Friday, January 7, 2011

A Well-Organized Mind

Many friends in the 50-something age range are coming to terms with aging.  This seems to be an age at which we become mindful of those around us struggling with illnesses that have been pretty much absent, or at least infrequent, in the previous decades of our lives.  Our sphere of awareness has grown to where we have a large network of instances that can capture our attention.  A few instances can quickly begin to be perceived as a trend.

Additionally, this is the time when the generation on whom we depended, our parents, begin to falter and become the cared for instead of those that care for us.  Together with the fact that we’ve seem to have lost a step to first base, a baseball phrase meaning slowing with age, their frailty is an annoying reminder of our own mortality.  We want to grow, but at the same time we want those around us to stay the same.

Recently I’ve been looking up the people who were my mentors in high school.  The four I think of are all gone now.  The first recently died at an advanced age; I’d renewed a correspondence with her just before she passed.  I don’t know exactly the cause for the second.  The third had a fatal heart attack.  The fourth contracted Alzheimer’s.  This man was a forceful, hard-nosed guy.  I wouldn’t be able to imagine him aged with dementia had it not been for my experience in watching helplessly as my mother make that journey.

In the first Harry Potter book, author J. K. Rowling had the wise headmaster, Dumbledore say, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”  At times my mind has been well organized.  At other times, it has not been.

I remember the passing of friend Pat Milhausen after her second battle with leukemia.  At her memorial service, I was joyous as I emotionally shared her embarcation on that next great adventure.

I like the metaphysical concepts that have all of life occurring all at once, all experience happening simultaneously as though each experience was as a sheet stacked on a spindle.  I combine that image with one of spiritual omnipresence, being part of everyone and everything. 

This image allows me to enjoy the accomplishments of others without envy or regret.  This is beneficial when one is overwhelmed with thoughts that more time is behind than ahead.  I don’t see all the things I won’t have time or the talent to do.  I am happy with memories of what I have done and remain excited by what lies ahead.  I won’t be president.  I won’t go to Mars.  I won’t be a rock star.  I may be a successful entrepreneur.  I may positively influence the lives of those I touch.  I may become a decent piano player.  I may write a few screenplays.  I maybe should stop because I’m getting tired thinking of the work all these ambitions involve.

I have no way of knowing whether this concept is true.  Physicists would probably scoff at it.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I use it as a tool for ordering my thoughts so I don’t see every step as leading toward dissolution.  I use it a way to rejoice in and explore relationships of the past that help me in new ways as I review them in the context of my current situation.  It is like traveling the same path again and seeing it all anew.

It doesn’t free me from the regret that I wasn’t there as they changed.  That I lost touch.  That there may have been ways I could’ve helped them as they helped me.  I’m sad and have some guilt for having lost touch and drifted away.  I also know that these things happen.

I recall that when the last member of her parents’ generation passed, my mother-in-law, Roberta, became an ‘old folk’ almost overnight.  It was almost as though she were an actor donning a costume.  It was a mental switch that she’d made.  As if infirmity and breakdown were all she had to look forward to.

I know a lot of our later years are dictated by genes.  But it seems to me there is a recipe for staying lively and active.  I don’t know what this recipe is, but I look at people who remain active and involved and try to puzzle out what makes them vibrant and beautiful.  This is what I’ve observed.

1)  It seems like most of them have sense of humor; often it is a dark sense of humor.  They can laugh at setbacks. 

2)  They have a lot of interests.  This gives them a flexibility to shift to activities that fit what their bodies will permit on a given day.  One day they may feel up to a bike ride.  Another day may be a reading day or a crafts day.

3)  They keep moving and learning.  One friend I know has used travel as an organizing principle for his intellect.  He’s starting to shift to less strenuous modes of transport – no more guided tours with their tortuous hours, for example.  Nevertheless, he is rarely without an atlas, a travel guide and a plan.

4)  They have people in their lives.  They get out.  They call.  They write.  They send emails.

5)  They have some organizing spiritual principle.  They may not wear it on their sleeve, but they have some sort of image or concept that helps them to rationalize their experience.
Few of the people I’ve observed have done all these things, so it isn’t as though you have to check all the boxes to achieve a well-organized mind.

You may come up with an image that’s different from the one I use.  I like the spindle and ubiquitous spiritual insinuation model because it fits with the sassy assertions of fictional characters who state, ‘As for me, I intend to live forever.’

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your reflections.
    I ponder the potential for a simplifying formula such as: Memories (M), Expectations (E) and Regrets (R). Try to keep M + E / R > 1. It may become more challenging for many as the years fly by.