Breeding Fear of Growing Old
INTERESTING STUFF – 10 October 2015

One Old Woman's Solitude

A couple of months ago, I stopped publishing this blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During several months prior, I withdrew from a couple of outside organizations I had been working with. And I made a new rule to turn off the computer no later than 4PM daily.

The reason for change to long-held routine is rarely simple – at least, with me – and most often, there is more than one although typically, they are confused or unclear at first.

Soon, I came to see that I had been chasing my tail for many years. For a long time not a day had passed that I did not feel pressured, behind in both necessities and desires as my to-do list regularly grew from a few lines each day to a page and even two pages.

Among three or four dozen Google Alerts, about the same number of email newsletters and RSS feeds and nearly an equal count of bookmarked websites I try to visit at least two or three times a week, I was always in a rush.

When something out of the ordinary arose – good things, mostly, like lunch or dinner with a friend, an afternoon movie, a day trip to the coast, for example – I pushed even harder in the time leading up to it so I would be ahead on the tasks. But that rarely made much difference.

In addition to publishing less frequently and reducing outside activities, I've cut back on the incoming news and information, sort of, by ditching the aggregators since by the time they arrive I've usually seen the originals. That way duplicated effort is down.

Several months into my more relaxed routine now, I have realized that there is a big difference between being 65 and 75. (My 90-year-old friends – you know who you are – will once again assure me, and please do, that I don't know nuthin' yet about getting old until I live through the differences between 75 and 85.)

If I had slowed down by age 65, it was not enough that I noticed. What I know now is that even having lost 40 pounds and being so disgustingly healthy that the only advice my physician has is to keep doing whatever I'm doing, is that I tire more easily now at nearly 75 than I imagined until I reached the point of being overwhelmed (see all of above).

It's not that I need to lie down to rest or to nap. It is more a psychic tiredness. At those times even the little things are too much. Heating a cup of soup for dinner seems an insurmountably difficult chore. Walking garbage out to the trash bin feels beyond the bounds of the possible.

There isn't nearly as much of that now.

What I had been missing is solitude. Quiet time alone to just be. Something I have needed a lot of since childhood but in recent years, even after retiring from the busy workaday world, I had too often forgotten.

For the record, regular meditation is no substitute for solitude – they serve different needs. Another distinction we often do well to make is between being alone and loneliness.

What is not enough noted, however, is that solitude is not the same thing as alone - it is a richer experience, more imaginative and satisfying than simple aloneness, a kind of stillness.

If I am not fooling myself, I made more time for solitude when I was working. I recall that I especially liked long airplane flights then, the six- or 10- or 12-hour ones – back when passengers were not sardined into our seats as now - and there was a sense of suspended animation, a separation from earthly matters and no one could bother you.

In those pre-internet, pre-mobile phone days, I also welcomed nighttime when interruption from others was less likely. Nowadays, having finally stopped fighting the sleep disorder that wakens me as early, sometimes, as 2:30AM or 3AM and most often at 4AM to luxuriate in the early morning darkness and peace, all to myself.

Solitude is suspect to many in the United States. Somewhere, sometime in the past, the novelist Erica Jong rightly described the consensus about it as “un-American." The writer and critic Marya Mannes agreed with Jong pointing out that it is the “great omission in American life” that should instead be understood as the “incubator of the spirit.”

It certainly is becoming so for me again. Solitude is my friend. It creates the space for serious thought and allows me to find out what I really believe neither of which can be done in short interrupted bursts.

My mind is sharper in solitude than in company. It deepens my connection with the present and gives me time to reflect on what living is and life is for. It intensifies my enjoyment of small pleasures.

Solitude, now that I have made room for it, seems uniquely agreeable with old age and leaves me to wonder if maybe it is part of what the late years are for.

Comments

Well said and I agree wholeheartedly!

For the first time in my life, I believe, I'm feeling envious! How fortunate are you who enjoy solitude which is something I know nothing about. I'm one of the unfortunate people with chronic depression which precludes the luxury you have written about so well. All of your are "lucky ducks" & perhaps someday before I leave this earth I'll find the comfort of which you speak so well. I'll cogitate on it & perhaps I'll find the spirit. Meditation is now my close friend & substitute. Thanks again Ronni for a provocative blog post. Dee

Pockets of solitude and oases of a quiet head to nourish the spirit. Add daily to exercise and good diet, gratitude for what works well, hope for a bit of good luck, and I've done what I can. After that, it's up to the universe.

I've always needed respite from people and activity. It's like I need a frame of time around people and/or activity.

(I think) this is the best column you've ever written.

