It’s turned out to be about yoga!

My blog is taking a new direction. I am an independent woman, but now I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I’m no longer, at least for a while, asking the question “What shall I do with the rest of my life?”
That’s a good feeling, a comforting feeling. I practise acupuncture and I teach yoga. I trained in both of those many years ago because I discovered them and made a decision that they would work for me and I could work using both of them for a long time, until I dropped.
The teacher of the style I use in yoga now, Vanda Scaravelli, died around 10 years ago, still practising and teaching – she only ever taught one-to-one – at the age of 91. She wrote a book called “Awakening the Spine”, of which I have a copy. There is a picture of her on the back cover, at an advanced age, in sleeping pose. That means she is lying on her back with her feet behind her head, supporting it, and her hands are under her back, supporting her back, with her palms facing down.
images Vanda Scaravelli
What! I will never do that!
But her yoga is not really about getting into contortions like that one. I think she just loved to get into those positions.
I still love both of the subjects I practise – the yoga and the acupuncture.
I would say that the yoga she taught is above all else about freedom of movement; the freedom of the body to move intelligently and as it wishes. You only have to observe any animal for a very short time to witness freedom of movement and the comfort and appropriateness of that, how it is at one with itself, comfortable in its own skin.
Many of us humans have lost that comfortableness. Yoga helps to direct us back to that, listening to our bodies from within as well as being directed from without by the teacher, or ourselves when we practise. I know it has kept me sane in difficult times. It is a discipline and it does take time and commitment but both of those are good for us and benefit us in lots of ways that we couldn’t or wouldn’t initially think of.
I often combine yoga and acupuncture, for instance if someone comes for acupuncture to help with stress, chronic fatigue or back problems it can be very helpful to use a few basic poses, to help with relaxation or to encourage the muscles to let go of tension.
I have practised yoga for 27 years now. When something feels right you keep doing it.
I’m just off to do a class now.

Anxiety – a view

It’s now 19 months since my partner died. I’ve been spending more time with women, particularly older women. This is not surprising since I am one myself. (There’s a difference between old and older – I wouldn’t put myself in the “old” category until I’ve reached 90, if I do. I’m not sure that I want to.)
So this is a quite a big change. My partner was several years younger than me, in his late 40’s, so through him I came into contact with other, mostly younger, men. He worked and I work so our days were structured around work. Many of the women I know now, as I have met several new people and made new friends, for which I am grateful, no longer work, and their husbands are also retired. I have discovered this is an entirely different group of people with an entirely different way of spending their time.
And this is new to me. Of course, I have known most of my friends for a while so it’s only partly that there are people in my life who no longer work and their way of life is not new to them. But for me it’s like a window on to life for the older woman, and especially those who no longer work to earn.
Anxiety creeps in.
Sometimes the husbands, if they are around, contribute to the anxiety – they might have failing health; they might just be irritating or there are other problems which somehow don’t get dealt with – but often it’s just a kind of existential anxiety. And when we meet we talk about the things that make us anxious, and that we wish we could do something about, but mostly can’t.
For one friend it’s the anxiety engendered by suddenly finding herself on her own when her husband died, and she would prefer that he hadn’t. I entirely understand how she feels. It feels as if, finding ourselves on our own, without a partner and the children having long gone, anxiety presents itself at the back door, knocking, and giving so many reasons why it should be let in. I feel this. And sometimes it slips in when we are looking the other way. Somehow the door is left open and when I turn round there it is, challenging, and rationalising its presence.
I also, of course, know several women of my age and older, who do work, either full or part time, and some of these are on their own, without partners / husbands. Do they have anxiety? Well, yes. Women of all ages have anxiety. We seem to specialise in it in a way that men do not. It seems to be part of modern life. But when you’re younger you still have so many roles that you are playing and that take up a lot of time and energy and so anxiety often sits in the background, whittling away at energy levels, causing difficulties with sleeping, digestive disturbances etc, but you get on and do the things that you have to do, because they have to be done.
But this is not the particular manner of anxiety that I am currently looking at, close up so to speak.
I think that for me, there are two things going on. One is to do with loss. The loss of a partner leads to other losses. Where there were two people sharing their lives now there is one. One person is suddenly living alone who previously was not. No-one to talk to, watch television with, go for a walk with, have breakfast with, cuddle and make love with. Now there’s just one person. This can lead to a huge loss of confidence and a loss of identity. Who am I now? Thus comes the anxiety.
The other is, what to do about it? What do I do now? And how do I get it right? Because now I’m closer to the end of my life than the beginning.
I think I have to go back to the drawing board. When something or someone goes out of your life it leaves a gap, which has to be filled. And, for me at least, it has to be purposeful and fulfilling. It’s not enough to fill my time by entertaining myself from here to the next corner, and then the one after that. I think that eventually that will lead to more anxiety, not less.
A drawing board is empty until you put something on it. I found a quote on the Internet a few days ago, “ Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”
So here goes.
I think the answer, or one contender, is in being creative – writing, painting, decorating, making baskets, knitting, sewing, whatever. Something that comes from within, not without. As long as we are looking to be filled by things that come from without then we are likely, to some extent, to become dependent on them. Even family and friends, wonderful as they can be, come from without and really, they are the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself that is my life. Cake without icing is do-able – not fun, but do-able, and there’s always some icing. But icing without cake is not do-able. Sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s a poison and extremely addictive. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to fall into that anxiety trap and forget that I’ve always got cake.

