Retirement (written 2011)
Retirement. We talk about it likes it's something definite and definable, but really it's just this odd spaciousness that opens up. I've dropped all paid work...the teaching, the kennel, except for what might come out of my writing, and even that I'm doing in such a whimsical way these days. Gone is the driven pattern of researching markets, seeking contracts and shaping the flow of the days to deadlines.
What does this new space mean? In conversation, in thought and often with a book in my hand these days, I am suddenly aware of so many streams of ideas and possibilities that I stumble. A kind of ADD I don't recall before. Overwhelmed by an onslaught of too much: too many things I want to say, too many reactions and too many notions of all there is that could be done. But then (above? below? behind?) - a current of awareness so strong it moves these worries to a distance, moves self-doubt to such a place it is like a tiny object to examine through binoculars, not quite my own, no matter how hard and real it seems.
Meditation, too, is odd. I struggle with images and thought awhile, unwanted, trivial things: moments from the day or a movie, the melody of a song, some checklist of memories. Then stillness and that lovely indescribable place I move to sometimes where even the breath drops from consciousness and there is only fragile spaciousness, a tiny flutter of something like the concentration when you're holding a needle still to thread it and there is wishing that it hold, that it hold. Later the current of trivia begins again and so the seesaw until the bell.
During the day I spend segments of time at the computer working on the tasks I have for the Dhamma Talk cataloguing for Birken. And time flies. There is great satisfaction in each “victory”, in learning skills I thought I could not, feeling confidence grow. Trying to fall asleep at night, the next task, the next hurdle becomes the predominant thoughtstream, delaying sleep. Yet, as I find how I enjoy this and immerse in it, how I feel its tangible value, I am moving back from other volunteer tasks mentally, letting other roles go.
As I pare and focus, the energies and plans for writing squirm and move and tangle and grow like a slow motion film of stems and buds and leaves unfurling. And without writing at all, I find my direction changing. No straight arrow effort towards a goal. But each moment pure and precious in itself. Just this and then this.
Who am I then, as I let go of the work and the roles that have given me direction? Yesterday listening to a Dhamma talk on Right View. From the Pali texts a description likening it to the first pink glow of dawn. When it arises, all else follows on the eight fold path. Sitting this morning and a moment of clarity came, as can happen sometimes, almost impossible to articulate, yet it is my nature to try! There has always been a sort of melancholy for me in the idea of non-self, particularly around the letting go of attachments...not things, but people and deeply held views. Ah...my sons. And the notion of living in peace and of tolerance. So suddenly this morning I see that in letting go, I lose nothing. Everything is as it was before. But with right view I see it differently. I see it clearly. Like a fog lifting or the sun rising. No change but in my view.
I think of a friend who said to take only what you need from the world. Keep my attention on the brimming bowl I carry: peace, mindfulness and dawning understanding growing with practice. A gift of retirement, perhaps, is that I use both hands to carry this bowl, and both eyes to watch it. The diversions of life are fewer as I let go of striving to be someone, to get somewhere.