Aging: Being Open to Opportunities

Day four of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit challenged us to be open to the opportunities that aging presents.  Each of the four presenters in their own lives and their own words demonstrated that they had reframed aging and viewed it positively as a period of possibility and creativity.  They reinforced the view that aging requires personal adaption and a resetting of expectations as there are some things that they can no longer do.  However, this does not preclude the potentiality of exploring new opportunities in work, play and life generally.

The interviewees – Lottie Tartell, Joseph C. Maroon, David Sinclair and William Shatner – stated that what is required to be open to opportunities as we age is not only examining our blind spots but also building mental and physical fitness to undertake new endeavours. William Shatner reinforced the mental openness required by reiterating the exhortation of Viktor Frankl to “Say Yes to Life” in spite of what happens when we are aging.  Each of the interviewees have demonstrated in their own lives and their exploratory pursuits that physical age does not define us and our capacity to be open to opportunities.  However, our mind plays a key role in what we enable ourselves to do and pursue.

  • Lottie Tartell taught at Hofstra University for four decades and became an Adjunct Associate Professor in Economics and Geography.  She indicated that even at age 96 she still undertook exercise classes, had an active social life and was engaged in community service as well as playing the violin.  She had to deal with grief with the loss of her husband, Dr. Robert Tartell, in 2013 (after 65 years of marriage), as well as the loss of friends and other family members.  She indicated that she did not dwell on getting old but did what she had to do each day.  Lottie has been active in the Women’s Movement through Planned Parenthood and with Robert had set up the Tartell Family Foundation providing funds to many charities.
  • Dr. Maroon is a neurosurgeon and author and completed a triathlon at the age of 81. He is noted for his research work and innovations in the area of concussion and neurotrauma.  His recent book (2020), Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life – 2nd Edition, provides insights into his own early setbacks and resultant depression and encourages people to experience a joyful and creative life by achieving balance and avoiding burnout by prioritizing health, meaningful work, relationships that are strong and spirituality.  In his interview, he urged people who are aging to “be mindful and aware of where they are“ in everyday life, especially in relation to sleeping patterns, exercise and diet.  In his earlier publication, The Longevity Factor, he highlighted the beneficial effects of Resveratrol and other related natural substances found in red wine, green tea, berries and dark chocolate.   Dr. Maroon is a strong advocate of mindfulness as a means of achieving awareness and life balance and living a long and healthy life.  In his Summit interview, he maintained that the harmful effects of stress, such as elevated cortisol in our bodies, could be controlled by mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi, yoga, meditation and prayer.
  • Dr. David Sinclair, genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, is the author of Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To.  He maintains that the goal of research into genetics is not to prolong a life of suffering and disease but to achieve “prolonged vitality” – more active, happy and healthy years of life.  In other words to “live younger longer”.  Like Dr. Maroon, David takes a Resveratrol supplement daily and in his book on lifespan he explained in detail how the beneficial effects of this natural molecule were discovered, including in his own laboratory and in experiments on his kitchen table.  He suggests that the beneficial effects of Resveratrol in extending lifespan can be enhanced when combined with intermittent fasting.   In the interview, it was clear that “he practices what he preaches” in terms of exercise, diet, and lifestyle.  He also spoke passionately about new discoveries in the area of “reverse aging” which he discussed at length in his lifespan book as well as the benefits of “delayed aging”, including the economic benefits for society.
  • William Shatner epitomised the philosophy of “seize the day” (carpe diem) and spoke enthusiastically about the  need to be open to the opportunities that aging presents.  At age 90, he was the oldest person to travel into space and this was for him a life-changing event.  He spoke passionately about his deep insight into the beauty and fragility of earth, a theme he had recounted in many other interviews.  Bill, as he is known, is a prime example of living younger, longer – he is a multiple best-selling author, highly-awarded actor, film director, song-writer, charity worker, and rides horses competitively.  He is a living inspiration of what is possible as we age.  His positive philosophy on life is reflected in his latest album, Bill, and his latest book (2022), Boldy Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder.  In his Summit interview, he spoke extensively and enthusiastically about the wonder of earth and every living thing and demonstrated a “don’t know mind” as he marvelled at the unending mystery of life and earth’s ineffable beauty.

Reflection

To some extent the revelations on Day 4 of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit were overwhelming but also immensely inspiring.  There was so much to think about and take on board. The presentations were energising and empowering in terms of living a fuller life, longer.  There was  very strong encouragement to be open to the opportunities afforded in aging which enable us to explore personal freedom and pursue unfettered creativity. 