I think we oldsters have been 'duped'. The 99-year-old lawyer who is still going to the office a half day each workday is the rarity. So is the couple who is still water skiing at 85. And what is the point anyway? Old age isn't for proving that we are still young. It's not for jousting at windmills (do a million things) in hopes that death won't catch up with us). It's not for volunteering until we're exhausted primarily because we can't stand to be at home alone with ourselves. Old age is for preparing for death (which we should have been doing all of our lives but really should be doing now). And while I've had numerous friends and acquaintances tell me over the years that that it is "morbid" -- to think about our impending demise -- it's all in how we look at it. I don't find it morbid at all. I had a great life, I am still having a great life, I am profoundly and deeply grateful, and now it's time to start winding it up.

Carl Jung said that what satisfied us in the morning of our lives will not satisfy us in the 'afternoon' of our lives, and he presented Seven Tasks of Aging. And after, say, 65, I think we should ease into those tasks. Because I did Hospice volunteering for 17 years, and I can tell you that trying to do them on our deathbed (and many people do try to do some or all, even without knowing about them) is pretty much impossible. I learned, over those years, that it's not how I want to die.

I am currently working on a manual, based on Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging and how to slow down and to really enjoy these last years of our lives. "We have many more years behind us than we do ahead of us." When it's finished, it will consist of 26 group meetings over the course of a year (or two). Hopefully, the first one will be at my church.

I am not suggesting that we all become hermits and solitaries. I belong to my local assistance league and an active church, and I like both. However, I'm very careful with how much time I volunteer -- I'm not out to win any awards for being Volunteer of The Year. I have come to relish silence and my solitude. But it wasn't always that way. It took a year of illness and being mostly shut in to ease me into it. America is such an active and extroverted nation -- we oldsters really need learn how to not be busy, busy, busy. and that being alone with ourselves is not 'punishment' and/or loneliness but something good -- a gift in so many ways.

As for your "sleep disorder" -- I wake up between 2-4 a.m. each morning. Been doing is for almost 10 years now, since I retired. Years ago my doctor encouraged me to enjoy it, rather than thinking there was something 'wrong', and I've always loved it.

Thank you so much for this writing of yours. I'm going to print it out and keep it.

Fran, I have to agree with you when it comes to preparing for the end. One of the most peaceful days I have ever had was the day I pre-arranged my funeral. It was as if a great weight was lifted from me. It's not morbid, it's taking control, something that old people lose more and more of every day.
And, as for loneliness or solitude or isolation, there is much to be said for it. After all, I am my own best friend. Nobody knows me better, has more of a regard for my welfare or treats me as well as me. I never ask to borrow money from me. I don't scold me when I sneak an extra donut from the box. I don't get angry with me when I tell myself that I need a shower or a haircut. And, when I tell a really bad joke, I laugh anyway. And why not, I'm the funniest guy I know.

My wife started working out of town over seven years ago, and I've gotten to spend a lot of time alone. She now comes home less and less. I've told her I don't know what I will do when she retires because I've become absolutely addicted to solitude. I have lots of friends, and I go out several times a week, but I just crave my alone time. I don't know if this is healthy or not. I wonder if this is due to the sex drive wearing off?

It is so wonderful to not have any obligations. And when I get them, they make me nervous. I'm avoiding commitments more and more. I prefer to always do things on the spur of the moment.

I love puttering around in my small world.

I also think this is an excellent column and appreciate your pointing out the difference between solitude and loneliness. I have used travel - on the bus to work, on airplanes and especially trains -, walking to wherever I am going when I can, and gardening to create that space for most of my adult life, and I can't imagine living without it. Not only does it give me the distance to help analyze myself and keep me on my personal path, it frees my creativity, and I often find when I reach my destination I have a new article or poem or even sometimes a painting to commence.

Thanks also to Fran for the heads up about Jung, which I am off to find right now:)

I appreciate your post today. I am 65 and have felt frustrated by my slowing down from age 55 . Life has been good, but pressured with a to do list often longer than time to accomplish everything. And alone time, I agree is a requirement. Just to be with myself. Having just retired, it is good to be reminded to make room for the same and not over extend myself into all the postponed activities. Thank you for sharing.

Solitude is an absolute necessity for me. I envy your quiet hours in the early morning. I struggled for years to get up at 5:30 to have my quiet time with God, and I have never managed it! I look forward to being retired again (the first time didn't take, due to the recession) so that I can have my Hour Alone.

The other quality that seems to be "un-American" is silence. I find silence to be completely refreshing. I love long car trips with just the sound of the highway and the wind.

Another thing we are so used to we don't notice it until we are away from it is "electrical noise." That is, the unheard hum of electricity. The rest from electricity when I am out in the open is magical.

Thanks for a wonderful post, Ronnie.

