One thing I know for certain even though I forget it all the time is that everything is in a state of flux. Nothing, not one thing in the universe we live in, is permanent and fixed. Nothing, not one thing, escapes this truth, including my singular self, including my feelings, though often my feelings — especially my feelings during extreme states of fluxedness when I have a heightened awareness of impermanence – feel so totalizing and enormous that I worry I’ll never be able to distance myself enough from them to see them for what they are: temporary, ephemeral, insubstantial.
What was that slogan I wanted to remember, the one that’s perfect for times like these? The energetic gist of it resonates…something about…being a child of illusion.
I may not remember the entire slogan, but I do recall the teaching it is meant to remind me of, a teaching on how to carry my spiritual practice into encounters with reality when reality feels awfully solid and concrete and unchangeable. “Be a child of illusion” is meant to trigger an idea which is cousin to the truth of impermanence: the reality which I am a part of and creating is always shifting and changing – it is illusory – and it is also open, fluid, and, as the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron likes to say, “workable.”
When you contemplate it for a bit it makes a certain kind of sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if reality is fixed, concrete and unchangeable, then there’s not much to be done about it, is there? How do you intervene to change something that you think is fixed, concrete, and unchangeable? Yikes. I actually don’t even want to think about that, it is too terrible.
But if reality is actually emerging around us, with us, through us all the time, if it is unpredictable and strange because it is more like a dream — because it is illusory — well, maybe I can work with that. With a lot of practice, of course.
Today is a big day in my little world.
Today is the first day of my daughter Isobel’s senior year in high school.
Today my mommy moved into congregate housing for older adults.
That’s about all I can say, for now.
For some reason I just recalled something one of my graduate school mentors said to me years ago. At the time I don’t think I thought too much about it. I was in my twenties, she was maybe a bit more than twice my age, in her mid-life, and when she said it I giggled because it felt mildly transgressive as no one I knew mentioned, let alone talked about, such things. Before I tell you what she said, you need to know that she was one of the most energetic and vital women I’ve ever known in my entire life, and she accomplished amazing feats in her professional and personal life while living with significant serious chronic illnesses. She was large in spirit and in structure; I always thought she was totally splendid.
So, we would try to have lunch together every couple of weeks, and one time while we were having lunch we somehow got onto the topic of appearance and body image, probably because my dissertation research, which I was immersed in at the time, focused on older women’s embodiment. What I remember to this day is that we were sharing with each other little bits of our bodily histories, what it was like to be who we were at the time with our particular forms of embodiment. Some of what we shared was quite poignant, painful even. Insecurities about weight, about shape, about sexual desirability, about the menopause transition that she was experiencing (and that I would, some day), about the social stigmas attached to looking “old,” particularly for women. Serious stuff for us, personally as women and professionally as feminist gerontologists.
Perhaps to lighten the vibe, though it was the most sobering thing she said of everything she said, at a certain point in our conversation my mentor revealed that what she feared the most, of all the things she feared regarding how her body would change as she aged, was growing whiskers on her chin. And she asked me to promise that if she was ever hospitalized and unconscious or incapacitated that I’d come to her bedside and pluck her whiskers.
I texted my best friend this morning that I hate being in mid-life. I hate being caught in between.
I’m not ready for any of this. Where’s all my fancy-pants professional expertise now, when I really need it?
What the hell is going on?
I don’t actually hate it, being in mid-life. I don’t actually hate anything about my life. But I must admit to you that I’m quite stuck right now. Despite what I know to be true about reality, reality right now feels like it is heavy and solid and unchangeable.
I’m probably not supposed to admit that I’m having a hard time right now, am I? But I am. I’m really struggling. I don’t want to be responsible for shattering any mid-life fantasies any of you have, but as a gero-punk I made a vow – and I renewed it recently – to tell the truth about my experiences traveling through the life course. Even when my experiences are, as Isobel might say, “suckish.”
I’ve missed writing to all of you these past few weeks while I’ve been ensconced in the massive task of revising and updating Aging: Concepts and Controversies, the text I’m honored to co-author with Harry R. Moody. We’re up against a deadline and there’s a lot of good, hard work still to be done, so my mind has been turned in that direction, in addition to teaching my summer term courses.
But you probably didn’t even notice I was gone and miss me, did you!?!?! (That’s my mild gero-funk talking. It will pass.)
Actually, I know you didn’t miss me because in my temporary absence there were so many splendid essays contributed by guest Gero-Punks. Thanks to Colleen, Teddy, and Velda for holding down the fort for me.
If I’m ever in the hospital, unconscious or incapacitated, will you make me a promise?
For the rest of today, I think I’ll try being a gero-punk of illusion.
I’ll let you know how it goes.