Friday, December 9, 2011

THE LUXURY OF HABIT – A Chat With My Older, Wiser Self

Maybe it's all this writing I'm doing about awareness, wonder and gratitude…
or perhaps just something that happens to human beings of a certain age.

Lately I've experienced a series of small epiphanies, flashes of astounding clarity that feel like messages coming back to me from an older, wiser version of myself.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty. The trouble is, of course, that you can't benefit from it until it's already too late to do anything about it…or can you?

The latest of these little flashbacks from the future occurred just yesterday, as I drove to work. I'd been absorbed in the usual trivial logistics of my morning routine: having breakfast; scanning the paper; collecting stuff I might need for the day; rolling the trash can in from the curb; getting in the car and setting off for my office.

Pedestrians and other drivers turned from nameless, faceless obstacles I had to negotiate to living, breathing people I could care about.

When you do the same thing every morning for decades, it gets pretty much programmed into you. I make all the correct turns, stop at all the red lights, pick up a latte at the coffee shop and arrive at my office building—all with hardly a conscious thought of what I'm doing.

Yesterday was different, though. Just as I was turning onto University Avenue, a thought suddenly snatched me from my reverie, a realization of how much of my life I'm taking for granted. I'm not sure what the catalyst was—most likely a stirring piece of music on the radio. But all of a sudden I was seeing everything differently.

The unexceptional clouds became amazing clouds; the snow, no longer just random splashes of white, struck me for its exotic beauty—a wonder most people on earth will never experience; pedestrians and other drivers turned from nameless, faceless obstacles I had to negotiate to living, breathing people I could care about. Peace and freedom, conditions I nearly always take for granted, suddenly enveloped me in a radiant glow of gratitude.

Where, I asked myself, was this acute awareness, this fresh perspective, coming from?

More than just a passing notion, it felt like my point of view had shifted from that of the man I am now, with all my options still pretty much open to me, to a man 15 or 20 years older. This older man had already endured some of the losses most of us will inevitably, grudgingly, trade for living a longer life.

It dawned on me that this voice was my own, 
that of the man I have yet to become.

He could no longer be trusted to drive. It was assumed he would no longer work. He was unable to walk very far on his own. Many of his family and close friends had passed away.

The one capacity that hadn't yet betrayed him was memory. And here he was, in the car with me—in the welcoming space of my consciousness—sharing the bittersweet wisdom of that perfect, twenty-twenty vision of hindsight. It dawned on me that this voice was my own, that of the man I have yet to become.

The man told me he'd had very few regrets about his life, but one would haunt him forever: complacency. Here with me he could see so clearly what he'd taken for granted for most of his life, those trivial events that comprise most of our daily experience and which become so commonplace that we no longer fully appreciate what they mean.

But to this old man that meaning was quite clear indeed:

You, he pined, still have the freedom to go wherever you want, even if that's only these two rote miles to work. To me, that simple jaunt would mean the world.

You still enjoy the sweet blessing of communities of your own choosing. I am, no matter how nicely you put it, institutionalized.

You can still observe, with wonder, the routine comings and goings of your fellow human beings, and feel your shared humanity. My peers no longer come and go any more than I do.

You still bask in the astounding beauty of Nature—the kind to be found in wilderness if that's what you choose, but also in this most ordinary urban day. I will consider extraordinary the day someone takes me outdoors…anywhere.
He reminds me…of the curiosity and playfulness
of childhood that still smolder somewhere inside humans of any age.


As I pulled into the parking lot, my visitor went on his way, but not before asking me a couple of questions:

When you reach the place where I am now, will you look back on your life with bitterness and a sense of loss as I do?

Or will you have the grace to remember these moments of clarity you're having now, and focus not on what you've lost, but on the many, many precious gifts you've received…and still receive?

Not just the big gifts like life, good health, a loving family, a relationship with your higher power, but also the simple, everyday wonders of Nature and humanity that surround you every day.

Perhaps most importantly, will you have the well of joy, the generosity of vision, to believe that such wonders still exist, if you let them, no matter how "small" your physical world?

I guess time will tell.

I hope my older, wiser self keeps coming back for these little visits. He reminds me—in the voice of someone who knows and cares—of the very things I believe in and pretend to write about: the curiosity and playfulness of childhood that still smolder somewhere inside humans of any age; patience; challenges that test your faith, connect you with others and make you grow; the eloquence of just sitting silently with someone you care about…

…and yes, I suppose, the luxury, the guilty pleasure, of habit.


Anonymous said...

How aptly put! There are so many of these moments in my own life... wonderful to find someone who can put a voice to it.
Mary Beth

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for dropping by One Man's Wonder, Mary Beth!
It's so nice to hear from folks like you who appreciate wonder and these little moments of clarity when we really get it.
We're lucky indeed, don't you think?

Patricia said...

My husband moved us into town/almost right downtown because he can walk or ride his bike to work and not miss the clouds or birds, water, bay, flowers and trees...I think his brain is just taking pictures all the way there and back - he prefers bike riding to the car any day - even the train is better than the car and pollutes less

I sometimes think that he sees so much beauty in the world and how to make it more energy efficient for humans and keep it GREEN than most folks can comprehend.

