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Monday, 23 September 2013

Dear Dread

By Colleen Redman at Loose Leaf Notes

I like the life I’ve created. I find pleasure in living, am blessed with rich relationships and supported to do the things I love.

Even so, I recently woke up in the middle of the night with an anxious sense of dread. There was no apparent reason for it. I knew that fears are heightened at night and that once morning came and I was in my normal routine I’d be fine.

The next day, I examined the feeling that woke me. Trying to put it into words, I described it as a sense of meaninglessness, a feeling that I was not up to the task of daily living and that life was passing me by.

And it’s true! The majority of my living has already happened and it’s all going by so fast. I don’t have the motivation for outward epic living or to take on new projects. I also don’t need a fix or the latest self-improvement. I don’t need more novelty or even more meaningful experiences because the challenge for me is to find meaning from within and to be present to what I already have.

Yes, there is a fatigue factor. There is also an underlying thread of depression. But the depressive thread exists along with curiosity, playfulness and an appreciation for the beauty and richness of life. It’s a balancing act to hold both at the same time, one that brings a sense of wonder.

The poet David Whyte talks about the elder stage of life as a time for preparing for our own “great disappearance” and for developing a relationship with the unknown.

At this stage of life, I find there are as many big questions as there were when I was in my 20s and was engaged with others in deep conversations about the universe and the mystery of this orbiting planet. But it’s not theoretical now. It’s in my body and the unknown it closer at hand.

In his audio series, What to Remember When Waking, Whyte asks, “What if it’s all about nothing, you made it all up just to play the game?” Simply ask the question, he says.

He reminds us that humans are the only species that lives with the awareness that we will eventually lose everyone and everything we love, including ourselves. His articulation of aging as a time of soulful harvest is a reality that is rarely openly talked about.

When I told my husband, Joe, about the dread I was experiencing, he reminded me of when my brothers Jim and Dan died and the hole of grief I found myself in.

I wasn’t in a hurry to come out of the hole. It was a powerful and painful place that I wanted to learn from it. I was open to experiencing it fully, as if it was a foreign country. I took field notes that turned into a book. “Write about it,” Joe said about dread.

I was afraid that I couldn’t trust my clarity, not wanting to impose what I have traditionally judged as negative onto others – fear, doubt and dread – without a solution or conclusion. But the thought of writing about my personal experience of aging as a developmental stage gave me some relief.

“I’ll think about it,” I told Joe, laughing as I realized that thinking about it was a step and all I was willing to commit to.

“The word dead is in dread, but so is dear,” I pointed out to Joe. It’s like the paradox I live with - needing a simple life with simple routines while also finding the repetition of days and chores monotonous.

I can’t seem to get enough solitude but too much becomes debilitating isolation. Another balancing act? Yes, one that falls if either piece isn’t recognized.

I think the instinct to pare down my life is right. It makes the inner landscape more visible. I might not always like what I see in that landscape but it’s there affecting me whether I acknowledge it or not.

I know that the sense of dread and monotony I feel is only a reflection of my inner world, of the things I’ve left there, put off tending to while growing up, raising kids and making living.

This time of life is not so much about doing as it is about being and being with. We slow down for a reason. It takes bravery and honesty to ripen fully. I want to learn from it and let it change me.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. It spoke to me.

Lately I have been coming upon some great wisdom when I least expected it. Pastor Rick Warren and his wife commenting upon their son's mental illness and subsequent suicide touched me, and now your wonderful musings. I was awake most of last night with just such a vague dread as you described it. Thanks so much for your insight, you are a few light years ahead and are casting some new thoughts. Maybe I can sleep tonight.

I think you expressed the feelings of many who have gotten close to or beyond that year of life expectancy. I wanted to feel useful again and prayed for that. However, I don't recommend doing this because now I am too busy.

May we all learn something from your writing, I certainly will as I too find life rather dull at times. Hopefully I can think more deeply about what is dear to me and enjoy just that.

Thank you for this. I appreciate the way you presented the ironies and dualities we find in life. So much of what you voiced could have come from me. I've discovered that being ready to learn and explore my inner self, is one of the most rewarding and challenging! adventures I've encountered in these later years. And the bravery, oh yes, that feels good.

I like your last paragraph, Colleen. Agree.

What gorgeous writing! Thank you so much for it!

Yes, it seems to me that old age is, if one is lucky enough to have it, a time to prepare for the final loss--that is, the loss of self.

A time to give up many superficial thoughts and worries and hopes in the knowledge that in the long stream of time and life, they are worth little.

This sounds and probably is a little too d-a-r-k! Q: What do others think?

Barbara Y.

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