Our Sage Sister Revolution

My Sage Sister book study group met yesterday. We dug into Chapter One in our newest selection, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older.

At this time in our life, late 60s to early 80s, this book encourages us to view elderhood as an opportunity to reconnect with the sacred dimension of life:

  • find a sense of “enoughness” from within
  • connect with our inmost essence and cultivate the calmness and self-knowledge that breeds wisdom
  • transcend “doing” in favor of “being” and a clarity of consciousness that comes from spiritual growth
  • cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible
  • pursue our own paths to fulfillment … following our own inner promptings and intuitive leads.

An example was given of a seventy-four-year-old women pursuing a Ph.D. in conflict resolution to sharpen her skills as a mediator. Our conversation was energized by her view that “elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.” Growing into her full stature, this woman plans to speak out more often and from her inner authority.

We shared around the circle how we struggle to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” Letting go of our all too familiar “doing” mode, we are seeking balance by going within to discern how we are being called to infuse public life with higher values … how we are to speak out from our own inner authority.

Cindi shared a recent experience of interacting with college students at an event focusing on protecting the environment. The only white-haired person in a small focus group, she was shocked to find these students unconcerned about climate change. She has no idea the effect she had on these students, but she took the opportunity to ask them probing questions, hoping to stimulate their critical thinking on this issue so vital to her and her husband.

Cindi also shared about her passion for healthy eating. She made an offer to her local food bank to work one on one with those they serve to teach recipients how to prepare unfamiliar fresh vegetables.

Sue, our youngest member and a retired teacher, shared her passion for working with young people to increase their understanding and empathy for people who are different and the spiritual community in which she participates that focuses on raising the consciousness of humankind. She is currently substitute teaching, but her greatest joy is nurturing her grandson’s development and awareness of the differences that enrich his world.

Jasmine, our oldest member, and her husband are the parents of nine children. One is gay and another is lesbian. Her love for them was undiminished when they came out to her. She shared her concern about the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people and how she tries to dissipate animosity by openly sharing about her love for her extraordinary children. Jasmine spends a lot of time in prayer and knits prayer shawls which she donates to local hospitals and nursing homes.

Cathy has a passion for social justice especially as it relates to underprivileged and marginalized folks. She, too, has been active in donating to our local food pantry and educating others to the food insecurity that exists in our region of the country. Dayton is in the top ten of the hungriest cities in the country. Cathy has also been active in helping immigrants get settled living in this new and strange country and city.

I shared my concern that responsibility is often omitted when we talk about freedom … responsibility infusing freedom with a higher value. I have recently awakened to my responsibility in our current political environment. I asked to be appointed as a precinct captain, something I am capable of doing, assuming a larger role in my community than I ever imagined. This action speaks to my concern for our government to be in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am educating myself about actions I can take to free our government from the undermining effects of big money and using my writing and speaking skills to call our government officials to engage in responsible prophetic action.

We Sage Sisters will meet again next month to give each other support on our continuing journey of conscious aging. I am so grateful to have these outstanding women accompanying me on the journey of becoming a conscious elder.

 

To be continued …

In my last post, A Disturbing Awakening, I noted that “Miss Nicey-Nice” needed to change and ended with … to be continued. Here is my continuation.

Part of the change I see myself needing to make involves letting go of my complacency. I have rarely been politically active and have only campaigned for one presidential candidate in my lifetime. In fact, I have been disgusted with politics.

This is me at a rally inviting our congressman, Mike Turner, to hold a town hall meeting. We have a number of concerns we’d like to talk with him about. I can understand why he might not want to meet with us. I watched a video of a South Carolina town hall where the constituents screamed, yelled, and boo’d. I have also seen videos of town halls where constituents asked intelligent questions and would not allow the politician to avoid answering or skirt the issue. That is the kind of town hall I would like to attend.

My sign reads “See our ANGER. Hear our FEAR.” I chose the wording after watching the South Carolina rally. I believe that under the loud expressions of anger lay a lot of fear. I know that is true for me.

I think it is interesting that in the picture, I am walking next to a person with a sign reading “Save our Democracy.” I didn’t know how important democracy was to me and how much fear the threat of losing it engendered. I actually had physical symptoms similar to those I experienced after 9/11.

In the face of the threat to our democracy, I have taken several steps. Perhaps I will share more about that another time. For today’s post, I will share one of my experiences at the “Searching for Mike Turner Rally.”

Toward the end of the rally, I walked over to read a sign with a lengthy message. Molly introduced herself. I made a new friend.

Admiring Molly’s necklace, I learned that she is a glass artist who left corporate America to follow her dream. She has her own art glass studio. You can click on this link to visit her website. I told her I admired her courage in following her dream.

For her sign, Molly had taken the time to write part of a quote from Majida Mourad, a Lebanese-American from Toledo, who shared her wisdom on an American Task Force for Lebanon website. Click the ATFL link for the full quote.