I have learned to stop feeling guilty for enjoying being lazy. The busy activities of our young years hard wired us to be constantly doing something because there were always more demands on our time than hours in the day.

it is hard to let go of the feeling that we 'should' be doing something and just enjoy being quiet. The years force us to slow down whether we like it or not, so why not enjoy the leisure that we always craved.?

I do know who I am, Ronni, ;-) and let me assure you that the intervening years will mean that you have to give up one activity at a time, but the reward is worth it. So keep on enjoying your solitude because you earned the healing time and it's pay back for having lived a very productive life.

For those interested in Carl Jung and his seven tasks of aging, you might try this post from 2007 and then follow the links contained in the name of each task to David Wolf's full explanation and description.

Unfortunately, David died several years ago, but his remarkable insight and wisdom live on at his blog, and the posts on Jung's seven tasks are particularly useful.

It's been a long while since I've written about Jung and the tasks. I'll put it on my to-do-list.

>>My mind is sharper in solitude than in company.<< YES!

That said, I enjoy the company of others, but in small doses, over a period of time. Then, in solitude, I can ruminate on the interactions I have had with others and the outside world.

My backyard is so lovely right now, in the autumn light, but I am not home enough to enjoy it. When I am home, I seem to be working on household chores, cooking, and prepping for the following week.

I am enjoying my few activities that take me out into the public, but I really relish solitude.

Solitude is the air I breathe. I've always sought it, needed it, and suffered without it. I'm pretty much a recluse now, but it suits me. I'm content, not missing at all the hustle and bustle of the world "out there."

I thoroughly enjoy having this morning "kaffe klatch" with you and all of the commenters Ronni. Having a conversation with like-minded friends is a great way to start off the day. I laughed at your comment about heating a cup of soup...I sure know that feeling! You're wise to take the time for solitude, it took me til around the age of 80 til I found it okay to not be 'busy' all the time and not feel guilty about it.

I am always thankful for your blog. (Such a word,"blog"...where did that start anyway?) Enjoy the day!

I, while married, still work for my solitude. I find on days when I have time to just read and/or think or do stretching, I am clearer headed. I do not have more energy, that does not happen as I age, but I accept that deficit and do what I can.

Terrific, helpful and heartfelt column today, Ronni. And so timely, personally!

I've always prided myself on the ability to focus, absorb, multitask and accomplish most of whatever was on my plate. I also satisfied my other state of mind that evolved from some worthwhile experiments, deep humiliations and struggles years ago. At 72, it's been a few (or more) years that I've been feeling a tug of aging slowness with a desire to continue what I described as living a worthwhile life.

This summer changed that. We've had warm nights for the first time here, that begged to be enjoyed, so I sat outside til 9 or so and became familiar with the peace and fullness of solitude. It wasn't quite enough, but enough to get up one morning and take off on a solo road trip to the northwest coast and mountains. I was and am looking for and chasing what you have, in part, described here.

I strongly believe in synchronicity and serendipity. I don't follow horoscopes but am always alert for signs that provide a nudge here, an out-of-focus path there. And I follow my instincts. Old age is giving me time to 'try on new clothes,' learn an openness to nothingness, relax and let go of what drags the time down. Being with the stars and darkness of night can evoke a feeling of being but a speck of life, then I come back within myself and realize I am the most important, most powerful force and most loving part of the whole, for my life.

So thanks for sharing this period of time and discovery in your life, Ronni. And thank you, Fran, for the mention of Freud. I'm going to retrieve his books from my bookshelf now. Looking forward to Jung discussions.

One of your best columns, Ronni. Thanks.

This post about solitude and winding down resonated with me, too, as with other commenters. Winding down, and also winding things up. I am trying to divest myself of accumulated collections and clutter, lest I leave them behind as a burden for someone else to have to deal with, and to live a more simple, minimal lifestyle. But I confess to feeling sad about the inevitable loss of energy as I age. Because I became a parent at a relatively advanced age -- pushing 40 -- I could very well be looking at helping to plan a wedding, say, when I'm 70 or a 75. The thought of that makes me very tired indeed, so for the sake of my child, I'm going to hope that when I get there, 75 somehow magically becomes the new 60. Thanks, once again, Ronni, for such a thought-provoking post.

I think its your best essay, too, Ronnie. Maybe it's my own state of mind right now (69, on the verge of my next decade). Hurricane Katrina blew me out to Portland a few years before I planned to retire, but I'll be forever grateful for the bliss I found when the storm cleared…First, because my satisfying but stressful business was swept away; second because I gave myself permission to open my "possibilities" folder and ponder; third, because I chose well an environment in which I could thrive. I had been too busy to notice how much of myself had been floundering unfulfilled until the lights went out (literally!). Solitude is my friend too.

