“We are in that period of life now where the question that plagues us is the very question that will either destroy or develop us – depending on how we deal with the answer to it. We must not only ask ourselves, what are we when we pass from doing to being? We must also ask the question: What am I when I am not what I used to do?” (Joan Chittister)
I recently heard from a reliable source that Denmark is becoming one of the oldest (if not the oldest) towns in Australia, that is, the average age of the population. Walking down mainstreet it is easy to see a whiter shade of grey everywhere with people choosing our fair town to retire in their autumn/winter years.
The season of winter which we all face toward the latter half of our lives and with each year’s cycle, is the time to go inside for more reflective pursuits and pleasures. It is the Space ‘to Be’ and to savour a Deepening of our lives. which differs from those earlier years and seasons where we were rushing around after successes, external achievements and accumulating possessions.
Yet this ‘Being’ occupation for many of us is the greatest challenge of our lives. Many of us fight this slowing pace and field of softer and more subtle dreams. This new learning horizon is called by many traditions as ‘The Inner Work’ where we tend the Garden of skills such as serenity, simplicity, wisdom and inner meaning-making and the fruits of our labours are given richly back to our lives, families and communities.
My mother has been living in a hostel in Brisbane for some years. I call her every two days for she is deeply struggling with this precious time in her life. Mother is quite extroverted, a life-long busy doer whose values, preferences and habits are primarily of the external world. This winter of frailty with its lessening external freedoms and emptying causes her to question: ‘who am I when I am not what I used to do?’
Winter comes in many ways – seasonally and through life transitions and changes of routine like ageing, disability, disease, redundancy, unemployment. Even that dream-seeking move to Denmark makes us all change our pace of life, our friendships and usual pursuits. This winter I invite us now to begin creating those inner skills so that the changing seasons of our lives are filled with Joy and renewing meaning.
“Therefore, quietly attend to what is inside but not what is outside, to what is subtle but not what is conspicuous. Be guided by the inner but not the outer, by the inner sense but not the outer form. Attend only to form and the inner depth is undiscovered. ” (Lao Tsu)