There was also very strong reinforcement of the message that as we grow in mindfulness, we enrich not only our mind and body but also increase the quality of our life and extend our lifespan.  We can stay younger longer as a result of mindfulness practices that help us to manage stress effectively in our life, build a positive attitude, enhance our emotional regulation, develop wonder and awe, actively engage in social networks and undertake compassionate action.

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Image by Patrik Houštecký from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Cultivating Curiosity and Openness

Frank Ostaseski in his presentations during the Healing Healthcare Summit focused on openness and curiosity.  In the process, he revisited two of the key lessons of living and dying that he had previously written about – (1) welcome everything, push nothing away and (2) cultivate a don’t know mind.

Openness – welcome everything

Frank suggests that we need to be able to meet whatever our life circumstances bring our way and do so in a way that we are open to the full range of thoughts and emotions involved.  He reminds us that life is a series of constant changes, e.g. loss of a job, death of a close family member, change In financial circumstances or location.  He encourages us to meet these changes as if welcoming a familiar person at our front door.  He draws on James Baldwin’s insightful comment for his rationale – “Nothing can be changed, if it is not first faced”.

Frank reminds us that denial or ignoring unpleasant experiences does not create freedom, only servitude.  He encourages “fearless receptivity” – awareness of fear without imprisonment by it.  He maintains that mindfulness involves moment to moment awareness of everything we are experiencing – bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions.  In this openness lies true freedom – because we are fully aware of what is happening to us and conscious of our habituated responses and yet able to regulate our emotions and explore alternative ways of responding.

Frank suggests that sometimes mindfulness practices involving “precise attention” to a single thing, e.g. a word or our breathing can create something of a struggle or tension in our minds and somewhat defeat the purpose of the practice.  He contends that the practice of “open boundless awareness”, sometimes called “natural awareness”, can be more liberating when we feel constrained by a focused meditation practice.  He offers awareness of the sky and its vastness as an example.  He also provides a mini-practice that can help to engender this sense of boundlessness.

In the mini-practice, Frank encourages us first to become grounded and relaxed so that we can focus on the meditation.  He then encourages us to take in the space above us, to our left, then to our right, followed by the space below and in front of us.  An alternative to this, is to focus on the sounds that surround us, progressively shifting our focus onto the soundscape in the directions that Frank mentions above.   Frank suggests that we treat distracting thoughts like birds flying past, not landing or hovering above.

Becoming more curious and less critical

This topic was the theme of his second presentation during the Summit and aligns with his exhortation to “cultivate a don’t know mind”.  Frank argues that mindfulness is not about searching for some future enlightenment goal but becoming “up close and personal” with ourselves.  He contends that our aim is to become “intimate” with ourselves and every aspect of our lives, pleasant and unpleasant.  He explains that this is the path to true liberation and reinforces the view that “the path is right beneath your feet”. 

In cultivating intimacy with ourselves we will become aware of parts of ourselves that we do not like.  In Frank’s view, the inherent challenge is to be able to “tolerate intimacy” – be able to fully face up to who we are really, warts and all.  In his podcast interview with Whit Missildine, Frank addressed the question, “What if you witnessed a thousand deaths?”  – a question that was based on his personal experience as End-of-Life Teacher, Founding Director of the Zen Hospice Project and Director of the Metta Institute.  Frank maintained that the ways we define ourselves will be stripped away in the process of dying and death.  He contends that throughout life we live a delusion about ourselves – we project an image that is not our real self, but our imagined or idealised self.  He has witnessed numerous people expressing regret as they lay dying – regrets about what they have done of failed to do.  In dying, we are confronted with who we really are. 

Frank maintains that when people are dying they have no interest in, or energy for, maintaining an illusion of who they are and cease to be concerned about what others think about them.   He suggests that it behoves us during life to express remorse rather than regret – because remorse confronts the unpleasant side of ourselves and motivates us to avoid similar actions or omissions in the future.  As we grow in intimacy with ourselves through meditation, we can progressively strip away the illusions about who we are through a process of loving kindness and forgiveness towards ourselves, avoiding harsh self-criticism.

Frank argues that In developing intimacy with ourselves, we become acutely aware that we are not separate but connected to everyone.  He maintains that in this deep learning about ourselves, we develop a “deep sense of belonging” – an acute recognition of our interdependence and a strong desire to move beyond our limiting self-centredness.  He suggests that a simple practice is to just “pause” throughout our day, taking a break from the busyness of life, and to focus on our experience as it is occurring.  Frank contends that “mindfulness emerges from a relaxed heart and mind”.

