Resilience is in all of us. It’s just, for some, access is blocked by life circumstances and events that lead to choices that undermine resiliency’s ability to play a part in creating a life of grace and ease.
And living a life of grace and ease, at any age, is, at least to me, a wonderful way to live.
When I make choices that undermine my body, when I think thoughts that disrupt my peace of mind and break down my confidence and belief in myself, I am not only weakening my resiliency, I am hurting the person I need the most in this life — me.
I need me to be strong, healthy, confident and full of grace to move through this world, creating better in my wake.
And to do that, I must take care of all of me — my whole body – head, heart, belly, torso, limbs, eyes, ears, mouth, skin, skeleton, arteries…. All of me.
And not just all of me – but all of the world around me for we are all connected. We are all part of this one planet. This one giant ball of matter spinning around the sun, giving birth, dying, regenerating, renewing, evolving.
We are all connected to everything. Part of the same matter, lifeforce, world.
And in this world, me, the individual, is a microcosm of the whole earth. When I stress my resiliency, I am stressing the resiliency of all the world around me.
Taking care of me, no matter my age, takes care of all the world around me, decreasing the stress I place on the world.
And that’s why taking care of myself as I age, being conscious of the choices I make is so important.
When I don’t, I put more stress on my body, the people who love me, the people and systems that are there to care for me when I’m not well or capable of taking care of myself, the world all around.
Limiting stress is good for me – it’s good for everyone.
And that’s what I’ve realized this week as we’ve explored ‘Resiliency’. If I want it to be strong and capable of supporting me when I really need it, I need to take good care of me in the here and now.
Resilience is like a muscle. We have to feed it, care for it, and nurture it to build it up and keep it strong.
When we add stressors, when we don’t pay attention to our body’s needs, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, our resilience wanes.
Aging happens to the whole body. Every day, aging is changing us. From the moment we’re born to our last breath.
When we pay attention to our personal aging process, when we invest in ourselves, no matter our age, we create better for ourselves, and our world.
Now, I would love to say that I have done everything right for my body. But that would simply not be true. Fact is, I’m carrying extra weight. I eat unhealthy foods. I sometimes drink too much wine. I douse my mind in garbage TV. I don’t always get enough sleep. And I don’t always get enough exercise.
So… knowing what I know now about aging and how strengthening my resilience is a vital component of aging well, what am I willing to change? What am I willing to do differently?
Am I willing to, as the saying goes, put my money where my mouth is?
Perhaps that is the point of this exploration – for me. To awaken me to my responsibility and accountability in taking better care of this priceless vehicle I walk around within, breathe with, think with, move with, create with, love with, be with, every single day, every single minute of my life.
There’s something… heady… about that thought on this beautiful first morning of autumn. As we enter the season of letting go in preparation of winter’s arrival, I sit at the cusp of my own season of release.
It’s not ‘release’ as in the form of youth or ‘the things I used to do’ or even ‘life as I know it’, it is a release of the things I’m doing that do not nurture, care for, nor support me on this life journey that is so precious to me.
It’s the release of the thought that what I do to my body doesn’t matter.
It matters. Big time.
As the golden autumn leaves that hang suspended from the poplars outside my window become bathed in the warm golden glow of morning light breaking through the dark, perhaps this moment is my moment of awakening too.
Perhaps these past 6 weeks of writing and thinking and talking about and sharing in this ageless story of life have brought me to my own, personal autumnal moment.
And I smile.
I like the feeling of that. I like how that thought settles into my body with a warm and welcoming hello.
Am I willing on this autumn morning to walk fearlessly into the knowing that in this, my one life to live, I have the power to live every day my personal practices of ageless aging?
Am I willing to embrace the truth? have the power to be the change I want to be in my own life.
Years ago, I heard a story about an eagle who was raised in a chicken coop and because of his environment and companions, believed he was a chicken. One day, another eagle high above saw him in the coop and couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t eating all the chickens. They were perfect prey.
The eagle swooped down from above, confronted the eagle who thought he was a chicken and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
The eagle who thought he was a chicken thought the eagle was there to eat him and was scared. Eventually, the eagle who could fly said, “Look, come fly with me once and I’ll prove to you that you’re an eagle, not a chicken.”
The eagle who thought he was a chicken agreed, but first, he had to go say good-bye to his chicken coop companions… just in case.
The eagle who thought he was a chicken ran into the chicken coop, slammed the door and laughed. “I’m the smartest chicken in this coop,” he said to his companions who were all cowering in the dark afraid the eagle outside was going to eat them. “I just fooled that eagle!”
And the eagle who thought he was a chicken never learned how to fly.
