What I Want to Be…

When I turned 60 at the end of last year, I realized that I was embarking on the “last third” of my life, what I consider to be the years from age 60 to age 90. I knew I would be semi-retiring around my mid-60s, which would give me more time to do anything I wanted, but what? I thought of having more time to write, to finish my books that sit half completed and to start new ones, or to perhaps start a new career that I could do part-time such as teaching fiber crafts, or to paint and perhaps make a small income from that on the side. But what I want most of all, as I age, is to continue to be useful, to make a difference, and to leave at least a small portion of the world a bit better when I depart this life.

I am on the cusp of joining a church, something I haven’t done for many years. The progressive spiritual community I mentioned recently provides me with a satisfying connection to like-spirited people, but it also offers the opportunity to serve others, to be useful in ways that not only help people, but will encourage my own growth as well. This church is currently considering its future and its vision, and I want to be part of that. It’s not necessary to be a member to serve others, but for me joining a church is like getting married; it’s not necessary to get married to commit to another and build a life together, but making one’s commitment a public statement with promises and vows can be a satisfying and solidifying experience.

manyhandsOf course, it’s also not at all necessary to be a part of a church or spiritual community to connect with others and serve one’s community, but I’ve always been attracted to the ready-made framework for doing good that churches can provide. It’s an easy place to “plug in” to “give back,” and I’ll be able to do that in varying capacities within a supportive group over the coming years. The caveat here, however, is that the group is “like-spirited” — a less progressive church outlook, a place that values a set of beliefs more than people, would not be a comfortable place for me.

So I don’t know in what ways I will be useful as time goes on; perhaps I actually will be useful in writing, teaching a craft or painting. Perhaps it will be something that at this point has never occurred to me. Perhaps I will be useful in only a succession of small ways over many years. But useful I will be, even when it eventually means the best I can do will be to encourage others, even with just a smile. And that will be a satisfying last third of my life.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

Finding “Community”…

knittingdrawingIt’s been a few months now that I’ve been on my own, since my daughter and I parted ways and she was married. At that point I knew it was important for me to find “community” with others, build new friendships and engage in the world at large more fully. I took stock of my interests and developed what I called a “4-pronged” approach to having regular contact with others; the 4 “prongs” for me are: spiritual, creative, musical and literary.

I started on the first prong last April, and it was a stuttering start at first. I began looking for spiritual community but found the first places I looked to not be my cup of tea. It was uncomfortable, they weren’t very friendly, just not a good fit for me. I had to define what a spiritual community I could live with would look like. I needed a “thinking” place where people were more important than policies, helping others was more important than being “right,” where no one would be marginalized or excluded, and where mercy and kindness were the order of the day. I was lucky enough to find that on my third try, and although my work schedule interfered at first, I’ve been able to settle into my spiritual community and I am enjoying the friendships forming there.

With the first prong well under way, I sought community on the second prong, creative. For me at this point, that meant fiber work. As luck would have it, an excellent yarn shop relocated nearby just recently, and now I can knit and crochet with a group of people every week. Even when we are not necessarily speaking for long intervals, just working together companionably, there is a peacefulness and cohesiveness that is soothing and is fulfilling the requirements of my second prong quite well.

I was hoping to start on the third prong, musical, yesterday, but an event at the first prong conflicted with that, so that took precedence. But I have a place to play music and sing (as able) with others and will build that up over time. I’m also looking into playing with smaller groups, so I’m keeping my ear to the ground for opportunities to do that.

The fourth prong, literary, is my writing. Writing itself is generally a solitary pursuit, but there are times when it’s good to come together with others to touch base, receive some constructive help and encouragement, and write in community with others. My work schedule makes it difficult to write with the group I’d like to be a part of, plus there’s the expense. But I’m working out those details and expect to pursue this fourth prong soon.

I do have to look at being balanced, however, which is always my weak area. I tend to overinvolve myself and then burn out from skimping on other areas of my life which need attention. I discovered I have no day of the week now just for downtime, and I know I need that. So I’m trying to work that in as well. But I’m enjoying this new life; it’s nice to participate in and be a part of a “community.”

A Contemplative Walk…

sumclabyrinthI have been entranced by labyrinths for some time, so I was pleased that the progressive church I currently attend has a labyrinth room. One can walk the labyrinth whenever the church office is open, but time is set aside in the evening on the first Thursday of each month with soft lighting around the edge of the labyrinth, candles and peaceful music in the background, and all are invited to walk there.

Labyrinths have been used in many cultures and faiths for centuries.  A well-known labyrinth of stone is the one constructed in the 1200s AD in the Chartres Cathedral near Paris where thousands of visitors walk its path each year. Labyrinths of various sizes and styles are becoming more and more common in the United States; there are 120 in Oregon alone. Near my home is an outdoor labyrinth in the classical style on the back lawn area of a Presbyterian church. The labyrinth at my church, in the photo above, is in the medieval style.  (click HERE for more on labyrinth styles, if interested)

According to the Veriditas website, “walking the labyrinth reduces stress, quiets the mind, grounds the body and opens the heart.” If one is walking the labyrinth as a “spiritual exercise,” the idea is to bring a spiritual question or thought to contemplate while walking. One is to clear the mind beforehand, perhaps by sitting quietly and taking some deep breaths, then walk slowly to the center, pausing for a time, even sitting, in reflection, then exit in the same slow, deliberate fashion, with further contemplation and reflection afterwards.

I brought no particular expectations to my first labyrinth walk this week; I merely wanted to open myself to the experience. A friend and I went together and we sat for a time in the dim quiet, then she tapped the “singing bowl” at the entrance with the small mallet and we started. I walked slowly, carefully, and concentrated on the thought I’d brought to the table. I started with this personal concern, but as I walked I let my thoughts go where they would and I found them expanding, from thinking about myself to those I knew and then farther out to world issues that weigh upon so many of us these days. As I walked I felt an increase in despair, particularly over recent items in the news, and the way life seems ever more fear-filled. I let those thoughts continue, but then I paused and gazed at the very old stained-glass window in front of me that had a small pane with the words, “Peace I leave with you,” which somehow made me feel incrementally better. I continued walking and exited the labyrinth, sitting again for a time before leaving the building.

There are those who feel walking a labyrinth is a life-changing experience, those who even feel having done so “saved their lives,” so to speak. I was not expecting a life-changing experience but hoping for a bit more peace and clarity, and I feel I did find that to a degree. What I plan to do is walk the labyrinth once a month and see what benefits may come over time.

Have you walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like? Please share.