She moved to the U. S. where she met the man she would marry; it was here that she rose to national prominence while campaigning for her husband’s (unsuccessful) bid for the senate. Afterwards she became an important presence in the Republican Party. In the late 1990’s she shifted back to the left and in 2004 endorsed John Kerry. Along the way she ran as an independent for Governor of California in the recall election, hosted and wrote television shows, acted in several sitcoms, and was a familiar presence in the media. In 2005 she launched the Huffington Post, the cutting edge news website; she was fifty-five at the time. She has clearly lived several lifetimes in one and acquired an impressive amount of skills, experiences, political savvy, and powerful contacts – all necessary for becoming an online pioneer.

Storyteller, mythologist, and author Michael Meade said in a recent interview in The Sun magazine: “I believe God – and to me “God” is just shorthand for the ineffable divine presence – has only one question for us at the end: “Did you become yourself?” We have a seeded self that begins to germinate at birth. Our true goal in life is to become that self.”

For some that “seeded self” blooms early; for others it takes longer. We are all unique and we all have our own individual timing; what’s important is that we trust that timing and have faith in the mysterious process that allows us to become ourselves and bring our gift to the world no matter how long it takes. “Don’t quit before the miracle.”

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Late Bloomers

Late Bloomers are a special breed and often misunderstood. They can appear ridiculous to the rest of the world as they pursue some private dream or else bounce from one profession to another. In the end they have a longer road and a tougher climb for their journey requires tremendous faith, courage, and an iron will to keep going, especially when there’s no tangible success or positive feedback. In a way they are like the stubborn, dogged blooms that grow in unlikely places under harsh conditions; they are the desert flowers, the indomitable trees pushing through city sidewalks; they are the long shot, the dark horse, the voice crying int he wilderness. Ultimately they are our heroes whose challenges, triumphs, and stories inspire and uplift us and like a beacon of light keep us moving in the direction of our dreams.

Every late bloomer has their own unique story but it seems to me there are two general categories. The first knows exactly what he or she wants to do and focuses exclusively on it; it just takes them longer to develop their craft. Cezanne is a classic example; he had his first one man show at fifty-six. In Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant essay, Late Bloomers (from his book, What the Dog Saw) he write about Cezanne at length. Thanks to an allowance from his father he never had to take a regular job and devoted himself completely to his art. “Cezanne was trying something so elusive that he couldn’t master it until he’d spent decades practicing.”

Another example is Julia Child. If you saw the movie Julie & Julia, you will remember how long she worked on her famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and how many revisions she and her co-author did. Even after they secured a book deal and the manuscript was completed and delivered, the publisher changed his mind and rejected it. It was the publisher’s assistant who discovered the manuscript, tried the recipes and convinced her boss to reconsider. Julia Child was forty-nine (at her Chiron Return) when the book was finally published. Nine months later she launched her television career which spanned three decades.

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Thoughts on Aging

The Coming of Light, By Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Even this late the bones of the body shine

and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON GETTING OLDER

Everything takes me longer these days.

Just getting out of the apartment,

doing chores, completing my work,

making plans, keeping promises.

 

There are so many distractions.

I sometimes feel as if I’m swimming

in a sea of unfinished business.

 

On the other hand I meditate longer,

pray more, and stop to converse with

every tree and flower on my daily walks.

 

I may be slower now but I’m also saner.

I worry less, listen more

and pay attention to what’s important.

 

Which is for me – feeling good, being grateful,

staying present and open in this

beautiful and broken world of ours.

 

Perhaps most of all, being willing to say yes

to whatever life hands me;

knowing it’s all grace, all God.

 

 

“We age because we cannot change.” –Ramtha

That is one of the best statements I’ve ever heard about aging. Getting older is non-negotiable but how we do it involves more than just our age; it’s also about our attitude. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until they are 75.” On the other hand, some people stay young, vital, and juicy into their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Rose was one of those people.

Years ago when I owned a natural foods restaurant in the West Village, I bought my alfalfa sprouts from a woman name Rose, who was affectionately referred to as Rose Sprout or the “Sprout Lady.” At my restaurant we put alfalfa sprouts on practically everything; house salads, entrée salads, sandwiches, and even used them as a garnish on entrees; we went through several huge bags a week. Over the years I got to know Rose; she was a vegetarian and a regular customer at the restaurant and I would often sit down and chat with her while she was having dinner. Rose came to New York City from Germany with her husband in the late thirties. They had a business together and raised a family. After he died she lived alone in her apartment on Fifth Avenue, just a block from my restaurant.