It’s possible that the eagle who thought he was a chicken was also displaying great resilience. He figured a creative solution out of his dilemma and survived to fight another day — and that’s the challenge, an eagle who doesn’t know he can fly turns from predator to prey. Rather than soaring, his resilience his expended fighting for survival every day.
We humans are hard-wired to fight for our survival every day. Survival is in our DNA..But, when we don’t know, or never had the opportunity to explore, our possibilities, we spend our time in survival mode. We don’t have the energy, nor the awareness that beyond survival there is mystery and awe, wonder and magic, beauty and possibility.
Life is the game of survival.
My friend Diana equates it to swimming in a lake. You know how to swim. Your’re strong. You can easily swim an hour. Maybe two. But three… four… five… Add in boats. Water-skiers. Flotsam. Deadwood. All the resilience in the world isn’t going to keep you from tiring out. Your very survival is at risk.
Which says to me, resilience isn’t about strength. It’s about our ability to overcome obstacles, endure hardship and make it through to the other side.
Challenge is, in life, there is no other side to dying. It is our only way out.
As we age, it is perhaps the fact it is our only way out that can make living so much more precious, beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Life can be hard. But… with age, the beauty can outweigh the hardships. The inherent magnificence of our human nature can shine so much brighter than the darkness we’ve come through, the hardships we’ve endured, the obstacles we’ve climbed over, when our focus is not on surviving but living.
As we age, the realization ‘the end’ is not just some ethereal thought shimmering far away on a distant horizon, but rather, a near and closing-in companion. In that awareness, the sweet juicy preciousness of life can fill our senses with the realization, fighting to survive is a one way street to nowhere but the end of life. Why not let it go and start swimming with abandon in the sea of life, filling each day with joy, harmony, serenity and love?
Thank you everyone for being my companions on this journey. I am fascinated by where it’s taking me. Curious about the unexplored mysteries it holds. Enchanted by each gem I am discovering as I let go of believing I ‘know what it’s all about’ and instead, lean into the questions blowing in on the winds of change all around me, inviting me to flow with them into the sea of my life abounding with joy, harmony, serenity and love.
Some time ago, I met a woman who was struggling to end a relationship that was causing her emotional harm. “I can’t leave him,” she said. “He needs me.”
How does he need you? I asked.
She paused. “How?” She seemed surprised by the question. Flummoxed. Her eyes shifted to the left, the right, up, down. She fluttered her hands in the air around her face. “I don’t know… he just does.”
And what do you need? I probed.
She sighed. Shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know… for him to love me like he did when we first met?”
What else do you need? I asked again.
She held her breath as she thought about the question. “I…. I need him to change.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being ‘he absolutely will’, how likely is that to happen? I asked.
She smiled sadly. “Zero”.
And is that what you want for the rest of your life and for your children? To be with a man who cannot change the things he’s doing that hurt you and, also them?
Recently, I met that woman again. Once she faced the truth that to create change in her life she had to change what she was doing, she left him. It wasn’t easy, she said, but she did it with the support of caring people in her life.
Once out of the darkness, she went back to school. Got a certificate in HR and was working hard to create a life of stability, joy and love for herself and her two children.
“I can’t believe I stayed with that creep for so long,” she said after telling me all the amazing things that were happening in her life.
Believe it. You did. I said. But, in believing it, don’t compare it by measuring the length of time. You stayed as long as you stayed, It was neither long nor short. It is simply the length of time you stayed. A moment in your life. Not your whole life.
That woman reminded me of me.
When I first got out of a relationship from hell, ‘couldn’t believe’ was one of the phrases I had to eradicate from my vocabulary.
Saying, “I couldn’t believe” was the gateway to the disbelief of something that had happened that I had participated in. It disempowered me. To build my resiliency, I had to acknowledge it, learn from it, grow through that learning and triumph over it, not ignore it or my role in it.
Saying, I can’t believe’ blocked all access to healing and resiliency.
For that woman, resiliency didn’t help her survive that relationship. Her inherent desire to LIVE did that. Where resiliency became her constant companion was in doing the things she needed to do to build her life after the abuse. With each step into living free of abuse, her resiliency strengthened her resolve to keep creating her own happiness, her own dreams, her own path.
We all come upon sticky moments in our lives, sometimes many sticky moments. Some big. Some small. Some short. Some long. Size and time are not the issue. Believing it happened is.
When we stop saying, “I can’t believe….” we open the door to possibility. We allow our resiliency to step in and strengthen our ability and resolve to grow, prosper, thrive and triumph over adversity.
When I worked in an adult homeless shelter, people always commented on how it must be a very depressing place to work.