Molly’s sign read: “One of the things that happens to a lot of people in Washington is that they lose touch with their roots. They stop going home. They pretend that they were always big successes and they become a different person. Don’t let that be you.”

The rally was coming to a close and many people were departing. My friend, Jim, and I had signed up to be two of the people who would go into Congressman Turner’s office to express our concerns. We were permitted to go in two-by-two and Jim and I were way down on the list. Our parking meter was running out of time. I told Jim it was okay with me if we left. I said, “Our registering our concerns to his staff probably won’t make that much difference anyway.”

Molly intervened. She was diplomatic as she referred to me as “an older woman.” I chuckled because that is exactly what I am, and I am not insulted by that label anymore. Especially when a young person is acknowledging the important role of elders in our community. After all, I belong to a Sage Sisters group where we support each other in being conscious elders.

Molly told me that young people are supposed to be angry and aren’t paid much attention to. But when people with gray hair are concerned enough to speak, people listen.”

So, I turned to Jim and said, “Okay, let’s stay.” His wife, Diana, could take care of the parking meter, if needed.

So, this gray-haired elder waited and took a turn talking with Congressman Turner’s staffer about my concerns. I told him that I’d like to hear Congressman Turner speak to what safeguards our system has to protect our democracy and how he is utilizing those. I noted that Turner serves on several congressional committees that deal with these issues.

I also had an opportunity to share my personal experience being the mother of a daughter with a progressive neuromuscular disease who would have had no healthcare during her crisis in the spring if not for the Affordable Care Act and medicaid expansion. Jim and I acknowledged that ACA isn’t perfect and needs revising. I emphasized the problems insurance companies posed while I worked in the healthcare field, denying much needed services to my chemical dependency clients. I pointed out how our whole nation is now alarmed by the heroin problem and stymied about how to handle mental health issues.

I returned home from that rally feeling grateful to have made a new friend who reminded me to stretch into my role as an elder. Because of this young woman I embraced that what I have to say does matter and does make a difference. I won’t soon forget that as I continue pursuing the “change” I need to make.

I was “nice” to the very young staffer in Congressman Turner’s office and showed him respect. Reminding myself that “nice” isn’t bad, just not always enough, I also expressed my passion. I shared my experience and my words of wisdom.

I wish Mike Turner would listen to Majida Maurad’s words of wisdom and come home to his constituents…to his roots. He won’t have far to go to listen to her.

She happens to be his wife.

 

Positive Exposure = JOY

When I learned about the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference in Cincinnati to be held October 22, I didn’t give my daughter, Nicole, a choice. I said, “We are going.” She didn’t fight me on it. Progress!!

She had no interest in meeting others with myotonic and almost always says “no” to my requests to participate in anything that smacks of a support group. That is one of the reasons why we have never made it to a national conference.

Then we received an e-mail telling us about Rick Guidotti, a fashion photographer, who would be at the conference taking pictures of individuals with myotonic. Kathleen Cail, organizer of the conference, asked us to indicate whether or not we wanted to partake of this opportunity.

Rick Guidotti

Rick Guidotti

I told Nicole and asked if she would like for him to take her picture. To my absolute amazement, she said “Yes!” I was overjoyed. It isn’t everyday you have a chance to have your picture taken by an award-winning fashion photographer. Nicole’s world has shrunk considerably since she had to give up working, so I was thrilled for her that something extraordinary was coming into her life.

I had no idea just how extraordinary this opportunity would be. I had no idea what an amazing human being Rick Guidotti is. He is a man on a mission and is making a hrick-photographinguge difference in the lives of many people who are not considered beautiful. Rick, however, is doing everything he can to change the way the world sees them. His mission is to change our perception of beauty, one photograph at a time.

Rick lives in NYC and one day he saw a tall pale woman with long flowing white hair waiting at a bus stop. He thought she was beautiful and he wanted to photograph her. Upon returning home Rick began a process of discovery – about albinism, about people with genetic differences and about himself. What he found was startling and upsetting. The images that he saw were sad and dehumanizing. In medical textbooks children with a difference were seen as a disease, a diagnosis first, not as people.

albino-woman-iiRick told us about what happened when he finally had the opportunity to photograph a woman with albinism. She came into his studio hunched over, head down, full of shame about her appearance. When she left, she looked like this.

Rick’s chance encounter on the streets of NYC changed his life. He has spent the past eighteen years collaborating internationally with advocacy organizations/NGOs, medical schools, universities and other educational institutions to effect a sea-change in societal attitudes towards individuals living with genetic, physical, behavioral or intellectual differences.

Rick went on to found and direct Positive Exposure, an innovative arts, education and advocacy organization working with individuals living with genetic difference. Positive Exposure utilizes the visual arts to significantly impact the fields of genetics, mental health and human rights, exhibiting in galleries, museums and public arenas internationally.

Rick’s book features the beauty of individuals with all kinds of genetic and physical disabilities.

