ITALY IS GOOD FOR ME
We are grateful to those of you who have kindly offered comments and encouragement on our Blog effort. It seems the Blog may be stimulating thinking by others on what a post-working life might be for them. Much of what I have attempted to communicate has been reflections on our unfolding lives in Italy. I haven’t set out to explicitly say very much about changes to the person I may be in process of becoming. That is simply because I have to believe it is something about which there would be little interest. Additionally, I’m still trying to figure out what is happening while I’m standing right in the middle of the process.
And then the other day, a reoccurring awareness came into sharper focus for me. It seemed we might have begun to grasp there had been changes to the process of how we went about decision making. In doing some minor tasks, I realized I was reacting and behaving in a manner that was different than how I might have responded in the past. Yes of course, if we are paying attention to what is going on around us, we probably react by adjusting our response to what we feel is appropriate in that particular situation. But the point that came to me was the yardstick I now seemed to be using in gauging ‘appropriate,’ had been realigned. A more fundamental change seems to have been going on. In the event what we are now sensing might be helpful, I thought I would pass along a few thoughts and further-ranging speculations.
Clearly, retirement brings changes. There are obviously any number of factors involved. In retiring, the daily demands of the job are no longer the driving force behind many of our actions. For some, contemplating a change that significant can be very intimidating. That is particularly true if the primary criteria you use to define yourself is your job. Starting early to begin thinking those implications through can be a very productive and probably important process.
Those of you who have read previous Blog comments of mine have probably picked up on my increasing sensitivity to the idea of being more open to the value of ‘intuition.’ I am coming to believe it is only sensible to perceive ourselves as an integral product of a larger, biological context. After all, we are accustomed to accepting ‘intuition,’ or possibly considered as ‘instinct,’ being a factor in the behavior of other animals. Contemporary life seems so fixated on the idea of ‘dominating nature’ that it is too easy for us to forget we are also very much a part of nature.
I have also come to recognize we may have become dominated by courses of action responding primarily to what our egos have instigated. Ego driven impulsive, rapid-reflex decisions can be long on rationalizations that start with satisfying the desired ego outcome and then go on to retroactively build what we want to believe is a rational decision justification. I know, I have done it more times than I would want to admit. Ego desires seem to have a way of turning a deductive logical sequence on its head. That reality suggests we should become more suspicious of relying too heavily on emotionally-laden, reflex decisions.
However, I suspect ‘intuition’ is in a different category altogether from reflex decision making. Unlike the noise and drama of emotionally-laden reflex reactions, it seems ‘intuition’ can be most productively tapped into in a very different way. Eastern philosophy such as Zen Buddhism, has long recognized the value of meditation. This awareness is not unknown in the west as reflected in the sensitivities of the Society of Friends (aka ‘Quakers’) for example, who advocate seeking guidance in quiet contemplation; ‘To be still and listen to the small voice from within.’ Some might go so far as to suggest that the real value of prayer is to tap into a deeper, internally located quiet path to improved understanding. I believe it was the author C.S. Lewis who might have suggested something to the effect of, “The real object of prayer is not to change God’s mind, it is to change yours!”
The healing arts have long recognized our evolutionary legacy has developed self-preserving physical responses that are largely automatic; no conscious decisions from us are required. These responses involuntarily carry out their function seeking optimal results for our welfare particularly in the way we heal. I also have a speculation that the lessons we learn in the course of living get filed into a database deep within our memory. Naturally, it begs the question as to whether our learning from past experience is all that effectively accurate. But within a deeper memory, I am coming to believe there is a potential to draw into an embedded, welfare optimizing resource of past successful lessons. I also sense there may be present an accumulated, more accurate understanding of ourselves less contaminated by insecurities. Being freed from the demanding pressures of priorities determined by others in a working life, opens the possibly of learning to increasingly rely on a more reliable, internally derived sense of direction.
It also seems we are still only starting to scratch the surface of being open to the idea of a ‘Collective Unconscious,’ as Carl Jung referred to the possibility of inherited memories, perhaps carried forward in our DNA. In the further outer-dimensions of speculation, I wonder if there may be more to feelings of ‘déjà vu’ than we yet have developed a capacity to understand. Could it be that elements of some experience perceived as similar might have previously occurred in lives from whom we are descended and carried forward in DNA as an inherited, deeply rooted memory? It is understood some cultures less integrated into contemporary technology retain a belief that ancestors still communicate with them and have an influence on their lives. There may some aspect of that possibility that may function through our DNA that is yet to be comprehended. For now, this is little more than a very far-ranging speculation. But even the idea suggests we might benefit by paying closer attention to what we are so often accustomed to ignoring.
In retirement, time is a very valuable ally. In our working lives, we become conditioned to a competitive environment. Spurred by competition is the notion that a rapid decision response is evidence of increased capability. And probably most of us have had the experience of rushing to less than optimal decisions based on inadequate data simply because we felt a time pressure plus an adverse influence of other externally imposed decision altering factors. But in retirement, time pressures on decisions seem to be less intense. Even in this instance, I had become so used to time pressures on decisions that it is taking discipline for me to take a breath to ask the very relevant question as to whether there is really any compelling rush necessary? Using time as a positive, supportive resource is a new and gratifying experience.
As post-retirement time pressures are eased, the consequences of our decisions also seem to start to affect a smaller universe; narrowing primarily to just ourselves. Moving beyond an occupational responsibility directly affecting others and having the children grown and largely self-sufficient, there is a potential to see that as a liberating blessing rather than the implied negative of some loss of ego status.
Any number of times here in Ascoli, we have remarked to each other, “Just how did we get so smart to have the good sense to do this?” Perhaps that is how I have come to explore the decision making we have done and have come to appreciate that we may have begun to tap into an ‘internal resource’ to guide a gradual, more open approach to recognizing a revised, more constructive set of sensitivities. However we did it, we are delighted we did!
What we might suggest to those having natural anxieties over what post-retirement lives will be like, is to consider taking quiet time to try and get away from noise and distractions. Try and see what comes up from deep down inside that you feel would guide you and any special person directly sharing in your life, to feel more complete and content. Italians use an expression I have come to appreciate – ‘Tranquilate,’ ‘To be in a state of tranquility.’ A wonderful goal to have in anyone’s life.
Complexity is often too distracting and can contaminate creative thinking. I suggest in planning for the future, considering the least complex and simplest structure for living you can imagine. Reducing the stress of having to maintain a number of logistical obligations seems to do wonders in freeing up the mind to consider broader possibilities. And the less complex a solution is in imposing requirements to be maintained, the easier it may well be to be achieved, carried through and enjoyed.
Try thinking imaginatively without imposing too many limiting parameters on the front end. You can do your ‘reality check’ modifications and adjustments later. You might be surprised where the process ends up once you let the power of imagination fly. And within that kind of context, the operative question always comes down to – where would you ‘really feel’ your peace and a deeper sense of contentment might lie? Mentally try the idea on a couple of times and listen quietly and patiently wait for how your intuition reacts. Its really a fascinating journey!