Life is never certain, but it's easier to maintain that illusion when we're younger. For a long time, we have statistics on our side. But later, we can either live in denial, or become realistic: we need to set some priorities.
The basic facts of my life at age 62 are different from many people's: I have a lifelong partner to whom I'm devoted, and a father still in good health at 90, but I don't have children, grandchildren, or siblings. There are beloved nieces and nephews and several younger friends with whom we're very close, but we don't want to burden any of them. Nor do we ever plan to formally "retire" or move permanently to a sunny climate or retirement community, unless illness or infirmity make that the best practical decision. We already downsized once, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made; we love our new living pattern of a small condominium apartment, plus a studio in an industrial building where we can work on all our various projects. Both spaces are accessible, close to all kinds of shopping on foot, and easy to take care of; this arrangement should suit us for a long time into the future.
The crux of what I'm facing these days, then, isn't a major change like retirement or moving, but rather a sense that I need to be even more clear about priorities, more intentional about choices -- and yet also more spontaneous, living as fully as possible in the present moment, neither fretting about the future or regretting the past, being relatively light on my feet and able to take advantage of opportunities. Our professional work takes up less of my time than it used to, but the publishing business takes more. I have more time to do my art and to write, to learn and to explore, more freedom of choice. Eating well, exercising, and caring for my body has to be factored in; I can't really put it off until tomorrow. I still feel young, I don't want to waste time, and I hope I never have to stop working, but I want to work differently.
Some people seem to live their later decades with joy and fulfillment, some with a sense of resignation, some with relief, some with desperation, bitterness, self-pity or despair; some collapse into lassitude. There's a lot that we can't control as we age, but we do have control over our attitude and how we approach the limitations imposed by our physical bodies, for instance, or life circumstances, as well as what we do with the opportunities presented by an opening-up of time and -- one hopes -- inner freedom.
What's most important to me, at this point in life? In short, it's to grow in wisdom, inner strength, and in the ability to adjust the balance between the energy that goes out and the energy that comes in. This, I find, changes over time, and is my greatest challenge. We all need solace -- the well where we go to be refreshed and renewed, whether that's the woods, a good book, a concert, a day spent with friends or family -- so that we can fulfill our responsibilities, and do the things that give our lives meaning, fulfillment, and purpose.
Four priorities: Creating. Learning and growing. Loving, serving, and giving. Moving: keeping body and mind in motion.
Four things to leave behind: Competitiveness. Impatience. Guilt. Regrets.
Four qualities to nurture: Gratitude. Humility. Kindness. Fearlessness.
I find myself asking how I can best divide my time between projects where I'm helping others - which I'm in an increasingly good position to do, and which I find rewarding -- and those that involve my own creative work, pushing myself, searching, trying to go beyond where I was: these are often the harder challenges and bigger risks. How can I better understand my own emotional needs for social contact and interaction that sometimes tip me over into saying yes when I ought to say no -- and to do so without guilt? What are the best ways to face and transcend the fears of failure, pointlessness, isolation, inability and irrelevance that seem to affect so many older people? What are my own best sources of solace, renewal, and strength, at this point in my life?
For all of this, I need discernment, and times when I step back.