Raw milk and other things

I’ve just started buying unpasteurised milk. I’ve been reading about the health benefits of raw milk and the loss of those benefits when you drink pasteurised milk. Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes, including lactase to help digest the milk. When milk is pasteurised these bacteria and enzymes are destroyed. There are lots of websites giving information, and opinions, on the benefits of raw milk and raw milk products. This is one of them http://www.hookandson.co.uk/RawMilk/index.html and also http://www.westonaprice.org which also has a lot of interesting stuff on diet. Weston Price was an American dentist in the 1930s who visited indigenous peoples all over the world to investigate their ways of eating because he found that they had perfect teeth and bone structure and bodies that were in excellent shape generation after generation. They had no degenerative disease and there were no inherited defects. He put together a diet based on eating what he calls traditional foods, using the principles of the diets of primitive peoples i.e. those living apart from so-called civilisation.  

You can look on the Survival International website http://www.survivalinternational.org/ at the photographs of some of the few remaining indigenous people living in this way. It is striking how healthy they look and how beautiful they are. That is, the ones who have not been moved off their lands and on to Government-run reservations. Then they immediately have problems.

In fact, I used to travel 12 miles to a farm, when my children were very young, to buy raw milk. I mostly made yogurt with it, which meant that it was, of course, no longer raw, but it was delicious and the milk had not been processed in any way except by me.

Now I buy milk from Home Farm on the Goodwood Estate just outside Chichester. I’ve seen the cows in the fields and watched them trundling across the track (while I waited!) on their way to the milking shed. So I know they’re pasture (grass) fed and similarly the lambs which generously provide the meat I buy there. It’s worth looking into the issue of meat from grass-fed animals. The balance of the Omega 3 and 6 fats is as it should be because the animals are eating their natural diet. And of course they’re out in fields instead of being shut up in sheds and eating grain, which is not their natural diet and produces an unhealthy imbalance of essential fatty acids, which then gets passed to us if we consume their products. There’s an animal welfare issue there too. The animals obviously have a better time out in the fields and feel better eating their natural diet. They then live the life of an animal, rather than a food production machine.

There is a growing demand for raw milk and other dairy products. Selfridges in London started selling raw milk but then were stopped by the FSA (Food Standards Agency) who are currently considering the issue of raw milk. At the moment it’s only legally available to buy at the farm where it is produced. However, cheese made from unpasteurised milk is generally available in most supermarkets and certainly in specialist shops and delicatessens and some branches of Waitrose have started selling unpasteurised butter. I got some in Chichester. You can get salted or unsalted; it’s made in France, the label is Isigny Ste Mere and the salt is Guerande, which is untreated sea salt. So it’s good stuff and reasonably priced.

All of these are my personal choices. I’m finding out about and choosing what I want and at the same time supporting what I feel to be right. 97% of the food we buy now comes from the supermarkets. That gives them a lot of power to make choices for us. I think the remaining 3%, coming from farm shops, independent butchers, fishmongers etc, probably needs to grow a bit bigger. I use the supermarket because it is convenient but I also shop elsewhere when they haven’t got what I want or I don’t want what they have got. We are defined by the choices we make, in what we eat as much as in anything else. Let’s hang on to the power of choice. It matters. A lot.

What now?

I haven’t written since January. That’s a long time for a blog. What’s happening now?

Next Monday it will be a year and three months since my partner left the planet. I miss him really, awfully much but at least I am not spinning  around in quite such a painful place any more. I don’t think you ever get over a really big loss but you start to get used to it and you carry on living, because you have to. I still have to eat, sleep, shop, cook, wash, earn money etc. These things become reference points and become significant because if you want to stay alive then you simply have to do them.

When I first began to think, coming of age at 60 (it did feel like that!), what shall I do with the rest of my life, I did not anticipate asking and looking for answers, as I am, from the particular perspective that I now have. And it changes things.