I always replied, “It’s one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever worked.”
Every day I experienced a thousand people awakening in the morning to take another step. Their lives may have been in disarray, they may have lost everything and carried only the heaviness and indignity of the label, ‘homeless’, but they kept going.
That was inspiring.
I learned a lot about resilience at the homeless shelter. I saw it every day. From the young 18-year-old who was determined to finish his high school education to the 60-year-old woman who met her 20-something daughter, whom she hadn’t seen in several years, on the elevator one day. In that one meeting the mother made the decision to get help with her mental health issues so she could move out of the shelter and be a mother that could guide her daughter away from street life.
Resilience was everywhere at the shelter.
I remember Colin. An indigenous man who had left his family and community behind when the load of his past became too much to bear. When we met, Colin had been on the streets for many years and hadn’t seen his adult sons since they were school-aged children. “I want to be a man they’d be proud of,” he told me in the self-esteem-building class I was teaching.
In an environment where being sober was the anomaly, Colin was very proud of his three-month-old sobriety. Determined to see his sons again, he kept taking steps in the right direction.
I was in awe of Colin’s commitment and resilience. Life kept knocking him down and he kept standing back up and moving forward.
Six months after we met, a massive heart attack took away any chance Colin had of meeting his sons again. And though he lost that final battle, he died exactly as the kind of man he told me wanted to be, “A proud man.”
Colin, and so many others I met at the shelter, displayed the characteristics of resilience every day. Courage. Strength. A willingness to face life’s challenges without giving up, and a deep awareness that to take a different path they had to change the things that brought them to the shelter door.
Resilience can come in many forms. There’s physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience, and social resilience.
At the shelter, resilience came wrapped up in a community that held each other up and gave what they could to one another, no matter how little they had. And, it came in the hope and belief tomorrow would be a better day as long as they made it through today, together.
Colin never got to that tomorrow where he met his sons and heard them say, “We’re proud of you, dad”. But, in getting up again and again and continuing to fight for his sobriety, he taught many others the value of holding true to yourself and your dreams.
It is a lesson that continues to inspire me today.
Take the “What’s the Big Deal about Aging?” questionnaire!
I’m really interested in a) writing and talking about aging, and I’m really interested in your feedback so if you don’t mind taking a few moments, I’d love to get your feedback – it’s my very first survey so I’m learning as I go! (in other words, it’s not the best designed survey but it’s my first! 🙂 )
The Circle of Life Carries On
by Louise Gallagher
“Help me! I’m falling,” called the leaf to the limb.
The limb whispered back, “You must let go and let Mother Nature catch you.”
“But it will be the end of me,” cried the leaf.
“Hang on or let go, your life will end,” said the limb. “It is nature’s way..”
Frightened, the leaf clung tighter to the limb
as the autumn winds blew fierce.
The limb shook, the leaf fell and nature had its way.
Winter came followed by spring bursting
with leaves unfolding.
The circle of life carries on, unending.
The smoke, while bothersome, doesn’t cause me discomfort. It hasn’t affected my walks with Beaumont nor my enjoyment of being in nature.
For my beloved, it’s a different story.
It’s been a long week. Confined almost continuously to the house, he still coughts and struggles at times to breathe. And, because he’s in a clinical trial, he can’t take any oxygen or drugs, other than his normal inhalers, to help alleviate the angst.
I am grateful for this clinical trial which may result in relief of his symptoms.
But, as medical science searches for ways to alleviate asthma and lung disease, it is uncomfortable for him, and I know, at times, terrifying. To struggle for breath. To feel always as if you are gasping for air.
I am grateful this week that I had chosen to write about gratitude. Grateful that in keeping my focus on its many graces, I have been constantly reminded to breathe into its healing powers.
It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I do. I worry. I fixate on wanting him to get up and get moving. On thinking there’s something else, he, or I, can do to make it better.
I get out of sorts. Short tempered.
And then, I come back to gratitude.
I am grateful for this practice. Grateful to have this safe space to return to centre, to find, as Val Boyko calls it, my middle ground.
I can’t ‘fix’ any of this. I can’t, as he asked me the other day, get him a new lung. What I can do is get him a cup of tea. Bake him my chocolate chip cookies he loves so much, even though I worry about their impact on my hips. He was once a professional football player. Weight is still not is issue, other than the need to put it on! Other than when I was pregnant, I have never had a problem putting on weight! 🙂
And, I can change how I respond when I’m feeling frustrated and worried.
I can stop thinking about how ‘this isn’t what I expected’ and turn instead into the love that brought us together, the shared joy in each other’s company.
