As of the writing of this post, I have lately been fielding calls/texts/emails from people wanting to help me navigate my medicare choices. In other words, I’m about to turn 65. I’m not sure why, but something about that has me considering the big picture of life, what it’s really about and how to make it count. The result of all the reflectation (that’s totally a word: I just read it), is my new brand and my new motto (wait: what was the old one again?).
Although I have no biological grand-children as of this writing, I’ve spent some amount of time in the last few years with a small human and have somehow gained the moniker “GrandBrad.” I decided I kind of dig the ring of that. The other piece is that when I say things like “I kind of dig,” it reveals that Brad is no spring chicken. Having lived six and half decades now, I qualify to take part in one of the conversations going on out there around the question of healthy aging, which is the notion that rather than consigning our aging selves to dysfunction and disuse to be warehoused in a home somewhere until we check out, we can join the ranks of so-called “elders,” as has been the tradition in so many cultures. Folks who see the final quarter (or so) of life as a time to pass on some of what they’ve learned and experienced. In one of the plethora of articles I’ve read about this sort of thing lately I ran across a 100+ woman who, alongside her gardening and social activities, continued her weekly commitment to “Grandma school.” I dug that too. So as part of my Ikigai (Japanese term for purpose to live, what gets you up in the morning), I think I’ll work on the curriculum for “GrandBrad school.” There could be a lot included in that: things like non-violent communication, other people skills like active listening, mindfulness training, how to cut up a chicken and cook it, using a hammer, cleaning a fish, whatever. Right at this moment I’ve been asking this question that derives from my religious background and former pastoral vocation: “in a post-religious, post-church world, what kind of spiritual direction (if any) do we offer our children?” As I have engaged with the conversations going on out there with my “exvangelical” friends, I have concluded for myself that the religion I grew up with does not have to be discarded entirely, but can be updated to still play a role in developing a worldview that works. The beginning of that process for me has been to simply update the lexicon: the words and phrases that have characterized that tradition. You can read my current list on my spirituality blog here.
There are a couple of bottom lines for me with regard to this eldering thing, especially as it relates to the upcoming generation. I would feel successful in this endeavor if I can play a role in helping shape little humans who can someday help us answer the “what’s next” question that I have. In other words, in a world where our religious, economic, and political systems have failed to achieve what we thought they would, what’s next? I believe that in order for us to survive, or at least not to have to go through a bunch of gross stuff to do so, we will have to achieve a quantum leap in human consciousness, and the coming generation may be our last chance to do that.
In a practical sense, if I can help any small human get to the point where I can remind them of my motto on the first day of school, and they’ll know just what I’m talking about and how to do it, I would feel like at some level I will have got to mission accomplished. Which brings me to the 2 aspects of my new motto:
One of the things this many decades will teach you is that a whole lot of what you used to think was critically important really isn’t so much. I’ve learned through experience as well as my association with the contemplative traditions (primarily from my own faith background but increasingly others as well), as well as the more science based processes of things like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), that most, if not all, of what I used to consider threats to my being really have no impact on who I really am at the core. Being one of the cool kids to me is not so much about looks, athleticism, smarts, any of the rest: it’s about how good you are at the art of chill. If we’re talking popularity here, that’s what will put you at the top, simply because it is the foundation for accomplishing the other half of my motto:
Learning the art of chill sets you up for accomplishing the art of kindness. It’s all the dumb stuff that you think are threats (but really aren’t) that will set off your fight-or-flight response and make you hostile, and learning to let them go and get re-centered in your safe place is the key to kindness and compassion. I have come to think of this as so much more than just a way to be one of the cool kids: I really believe it is the way we accomplish our meaning and purpose in this world. In my spiritual study and reflection and contemplation, I have come to be convinced of what is now increasingly supported by science: that this Universe is how the divine reality is manifesting themselves and is evolving, not in random ways, but with purpose and intention toward a reality based on kindness, compassion, connectivity, justice….love. It is all the acts of kindness that conform to that intention that is our part to play in getting to the end game with all of this. Regardless of whether you agree with that woo-woo of a worldview, the fact remains that as you get to the place where you’re like me and are asking what it will all have meant when you’re looking back at it, what’s the downside to living like that? Seeing a life of accumulated acts of kindness will, in my view, mean much more to you and help you check out with joy than how low the numbers are on your golf card or how high they are on your odometer or your balance sheet.
So that’s my brand, and that’s my motto. We’ll see where it goes from here.