A few months ago I sat with a friend, also recently bereaved, in Nero’s in Worthing. We looked onto the street and noticed the people walking by. All ages, all shapes and sizes, some walking purposefully and quickly – maybe running an errand or buying lunch – some just walking and wandering – maybe killing some time or giving themselves some time off. We wondered how many other people, how many other women, are asking themselves – what shall I do now? As we ourselves were.

What do you do, where do you go, who do you talk to, when life suddenly serves up a major change? Or when it serves up several major changes all at once, since one can lead to another and frequently does. My friend has just moved to Devon, where her son lives. Okay, so that’s not the other side of the world but it’s still a big move that she hadn’t planned on making on her own. She and her husband were considering it. She did it alone. That made it major. Her major change was the loss of him.

We thought of starting a group, along these lines, for women to come to. A group whose focus would be that question – what now? I have sometimes felt that I am holding my life in my hands, like a living thing, demanding attention and feeling kind of “hot”, like holding a hot coal. What to do with it when there are no easy answers and it’s difficult and challenging and something seems to want or need change but nothing does change?

It’s not only major changes that force us to look at our lives and pay more attention.  Sometimes it’s just the feeling that there could be more to life than there appears to be and we feel restlessness, boredom, nervousness cranking up. Entertaining ourselves from here to the next corner is not enough. We want more out of life or maybe want to put more into it; the two tend to be related.

So now I’m starting this group, with another friend. We are putting ideas and leaflets together to put ourselves out there. If you are reading this and you are interested in joining us, call me.

 

Musing

Well, now I’m really feeling, what shall I do with the rest of my life. I’m thinking and considering, what shall I do? It’s now 2013. My partner passed on, left the planet, six and a half months ago; I’ve been on my own for six and a half months and his absence and the permanence of it is only just beginning to register with me. Memories and tears come, seemingly from nowhere, disabling me. This is a nowhere place I am in; unfamiliar, unknown, strange. And challenging.

I have discovered that death is the great taboo: people don’t want to talk about it. Friends with elderly husbands avoid the subject. The husbands themselves don’t look at me – my partner was thirty years younger and in apparently considerably better health than they are. The wives look at me and see their future and the husbands look at me and see the absence of themselves and their own death. It’s scary.

Yesterday morning I thought I would do some exercise on the rebounder and I put on some Leonard Cohen – not exactly jolly, Leonard Cohen doesn’t do jolly –  but it’s got a good beat and it’s six minutes long, so good for bouncing. Then, wham, he’s there in the room with me, (my partner, not Leonard Cohen) or is it a memory of him in the room? But it’s overwhelming, the presence. His actual presence would not have been. We might have looked out of the window and noted that the apple tree needs pruning or the beauty of the leeks that we have allowed to go to seed. But because I feel him there when he is not physically present it knocks me sideways and I have to stop bouncing, turn off the music and sit for a while.

Maybe movement triggers the emotions, as in walking is good for stress relief.

So, I’m looking at possibilities and making notes, talking to people and getting information. I could do some volunteer work, helping families in difficult circumstances. I could train to be a soul midwife. I feel I would like to study the beginning and ending of life, the bookends, as Elizabeth Lesser, author of “Broken Open”, calls them. A soul midwife helps the dying to cross the threshold between this world and whatever is next.

I’ve ordered some wool to knit a cardigan. I’m joining a knitting bee, meeting on a Tuesday evening with other knitters to chat and share our lives and our knitting problems. As I’ve done very little knitting for the last twenty years or so I will have problems and it will be really good that all I have to do is look across the table to someone to help me.

I’ve been sitting for the last hour in a favourite tearoom in Chichester and, having commented on the pleasure of the tearoom, the log fires and the peaceful environment, met an interesting and helpful person. So that was pleasurable too.

Reading books

I read a lot of books. I love books. I have always loved books. At the moment there are easily a dozen books in my living room, in various stages of receiving attention. I have just started learning about astrology so there are several books on that. There’s a book about angels, lent to me by a friend. There are lots of books but not many novels. I don’t read many novels. But the book which is getting most of my attention at the moment is “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, which is a novel.

This is a lovely book so I’m writing about it. I think it was quite well known at one time because I have heard of it before but never read it. It was published in 1943. It’s about the immigrant population in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 19th century, before the First World War, and is really social history made into a novel. It’s written mostly from the point of view of a young girl called Francie Nolan. Her father is Irish and her mother is from somewhere in Eastern Europe. She is a sensitive and intelligent child, also rather isolated and lonely and as she observes the world around her we learn about her life and the lives of her family and the people in the neighbourhood.