Nice words and helped me see my guy in a renewed light

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Patricia -- Sounds like you live in a beautiful place -- WA, if memory serves.
How nice that you recognize how strong your husband's need is to be touched by Nature every day. SOunds like it connects not just with his heart and spirit, but his brain.
I'm sure it does with you too, but perhaps expressed differently.

Grace said...

What an interesting encounter with your older self! I think you do keep the wonder and joy of a child alive--but we all need reminders.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Grace - I agree. Just hope there will be ways to express that wonder and joy when we become old and less mobile! I can't imagine a life without frequent access to Nature!

mainly mongoose (Lynda) said...

Thank you for the reminder of just how much we have to lose. It's so easy to take the most wonderful things for granted. I live in a stunning place yet spend so much of my time on 'automatic pilot'. I'm glad there are people like you, making an effort to reawaken our wonder.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Lynda -- What a wonderful comment. You've made my day! Indeed, it sounds like you live in a beautiful place; I'm tickled that, in any small way, I might encourage you to see it in new ways!

Robin Easton said...

Wow! I can't even begin to tell you how much I resonate with you. I don't even know where to start or how to express after reading your feelings and thoughts. I guess I will start with what comes first to mind.. While reading this it was like you were talking about me, or writing my own heart and soul. It's always been this way for me (as you describe in your post), but it's been much more intense since breaking my hip 9 months ago. There is a steep foothill mountain/hill behind our home, and before breaking my hip I used to run (I mean literally barefoot-run) up this mountain to the top and back down in almost 15 minutes, 6 mornings a week, plus often another time during the day more slowly to wander and photograph.

This small mountain is steep, really steep and covered with sandstone rocks of all sizes, covered with deadfall from downed trees that died a few years ago from the bark beetle (during a severe drought), and more cactus than you can poke a stick at. There are not many places that are clear and open, like a normal trail. In fact, there is no trail. One is always stepping over or under something, and I mean ever foot of the way.

Since breaking my hip I was limited to walking the flats and dirt road near our place., until my hip healed. I also was in physical therapy and that was good up until the last two sessions. I started feel that I was losing "my own way", my OWN sense of power, and what I'm capable of.

I kept hearing this voice telling me to stop physio (PT) and do something different. Then one day, I heard this voice say, "You will find yourself on the mountain. We are waiting for you." I felt like a dog that's been asleep for a long time by the warm fireplace, and suddenly gets up, shakes himself vigorously and walks outside.

That day I called and canceled my last 2 physio appointments. As I reached for the phone my brain said, "Oh my gawd, am I crazy to do this? What if....what if....what if....?" But I kept hearing this voice saying, "You are ready." So I shook myself off like that dog, called and canceled.

Then yesterday after that I felt more free than I have in 9 months. I grabbed my walking poles, my camera, and my cell phone (in case I HAD to call for any help), and slowly step by step I started up my beloved rocky-cactus-deadfall-covered mountain. I made it halfway up, rested and came down. Today I made it almost to the top. In one slow, VERY slow conscious step at a time I merged with myself, with the mountain, with The Great Mystery.


Robin Easton said...

At the top I sat on a slab of sun warmed rock, put my bare feet on its lichen covered surface, and turned my face to the sun and cried. I KNEW who Robin is. I re-membered with myself, with Life, with all that is good and wondrous in the world. I knew I had made the right choice. I felt stronger than I have in a long, long time. And tonight I feel so at peace with myself. It was not enough to "just" do physio (PT). I desperately needed to connect, in a visceral way, with my source, with myself....if I was to go on, from this point forward, and truly heal.

I am shamelessly crying as I write this. I didn't even know that I needed to share this (until I read your post) with someone who would understand this part of me and know, just know how I feel. I feel like a huge part of my healing was missing until I went up that mountain.

It was not easy for me. It was a hard earned climb, a hard earned freedom, but my pain is actually less tonight that it was this morning. I loved how I had to go VERY consciously in each step, EVERY single step, aware of lose rocks, gopher holes and more. I have to be CONSCIOUS, which I love more than anything I've ever done. For me, to be conscious is to be fully alive. To be fully alive is to heal. "

And from this day forward I will remember this post, and listen to my older, wiser self, the self that told me to have the courage to return to the mountain, one conscious step at a time. I love you so much for this post. The timing of it could not have been any better.

Being who we really are, experiencing who we really are takes courage, a certain boldness, and strength of heart and spirit. From this day forward I am going to ask myself every day, "What would my older self tell me?" THAT is simply brilliant. You are brilliant. Thank you, dear Jeffrey

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Robin - I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to know you've been inspired by one of my posts. And this one, well, amazing!
How you made that turn, inside your spirit, from your physical healing (albeit nearly completed) to your spiritual healing.
It sounds like your climbs these past two days have put you atop the pinnacle of awareness. And isn't it funny how the true self our closest friends can see at a glance sometimes gets so nebulous, so elusive, for us?
Thank you, my dear friend, for sharing your heart and soul.

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