Ants and bees – a metaphor

This is an email I received today and I’m putting it on the blog because I like it and what it has to say to all of us. It’s by Madyson Taylor and comes from the Daily Om:

“We can learn a lot from watching ants and bees living in community and working for the greater good.

When we see ants and bees out in the world, we often see just one, but this belies the reality of their situation. More than any other species, ants and bees function as parts of a whole. They cannot and do not survive as individuals; they survive as members of a group, and the group’s survival is the implicit goal of each individual’s life. There is no concept of life outside the group, so even to use the word individual is somewhat misleading. Often, humans, on the other hand, strongly value individuality and often negatively associate ants and bees with a lack of independence. And yet, if we look closer at these amazing creatures, we can learn valuable lessons about how much we can achieve when we band together with others to work for a higher purpose.

Most ants and bees have highly specified roles within their communities, some of which are biologically dictated, and they work within the confines of their roles without complaint, never wishing to be something other than what they are. In this way, they symbolize self-knowledge and humility. They also display selfless service as they work for the common good. In many ways, they are like the individual cells of one body, living and dying as necessary to preserve the integrity of the whole body, not to protect themselves as individuals. In this way, ants personify the ability to see beyond one’s small self to one’s place within the greater whole, and the ability to serve this whole selflessly.

Ants and bees can inspire us to fully own what we have to offer and to put it to use in the pursuit of a goal that will benefit all of humanity, whether it be raising consciousness about the environment, feeding the hungry, or raising a happy child. Each one of us has certain talents we were born with, as well as skills we have acquired. When we apply these gifts, knowing that we are one part of a greater organism working to better the whole world, we honour and implement the wisdom of ants and bees.”

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.

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.