Maybe Betty Smith is writing about her own childhood. There is extraordinary detail in the minutiae of ordinary life. There is also an acceptance of how things are – the poverty and harshness of their lives, her father’s alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy coupled with his gentleness and love towards her. Her mother is the one who takes responsibility and who copes, and works, works, works, to keep them all together with a roof over their heads and a minimum amount of food in their stomachs. And it is a minimum; they are often hungry.

We are now more than a hundred years on from that time. There are things that spring out from the pages – the strength of the family unit is one. It’s not clear what the old country they have come from is, but wherever it is they are peasants there and America in any form is an improvement. They see it as a land of opportunity, freedom and, most of all, hope.

A strong sense of loyalty to the community also springs out, especially in comparison to the community that we no longer have today. Also compassion, understanding and gentleness. There is no feeling of hierachy because everyone is struggling, just like the tree in the book title. Everyone has a place, the old as well as the young.

 There are two good second hand bookshops where I live and I got it through one of them. I think the copy I have is a proof-reader’s copy and the pages are slightly ragged, not clean cut as for a bookshop sale. It’s a hardback with small print and it’s very old and it’s a real book. No Kindle for me thank you.

I recommend it. It’s good reading for baby-boomers and for everyone else too. It’s also very salutary: we are having quite tough times but really we should be so grateful for what we have. Most of us have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge (and the fridge itself!) and a comfortable bed to sleep in. Too many people in the world don’t have these basics.

 

Granny sex

Have you heard of Hilary Boyd? Well, I bought The Times on Wednesday last week and now I have. I don’t usually buy The Times but it had something on the front cover about Granny sex so I had to buy it and find out.

Hilary Boyd is 63 and a granny and has been married for 40 odd years. She has written a book called Thursdays in the Park, which wasn’t doing much in terms of sales but then Amazon started selling the e-book version at a discount price of 20p and as of Wednesday, 14th, it had sold 100,000 copies and foreign rights to France and Germany.

Hilary Boyd believes, as do I, that life doesn’t end at 60, and, neither does having a sexual identity and a sex life: being loved physically; wanted and desired. When you hit 60 life can become confusing, as I’ve written in this blog already.

Thursdays in the Park is a romance between two grandparents who meet in the park while babysitting their grandchildren. How cool is that! Get it to find out more.

I love what she says in the interview in The Times. She’s not afraid to tell it like it is. I quote “A woman hits 60 and everyone and everything is telling her she’s past it. Advertisers have started describing her as “the mature woman”, friends have started letting themselves go, putting on weight and wearing fleeces. And special needs shoes. And elastic-waisted trousers! …They stop dying their hair, the women are effectively neutering themselves. And their husbands are happy because they’re not going to run off – looking like that.”

There is a confusion of identity at 60 but 60 is not what it used to be. There is a pull at 60, a comfortable slot to fit into, which does involve cheap fleeces, clothes which are comfortable and practical and which hide a lot, whether you want them to or not, and plenty of examples of this nature to follow.

But there are also plenty of 60 somethings who do still colour their hair, wear make-up and refuse to go quietly into an invisible old age. As she says, we are the baby-boomers and a “stroppy bunch.” Grannies are not what they were a generation ago, even 10 years ago. We still have a life, including a sex life and we’re not about to give up on any of it.

Hilary Boyd again, “The problem is that we don’t yet know how to be old, but we’re learning. We’re learning fast.”

Three cheers for Hilary Boyd. And three cheers for the rest of us for whom she speaks and writes.

Dreams and moments

I had a dream recently, which I remembered when I woke up, which is unusual because I usually forget them.

Up until the age of twelve I lived in a small Surrey town, in a typical 1930s house in a street with other fairly identical houses. At one end of the street there is an area of grass where the ends of two other roads meet. This green is encircled by a road which goes from the end of one road to begin another one and in the middle there is a short bit of road which goes under a railway bridge. When I lived there my friends and I would often cycle under the bridge on our way somewhere. I remember that I was always surprised because one side of the bridge seemed so different to the other. I always felt I was entering a slightly different world when I went under the bridge.

In my dream I was twelve years old. I was walking along the road which was just round the corner to my road. I must have walked this bit of road hundreds of times. In my dream I rounded the corner and I was then in my own road, where I lived about halfway along. It was quite a long road. I looked across at the green, which is small, not big enough for children to play on and we all had gardens anyway. I saw the green and the telephone box which was there and looked beyond it to the bit of road going under the bridge and saw, in my head, in my dream, myself and my friends cycling under the bridge to the road beyond. The dream was incredibly vivid even though it was so ordinary; something I had done, in reality, so many times. I felt the pavement under my feel, heard my steps as I walked along, felt a light breeze on my face, looked at the houses on my left in all their detail and the green on my right with the telephone box. I saw and experienced it all so clearly.