Grace, the daughter of Kathleen Cail, the organizer of our conference, represents the myotonic dystrophy community with her photograph in Rick’s book. Her photograph is shown here on the left in an exhibition held in Cincinnati.

grace-at-exhibition

Nicole and Rick Guidotti

Nicole and Rick Guidotti

Rick must have spent 15 to 20 minutes taking pictures, not only of Nicole, but of both of us. His camera clicked away as he marveled at Nicole’s beautiful blue eyes. Stiff at first, she finally couldn’t help but give him a big smile even better than the one in this photograph I took of the two of them. At the end of the conference, he presented a collage of pictures he took that day. There is a beautiful one of Nicole.

Rick comes to conferences like ours and photographs free of charge. At some point, we will receive ours. I’m not sure when and how but when they arrive, you can be sure they’ll be showing up on this blog.

Rick was so generous and genuinely interested in our story and the memoir I am writing about my spiritual growth as a result of living with family members who went for so many years without a diagnosis. He excitedly shared with me his experience in the editing process of his book. Our connection with him endeared him to us.

In the morning, the doctors and researchers gave us HOPE.

In the afternoon, DM Warriors engendered ADMIRATION.

Throughout the day, Rick mixed in

JOY.

Thank you, Rick. You are one extraordinary human being.

The Heart of the Matter

For the first time since November 11, 2005, after my yearly nuclear stress test, last week my cardiologist told me that my heart has improved.

ardiogram_with_a_heart_shape

Eleven years ago, after two weeks of chest pains, I submitted to my first such stress test. I was in denial that I could have a heart problem. Years before that, I’d been told after a cholesterol reading during a health fair at the hospital where I worked, “You should never have heart disease.” My HDL, the good cholesterol that needs to be high to protect your heart, was higher than she’d ever seen. Of course, her words were more memorable than the written report which pointed out that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to heart disease.

But on this day in 2005, my doctor ordered me to go straight to the hospital, even after exclaiming, “I’ve never seen anyone’s HDL be that high.” It was 101. He had no answer for my question, “Then why am I here?”

In shock, I went to the hospital’s cardiac cath lab not knowing if I was to have open heart surgery or a stent. As I lay on the table staring at the overhead lights waiting for the doctor to arrive, I asked myself, “How did I get here?”

And then I knew, “I’ve had a lot of heartbreak in my life.”

heartbeat_312284

After the insertion of a stent into my left anterior descending artery, I changed my diet and began getting more exercise, and even though the doctor wouldn’t confirm that heartbreak contributed to the 98 percent blockage, I was convinced there was a connection. A few years later, an article appeared in the newspaper titled, “Heartbreak Syndrome.”

I picked up the Energy Times magazine at Health Foods Unlimited a couple of weeks ago. In their section on cardiovascular health, they had an article titled, “Living a Purposeful Life May Help Your Heart.” According to a Psychosomatic Medicine study, “People who reported having a strong life purpose had a lower risk of both cardiac events and overall mortality.” About four years ago I got serious about writing my memoir. And that is what has been giving my life meaning and purpose ever since.

hearts-illustrate-love-love-on-paper-paper-pen-Favim.com-63379

Then this weekend, I read an article from the January 19, 2015 New York Times titled, “Writing Your Way to Happiness.” Researchers were studying whether the power of writing–and then re-writing–your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. They found that writing about yourself and your personal experiences can improve your mood, reduce symptoms in cancer patients, improve health after a heart attack, and boost memory.

They attribute the vast benefits of “expressive writing” to the fact that our inner voice doesn’t always get our personal narrative right giving us a faulty view of the world that can damage our health. Through writing, we can reflect on our lives and edit our narratives.

James Doty, M.D.

James Doty, M.D.

Just last night, I listened to a Krista Tippett interview with James Doty, a brain surgeon at Stanford University on her podcast, On Being. Dr. Doty is the founding director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

Into the Magic Shop

His memoir is one I need to add to my reading list: Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Among a host of other things in his fascinating interview with Krista, Dr. Doty spoke about Heartbreak Syndrome.

 

In the process of writing my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace and reflecting on the painful struggle I went through for years, my narrative changed. When I first began trying to write it in 1999, I saw myself as a victim of circumstances. In 2012 that began to change. These words emerged from my pen while writing in my journal, “Thank God for my pain…it transformed me, broke me open, awakened me to grace, infused me with trust in the inherent goodness and wisdom of life.”

Writing a memoir is not for everyone, but whatever form reflecting on your story takes, awakening to a new, more honest assessment of your life can be a healing and transforming process. It has been for me. My faulty inner voice told me for years that there was something seriously wrong with me and that is why my life was so painful. During times of stress, that message still tries to take hold. But in writing my story, compassion for myself arose as well as admiration for the strength I’d gained.

The editing process is bringing even more fruits. Seeing myself through my amazing editor’s eyes, I am finally, even though a little timidly, claiming the intelligent, insightful, compassionate, passionate, persistent, and astonishing woman I truly am.

And now I’m being rewarded with a healthier heart as well. I am in awe and need I say, full of gratitude.

Grunge_heart