By Grace Conte
Aging’s momentum cannot be altered. Nevertheless, we can move gracefully through it and even draw strength from it when we practice consciously pausing before engaging with life’s circumstances. The artful subtlety of first slowing down to gather our response enables us to compassionately assess and set realistic limits. Pausing and moving slowly into choice seems counter-intuitive to our contemporary demand for immediate information which pressures us into rapid decisiveness. However, pausing can truly gratify both giver and receiver and that potential for mutual wholeness is the mysterious gift aging can illuminate. Deep consideration, inherent in pausing, demonstrates respect for the recipient. That ability to halt in order to gather a more authentic and therefore loving response is the gift of aging we give to others. Such wisdom synthesizes the many ways of knowing to shift to a (w)holy peaceful perspective and that becomes gift to ourselves.
To empower our aging process with kindness, I invite you to embrace the First People’s beautiful symbol of Mother Earth, the Great Turtle. There’s comfort knowing that the Great Turtle carries all children of the earth. This symbol of motherly love and care affirms the value of tenderness. Assured and strengthened by such rootedness, one can set the right pace for more resounding choices to be made. Mirroring the turtle’s characteristic of slow movement can help anyone practice patience and reap the result of peace. In Chinese medicine, the turtle retains its life force by tucking its head into its shell, thus conserving energy. Retreating to contemplate or holding what needs to be considered are human ways of going within to retain our chi/energy. Being grounded in this perspective of slowness and reflection counters the frenzied push many have adapted as the only way of life. This culture craze of relentless activity extends into our aging process, a time normally appropriated for less overarching ways. Through pausing and creating space between actions, time is befriended.
I spent most of my life being over-responsible and over-worked. I hurried as a way to accomplish much; striving to get all that life had to offer. Recalling the way I birthed my daughter epitomizes the way I’ve approached most of my life. Once prepared for her delivery, I pushed as hard as I could. In the peak of pain, vulnerable and fragile from fatigue, doubt crept in. I faltered and felt I could do no more. My daughter’s heart rate dropped as she languished between being and becoming. The doctor firmly ordered me to push, declaring her well-being was in jeopardy due to my impotence, which slowly rocked and constricted her in the birth canal. Her distress was enough for me to muster my last reserve of strength to push and there she was! Since then, whenever I feel I’ve reached my limit, I remember that it takes one’s ‘all’ to bring something to life.
Ironically, during that very same time period, I became a spiritual director. This sacred practice of holy listening requires pausing as a person (the directee) discloses his or her sacred life story. Noticing such subtle shifts focuses the director’s attention to help guide the directee in growing aware of how God is personally communicating to him or her. At times, though contemplative and meditative practices trained my brain (and heart) to honor stillness as a valuable vehicle to encounter the divine, my thirst for abundance flowed into my mentality about spirituality. My belief was: abundance equals blessing. My American conditioning of loving choices and having infinite options was reflected in my attitudes and actions. How did a person like me who was constantly driven to move forward, upward, and onward continue to yearn for stillness and long to just be?
Dissatisfaction became the by-product of over-thinking and over-doing to the point where I could not register the signals of ‘enough’ and ‘well done.’ I decided to apply spirituality’s values of pausing, mindfulness, and stillness to my ordinary daily activities. By concentrating more singularly at the task at hand and making less complicated movements within an action, I maintained my inner strength and opened clearer spaces within me. Little by little, “consecrating the ordinary,” as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber advocated, became my way of life. Imagine my great surprise when doing less and even feeling empty began to satisfy and help me experience contentment. Pausing and subtle changes in thoughts, words, and deeds surpassed what I had experienced as ‘the more.’ The gentle process of making these subtle changes after mindfully pausing created deeper, more purposeful meaning behind my actions.
I began to apply the wisdom found in many cultural traditions to support my aging process. The Japanese custom of oryoki, whereby Zen monks learn a prescribed eating ritual based on the concept of ‘just enough’ intrigued me. The philosophy behind the intricately attuned practice of being in the present moment through the ritual and mindset of oryoki is also found in the practice of qi-gong. Ideally the practice of qi-gong can translate into a person’s ordinary way of relating to the world too. By using just the right amount of physical effort for a task at hand, chi/energy is reserved for longevity.
Pausing helped me retain more energy and that harnessing of inner strength actually shifted my attitude and actions. The change was not really a change at all, but a sort of homecoming to my essential disposition of the heart. Prior to this, I thought the purpose of Sabbath was to enable people to work more after having a break from their chores. I came to understand that for the Jewish people, Sabbath is not just a break from daily routine, but the whole meaning of it. Gentleness in the actual process prior to an action is not just an interlude before expenditure of the energy; it is the reality of our very being expressed.
Scientists revel in finding the source of an object because it reveals so much of its content and how it will effect what’s in it and what’s around it. Think about how some rivers, streams, and creeks are influenced by their source. I, too, want to be strongly influenced by Source or Love or a benevolent energy within, around, through and undergirding ALL. Cooper Glacier sources the braised Gakona and Cooper rivers, and though their source is thousands of feet above and thousands of feet away from them, it actually determines the quality of those riverbeds. These very riverbeds then affect the stability of the biological communities living in them. We like the life in rivers and streams need energy sources to sustain us to live and thrive. Grounded and sustained from our inner source of strength readies us to be available when called to action.
The third third of life should be a time with less concern for acquisition. The privilege of aging honors realistic limits while still cultivating meaning-making. When we are able to lessen the need to barrel through life, it becomes evident that presence and loving kindness are what really matter.Quarter-turn movements honor the natural flow and pace that speaks from a mindset that harmonizes itself into action. To linger longer gently nurtures the moment and helps both parties experience formlessness coming into form. Holding the very spaciousness of subtlety creates and provides richer, stronger, and deeper manifestations of life. The gift of time generates much gratitude from our befriending of it and that makes for a (w)holy peaceful perspective.
Grace Conte continues to utilize her education degrees, theological studies, acquired certifications, and most important, her life-long approach of integrating healthy religion, embodied prayer styles, positive psychology and health proven scientific/medical practices in her workshops under her company, Through the Eyes of Grace, LLC.. Her recently published article articulates her great love for the ministry of spiritual direction (found in Presence Magazine, https://www.sdiworld.org). Grace believes that by combining her ministry with her daily active life, she is giving Love back to the Source.