When I woke up Iremembered the dream. Why would I have such a vivid dream about such an ordinary experience, one I had had so many times, all those years ago? It felt like more than a dream, which usually have a quality of unreality. This felt like a re-experience, as if I was actually there: it was so real.

I wondered what was so important about this experience, that I would re-visit it in a dream. Was it an important moment? I used to like rounding that corner and looking across at the green, seeing the telephone box and, beyond, the bridge. I was nearly home. Or would I have the same feeling about any other small experience of a few moments, re-visited in such a way in a dream? It made me realise how half-awake we are most of the time and how much of most of our moments we lose because part of us, part of our consciousness, is somewhere else having a separate experience; worrying or thinking or planning or remembering.

I think our quality of life, our experience of it, regardless of whether it is pleasant or not, has a vitality in childhood because we are present in it; we are not mentally off somewhere else at the same time. We are there. As we get older and we acquire responsibilities and to-do lists there is a tendency to lose this and as we get older still and lose some of those roles and responsibilities and their urgency, maybe we start to feel that our moments, mostly ordinary as they are, are not so important and not so absorbing. Maybe we need to give our moments more attention and pay heed to and even be grateful for each moment and each experience. Maybe each moment is a tiny life all by itself, a tiny breath of consciousness.

May you be well and happy and here, now.

Dealing with the to-do list

I have discovered a great way to deal with my to-do list. You know, that list that sits on the worktop, or table, or wherever, with all the things you are planning to do when you have the time; when you feel like doing one or two of them; when you can afford it etc.

I got up the other day and made a to-do list for that day. I’ve started keeping a little book especially for the purpose. And I wrote down those things I had already done and put a big tick through them, in a different colour. I realised how good that made me feel, writing down and putting big ticks through the things I had already done. As I went through the day, ticking things off and putting in other things I had done that wouldn’t normally make it to the to-do list and ticking those off too I felt a sense of achievement that was very satisfying.

I think, for me, this is a good policy, a way of encouraging and supporting myself and appreciating that, actually, I generally do quite a lot. A lot of the day is made up of doing little things, work aside, and we tend to discount them because they are semi-automatic. Check emails, order things that we need, do the washing-up.

Doing this, and smiling at myself for entertaining myself in this way, is another small step in moving forward. We all have to keep taking these small steps – sometimes they are big steps that take a lot of courage and pats-on-the-back from ourselves – to deal with life, that huge amorphous thing we wake up to every morning. We need all the self-help we can dish out to do that. 

 

Making changes

This is difficult. My life is going through huge changes at the moment, due to the loss of my partner, and family adjustments, and my own adjustments, to a new way of living. I had not anticipated this, in any way, and it is making me feel vulnerable and exposed to this world with all of its challenges and apparent chaos. I feel a profound lack of order and a solid base in my emotional life. I’ve gone off at a tangent, having had no choice in the matter and the scenery around me is new and strange.

My brave words in the championing of older women no longer feel entirely right or appropriate. I still believe wholeheartedly in the concept and I still champion older women but I have to think again and employ a softer approach, more understanding and more compassionate. This place where I now find myself, standing alone, without a partner, is rather frightening and I realise that many women of my age, or any age, have been here before me.

This is not about feeling happy or not happy. That word, at the moment, is also not appropriate. What I feel is raw and tender. Almost as if I were a baby and brand new and delicate. I have to look after myself. I think this feeling is more familiar to older women (and probably older men, too) than I had known. By the time we reach 50, or 60 or older – there is no upper age limit – lots of things have happened to us, and they haven’t all been easy or comfortable. We sometimes feel the need to withdraw and lick our wounds; hibernate and eat the dirt, as animals do when they are sick.

I want to create an online community of women, women like me, those who are raw and vulnerable as well as those waving the flag. I’m sure there are lots of us; we want to make a contribution and to be reassured that we are of value. That our years of life experience count and that we can have a positive impact. These are the wisdom years and this wisdom would like to be put to good use.

If we take humanity to be one body of seven billion or so individual sparks, then the waking up to itself of each spark makes a difference to the whole. Will the spark that we are be weakly sputtering, feeling itself hopeless and powerless, or will it be a light shining brightly, illuminating the space around it and able to create what it wants, what it feels to be right and appropriate and thereby making a contribution and a difference. Or something in between. How bright does your light shine? How bright does my light shine?