One day I asked her how she got into the sprout business. She told me that she lost all her money in the stock market in 1974. “So, Vhat vas I to do, Virginia?”She spoke with a strong German/Jewish accent. “I couldn’t ask my children. One summer my grandson vas visiting me. I saw him growing these alfalfa sprouts. I vatched vhat he was doing and said to myself, Rose, you could do that!” She was seventy-five years old at the time.

She started out growing alfalfa sprouts in jars on her windowsill in her kitchen; they require a lot of light. Eventually she graduated to growing them in large trays. She would put the finished sprouts in these giant plastic bags and wheel them to her customers in a shopping cart. As she got older the cart served as a make-shift walker. Over the years Rose developed quite a lucrative business; her customers were the health food restaurants in the West Village and SoHo, plus the upscale food markets in the neighborhood such as Balducci’s and Jefferson Market. She retired in her mid-eighties with a nice little nest egg.

A friend who knew Rose once spotted her at Omega (the conference center in Rhinebeck, NY). A group of people were doing a trust-building exercise out on the lawn; they were lifting an older woman high above their heads and gently rocking her. The woman looked familiar so my friend moved in closer; it was Rose. She was in her late eighties at the time.

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” –John Cage

Never lose a holy curiosity

Another example is the famous editor and fashion doyenne Diana Vreeland, someone else who stayed vital and relevant up until the end of her life. Many years ago I read an interview with her; in it she was asked what she thought of Punk. “I like Punk; it has energy!” she exclaimed. That got my attention, especially since she was in her eighties and I was in my thirties! I disliked Punk back then. I hadn’t explored it at all, I’m ashamed to say; it was pure prejudice on my part. After reading that interview, I thought to myself, if she can find something positive in it then so can I. We don’t have to love or embrace everything but we owe it to ourselves to at least be willing to explore it, taste it, and try it before we form an opinion.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structures of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
-Albert Einstein

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The Generational Cycles and the Process of Transition

Each of the generational cycles is unique; each one governed by a different planet at a different age and yet they all have something in common. We come to the end of an old life and find ourselves at a crossroads. It’s not unusual to feel lost, alone, and adrift. Do we continue to go forward or do we break free and enter the unknown? There are signs and omens that come to us; as subtle as an inner voice that whispers from somewhere deep inside or as dramatic as a health challenge or a divorce that stops us in our tracks and forces us to examine who we are and what we are doing. It can feel both fated and frightening, for an old life is over and a new one hasn’t begun. We find ourselves in transition and that is never easy.

One of the best books on dealing with change is The Way of Transition, by William Bridges. Change is a “situational” shift; we move cross country, we get married, we have a child, we switch careers, etc. “Transition, on the other hand is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then taking hold of the way they subsequently become. In between the letting go and the taking hold again, there is a chaotic and potentially creative “neutral zone” when things aren’t the old way, but they aren’t rally the new way either. This three phase process – ending, neutral zone, beginning again – is transition.”

Jungians call it liminality, from the Latin threshold and refers to the space between here and there. It’s an actual place; in ancient times it represented a crossroads, a sacred location protected and guarded by Hermes and Hecate. It is also a psychological state, when we are not who we once were, yet not who we will become. Author and artist, Susan Kennedy (a.k.a. SARK) calls it the “messy middle.” I call it the Hallway as in “One door closes, another one opens, but it’s hell in the hallway.” But I have found that the Hallway is also holy and a necessary part of each cycle. For one thing, these periods transcend normal time and boundaries and therefore have a magical quality; people come into our lives who have important information for us; we have great insights, intuition, and significant dreams. And perhaps because we are desperate, exhausted, and our defenses are down we are more willing to let go of the old and more open to embrace new ideas and experiences.

According to William Bridges: “Without transition, a change is mechanical, superficial, empty. If transition does not occur or if it is begun but aborted, people end up (mentally and emotionally) back where they started, and the change doesn’t work. In spite of the new boss, (or new house or new baby), nothing is really different.”

Bottom line: No matter what cycle you are currently going through; don’t grit your teeth, soldier on, and try to hurry it along. It is such a rich and fertile time; embrace the chaos, make friends with the unknown and most of all give yourself enough time; time to process the changes and honor the transition for it is a sacred rite of passage, a birth, and a new beginning. “Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”  -Mignon McLaughlin

-Virginia

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Virginia Bell, writer/astrologer

Virginia Bell, writer/astrologer

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Virginia Bell has written columns for US Weekly, TV Guide, Huffington Post, CBS WATCH, and more...