Sitting on my bedside table is May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude. I dip into it now and then. I think she understood what you are talking about, Ronni.

Oh yes, Beryl. I've been dipping into Sarton's Journal for as long as it's been around. It's one of the indispensable books.

Lola...
The word "blog" is short for weblog, the original name for personal websites that post stories in reverse date order and allow comments.

Ah...so... Thanks Ronni! I learned something new(to me)today!

To each of you here and Ronni for starting this conversation - a heartfelt thank you! Most of my long time friends avoid conversations about aging and all its ups and downs so chats are few and far between. But here! We find new friends, courageous and generous people who dare to Share! Fran's comment is a lovely gift! Beryl and all who read May Sarton so nice to be in your company... Have read it many times and will read again.
Much of this could have been plucked from my journals - what a gift to find so many like minds! Am sendin this entry to myself so I can read again and again...

An interesting and rewarding post. I spent a lot of time reading Jung and his follower's spate of writings in my mid 40s and throughout my 5os.

I do not remember the 7 tasks of aging and dying, yet in reading them today, I believe I have pretty much incorporated them into my being.

Having been schooled early in the use of rote memory as learning, and finding it useful for test taking, when it came to the readings regarding spiritual and psychological growth, I tried at first to make lists and memorize the ideas. I failed at that and found it so unhelpful. Just the enjoyment of finding readings that satisfied my thirst for solace, for truth that I knew when I read it, became my way of reading and continues to be so today.

I do have to say the most difficult of the tasks remains the letting go of ego in relation to trying to relate to others on a daily basis. Maybe that is why the solitude is so important. It is in the solitude I find I can be easier re: my foibles as well as others--and having solitude, I can most often remain silent and at peace in the fray of things.

Interesting blog and comments all! I've been an introvert all my life so have never minded solitude or alone-ness. However, I'm not there yet when it comes to total acceptance of slowing down--not being the "do-er" I've been all my life. BTW, I don't mean missing such things as jumping out of airplanes, water skiing or running a company since I didn't do those things at 25 or 35. Like Patty in NY, I regret the loss of the drive and energy I pretty much took for granted as recently as age 75 (almost 4 years ago). Not being "useful" anymore hasn't been easy to accept either, at least for me.

I'm working on decluttering, as well, although the phone number for "Got Junk" is prominent in my "Survivors' File". It shouldn't take more than three trucks!

It seems that in our current world there is no time to just sit quietly. Even while waiting in the doctor's office, there usually is a TV on, PLUS (!) muzak -- by the time I've had that noise in my ear for 10-20 plus minutes, I can't remember what I'm there for. Has no one heard of noise pollution?

For those who are interested, Ronnie's 2007 on Jung's 7 Tasks of Aging is a very good place to start. There is also a Jungian web site I've found invaluable, re essays on silence, solitude and aging: The Jungian Center for The Spiritual Sciences.

Class of 65, I hope you used an IRA mediator. There is also an appeals process.

Class of 65 -
Wow! Thrilled to hear of your upcoming freedom. Always here for you and looking forward to hearing about how your life is going with the soon-to-be positive choices.

I second what Fran suggested.
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(p.s. - Jung, not Freud(slip?) on my previous post)

Ronni, you clearly struck a chord with your readers, including this one. I love reading the comments to your posts ...some of them make me think, some of them, make me smile, all of them make me happy I discovered this blog. Only regret the years when I didn't know about this rich resource. I must read the 7 Tasks of Aging...at 80, I can't procrastinate long. I have been doing the tasks without the guidebook!

I'm glad Ronni wrote about this subject; I truly appreciate everyone taking the time to comment. Wonderful, well expressed thoughts..often filled with deep feelings that we don't tell just anyone.

I think that says a lot about Ronni and the great people in the TGB community.

I have always enjoyed my times alone. I was an only child in a large house. I had plenty of private time. That is not to say I always want to be alone, but , since I now find myself alone much of the time, it is OK.at 82, which I don't feel, I am perfectly healthy and have little patience for the complaints of others. I believe some people view their favorite pastime to be visiting the doctor. Age is partly an attitude. Find things to do, and you will be interesting and live longer. All I need is more money to set out to see places in the world I've not seen yet. And, going by myself is fine.

I am one of seven brothers and sisters and went to boarding school until 15 years old. I yearned for privacy, silence and solitude. After I married at the age of 21, I tried to spend days away from my loved ones to charge my batteries. It was very difficult then for a married woman and a mother to spend vacation alone, but I did it. At present, aged 69, I've been enjoying time alone, every year, either by going away or by remaining home while my husband travels on his own in groups. We enjoy going together, we have a very large loving family, but I enjoy my own company and I need the time to feel whole.

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