Reflection

Frank has learned so much through observing the process of dying and death and willingly shares the lessons he has learned.  He explains that he learns from the dying as they learn from him – there is a reciprocity about his engagement with them.  He is humbled and amazed by what he learns and yet he recognises that he still harbours a fear of death because of its uncertainty.  Frank has detailed his lessons learned in his book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully.

Regrets are a natural response in the event of someone dying who is close to us (or not as close as they should have been).  I can certainly acknowledge that I had regrets on the recent death of my brother Pat.  However, as Frank suggests, remorse is a better option.  With remorse we can revisit what we have said and done or failed to say and do, give ourselves forgiveness and express the intention to do better in the future. We can reflect on our individual regrets and ask ourselves:

  • What will I do more of in the future?
  • What will I do less of?
  • What will I stop doing?
  • What will I start doing?

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can develop intimacy with ourselves, recognise our connectedness, deepen our connection with others and learn the profound lessons from death and dying.  

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Image by Tommy_Rau from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Enhancing Receptivity through Mindfulness

Jamie Bristow and Rosie Bell maintain from their research that mindfulness enhances our receptivity thus enabling us to reclaim our attention and sense of agency – our sense of the ability to positively influence our relationships and our external environment.  According to their research, mindfulness increases our receptivity in a number of ways – widening the “bandwidth of perception”, overcoming unhelpful habituated responses, reducing our distorted perceptions,  improving our relationships, and developing our “don’t know mind”. 

Widening the bandwidth of perception

Mindfulness increases our capacity to take in information through its emphasis on acceptance of “what is”, consciously noticing bodily sensations and heightened development of our senses.  Acceptance is a precondition for action, not inaction – if we cannot accept what is happening to us (e.g. through internal dialogue such as “Why me?”, “What have I done to deserve this?” or “This can’t be happening to me”), then we cannot move forward and take constructive action to redress our situation. 

Mindfulness meditation often focuses on our bodily sensations – we are encouraged to notice what is happening in us bodily when we experience difficult emotions.  By noticing our bodily sensations, we are better able to name our emotions and tame them. Our bodies are windows to our feelings – by paying attention to them we widen the bandwidth of our perception and gain better access to our inner landscape.

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Coming to Our Senses, shows us how to access all our senses – e.g., our seeing,  touchscape, soundscape, smellscape, tastescape – to enable us to heal ourselves and act positively on our world.  Being open to our senses enhances the depth and width of our perception and increases our sense of connection with nature – developing a sense of empowerment and resulting in healing ourselves.

Overcoming unhelpful habituated responses

As we come to understand our inner landscape through mindfulness, we gain insight into our negative triggers and their origins. This leads to awareness of our reactivity and habituated responses.  Often, we are triggered by our distorted perceptions that arise because of our bias, projections, prejudice, and unfounded assumptions.  As we unearth these distortions in perception through mindfulness meditation, we are better able to understand their influence over us and what we perceive, and to exercise control over our reactions.

Improving our relationships

Through mindfulness, we not only reduce our perceptual distortions but also emotional baggage that can destroy relationships.  We are able to bring to the relationship increased self-awareness and self-regulation.  For example, by reflecting on any resentment we carry towards another person, we can come to see their side of the story, understand where they are coming from and reduce our self-absorption and hurt – thus healing our relationship.  Through mindfulness we can also bring to the relationship an increased consciousness of our inner landscape, a sense of personal empowerment (not disabling dependence) and a growing capacity to feel and express empathy.  We are better able to engage in active listening because we can be present in the moment of the conversation, attentive to non-verbal cues and less defensive and self-protective.  Mantra meditations, as one form of mindfulness, can increase our capacity for deep listening.

Developing our “don’t know mind”

Jamie and Rosie write about the “beginner’s mind” developed through openness and curiosity  – which are hallmarks of mindfulness according to the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).  In discussing the lessons from death and dying, Frank Ostaseski encourages us to develop what he calls, the “don’t know mind” which has the same characteristics of openness and curiosity and he suggests that these characteristics can be developed through mindfulness meditation.  The result is that we are able to enter conversations with others not trying to be “interesting” but demonstrating being “interested in” the other person – a stance that enhances trust and relationships.  Mindfulness enables us to listen for understanding rather than attempting to always persuade others to our point of view – in the process, developing our influence and strengthening our relationships.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can strengthen our sense of agency by developing our receptivity – to information and to others.  We can gain better awareness of our distorted perceptions and their impacts, develop greater self-control over our reactions to negative triggers, improve our relationships and grow our influence through our curiosity and openness.  Our enhanced perceptual bandwidth developed through paying attention to our senses gives us uncluttered access to our inner landscape and the healing power and sense of empowerment of our natural landscape.

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Image by yamabon from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.