I can stop wallowing in self-pity and awaken my desire to be playful, joyful, and heartful in our relationship.
I can stop being driven by fear and allow courage to draw me back into Love, peace, and joy.
Rather than thinking about the things we can’t do together, I can lean into the things we enjoy doing together. Play games. Read to each other out loud. Watch a movie together. Cook a meal together. And so much more.
I am grateful that we get to be together. That we get to share each day, together. And, that in being together, we get to support one another in living life to the fullest of our abilities and capacities, always giving the best of what we have to one another. Always keeping our vows in the forefront of our life together.
I am grateful that in writing about gratitude, I am reminded to put my own words into action.
If like me you’ve been on this earth awhile, you’ve probably heard people, especially your elders, say things like, “Growing old is not for the faint of heart.” Or, “Growing old is no fun.”
I remember when I first awoke from that relationship that was killing me and began, after an absence of a few years, to do the thing that I knew would be most healing for me; write in my journal. The first thing I wrote was, “And now for the hard part.”
I remember stopping and looking at that line and thinking, “Wait a minute. Who says this part has to be ‘hard’? Going through that relationship was hard. Why does healing from it have to be hard? Can’t I choose otherwise?”
It was in that moment I chose my path. obviously, I had a lot to heal, internally, with my relationship with myself and others. Obviously, to get to that ‘healing’ I had to go through the pain. But… did I have make going through it feel hard? No. I could choose to go through it, no matter what ‘it’ was, In Love.
That meant, no matter what I was experiencing, no matter how painful or dark or grimy my road, I had to choose to treat myself and all the world around me, with tender loving care. I had to hold onto the truth of my own loveability. I had to choose to love myself.
Today, I am deeply grateful for that lesson I learned and embraced so long ago.
And… here’s the challenge. I’ve let some of that lesson go! Fact is, there are times I have perceived aging as a ‘dark and gloomy night’. A place I did not want to go. A place I dare not shine the light within for fear it would be extinguished.
My mindset and my choices dictate how I age and while, just as I cannot control my emotions, I cannot control time and its passing, I do have the power to choose how I express my emotions and I get to choose how time’s passing resonates within me and upon my life.
I have the power to choose to be angry with aging, or lovingly accepting of its beauty and its warts, making the most of each precious moment I breathe.
Seeing it all through the eyes of love, feeling it all through a heart flowing with love, and experiencing it all as part of this journey called LIFE, creates a wealth of opportunity for me to grow and expand and breathe life into each moment without placing too many expectations, or fear, into what the next one will bring.
When I quit viewing aging as a thankless, relentlessly painful, and loss-filled journey, I create space for wonder, awe, and magic to be present too. And just as opposites can co-exist in the same space, aging and love can co-exist without one being overshadowed by the other.
That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge the real and sometimes challenging realities of aging. Let’s face it, getting older is messy. At times it feels like it’s happening entirely against our will with its demands we face its seemingly relentless reminders of how fragile and vulnerable we are becoming or how our limbs just ain’t what they used to be.
That kind of reality can suck, especially if we spend all our time trying to avoid it — because avoiding it tends to suck the air right out of us.
Which is why I am choosing to face the realities of aging, the good, the bad and the ugly, with a grateful heart, counting my blessings every step of the way, savouring each deep breath of the wonder and awe of each moment.
Because, as long as I am breathing, I get to age. And that is a privilege many do not get to experience.
After five years of enduring a relationship that almost killed me, freedom tastes so sweet. In the aftermath of being freed from that living hell, when anyone asked me, “How are you?” my first response was, “I’m alive!”
Being alive, after feeling like I was the living dead, and believing (and hoping) the reality of death was waiting just beyond my next breath, being able to say, “I’m alive” and mean it was pure joy.
Sitting here, almost 20 years away from that moment of release, it’s hard to remember how lost and alone, terrified and depressed I was.
What I can and do still feel, is the elation I felt, and still feel, with being alive.
And, while I haven’t quite mastered the art of being grateful for the things he did that brought me to the point of trying to unhook gravity’s hold on my body so I could simply fall into the ocean and be washed out to sea forever, I am grateful for the realization I carry with me today. A realization that came from having walked that path of abuse and self-annihilation so long ago. Life is a precious gift. It asks only that we fall in love with ourselves and all of life moment by precious moment.
There is not one moment of the past that I can change. Regretting that relationship and all the pain and harm it caused those I love is a journey of futility.
In living my realization that life is precious, I fall in love with the woman I was then, and the woman I am today and every day when I hold firmly to my belief in the precious nature of life and celebrate every breath as an act of freedom.
And in that realization, I embrace the deep knowing that I don’t need to be nor become grateful for the things he did. To live in freedom, I only need to live with a grateful heart full of love for this beautiful, fulfilling, love-filled life I live today.
My gratitude I know today is not based on what he did back then. It’s founded in knowing that what he did is nothing compared to what I do, every day, when I embrace everything in my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, with arms, heart, and all my being wide open in gratitude and love.
Long ago, I fell into the trap of believing someone else held the answers to my life and could give me a shortcut to happiness. I am grateful that through that journey, I have learned the truth.
I am 100% accountable for my own happiness. In claiming my responsibility for my life, all of it, I set myself free of regretting things I did and that happened in the past as I say, “Thank you” for the good, the bad and the ugly. IT is all a beautiful gift opening up to the gift of becoming, me.”
And in that gift, I lean, with anticipation and joy, into all life has to teach me on how to live without regret so I can experience the wonder, beauty, and awe of all the world unfolding in its mystery and magic all around me.
The stillness of morning envelopes me like a warm blanket on a cool winter’s day. Outside, the sky is dark in the early misty gloom of dawn not yet risen. Inside, the glow of my desk lamp casts a halo over my fingers typing on my keyboard. Piano music plays softly. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle lies under my desk, his head resting on my feet. The gentleness of his snores warms my heart.
I am grateful for this morning.
Gratitude, the experts say, is good for your body. Your whole body of which the mind is part of the whole.
We, westerners, tend to separate body and mind as if the two are connected yet separate entities with one having the upper hand over the other whose purpose is to be the vehicle that carries it around.
They are interconnected. One brain. One body. One person. One. Whole. Being.
This is why gratitude is so important. Our thoughts are our body’s thoughts, not just our minds. Our thoughts become our reality. Our thoughts impact the entirety of our being — including our health. And, when we practice gratitude, we ignite endorphins that happily dance through our veins and arteries, filling our nervous system with feelings of joy. (At least that’s how I like to imagine them.)
There’s good news about aging and positive thinking!
According to this article in the Globe and Mail from October, 2015, “Neuroscientists have suggested older people have a sunnier outlook because the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional attention and memory, becomes less active in response to negative information. At the same time, older individuals maintain or even increase their reactivity to positive information.”
Yesterday morning, walking back from the park with Beaumont, I watched two city workers clean up the garbage left behind by the weekend visitors to the park. There was a lot of it.
As they worked they chatted. As they worked, they created inviting islands of green space free of garbage.
I watched and was grateful they were out so early in the morning making the park whole again.
I decided to share my gratitude.
I walked towards them. As they noticed my approach they both stopped working and watched me.
“I just wanted to thank you for making the park so inviting and clean!” I called out.
Suddenly, both their faces broke out in smiles. “You’re welcome,” one of them called out.
“Thanks for all you do to keep our city beautiful,” I said before moving on with Beaumont.
As I left, I heard one of them say to the other. “D’ya hear that? Someone appreciates what we do.”
I was smiling as I walked away. It felt good to give a gratitude bouquet to strangers. Especially as I truly am grateful for the work they do.
Their work is important. It matters.
I am grateful for my mind’s ability to remind me to not just think thoughts of gratitude, but to share them freely wherever I can.
Spreading gratitude is important. It matters.
I am grateful that with aging, I am becoming… more at ease with my power to spread gratitude.
I am grateful that with aging, I am becoming… more accepting of life’s gifts. More thankful for life’s beautiful moments. More capable of letting the not-so-nice moments fade as I pour love and joy into each moment I experience the gift of my life on this earth.
And I am grateful that there are people like University of Oregon neuroscientist and research associate Christina Karns, studying the impact of gratitude on aging. In the same G&M article (above), Karns is quoted as saying, “It’s [Gratitude] different than those sort of basic emotions, like happy, sad, fear, anger. So there isn’t going to be just one system in the brain that is implicated in gratitude.”
While happiness occurs in the brain’s immediate reward systems, gratitude is believed to also involve the cortical structures associated with higher order cognition and social reasoning, she says.
Gratitude is a whole-brain undertaking. And, as the brain is as integral to our well-being as the heart and belly, veins and arteries, limbs and skeleton, being grateful pays dividends throughout our body creating well-being and lightened spirits where ever it flows.
As we age, numerous studies have shown, we become happier. Apparently, we are, on average, at our most positive in our senior years.
I am making a conscious decision to flow in gratitude. Choosing to express it whenever I can, where ever I am.
I am grateful for all of you. Grateful for your presence. Your words of encouragement. Your sharing of your insights and thoughts. Your light. Our shared connection.
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