Expansion and contraction

“While we have an organic familiarity with death, our culture, steeped in denial, can only deal comfortably with expansion, activity, achievement, and goal orientation…But it’s extremely uncomfortable, almost panic-stricken when dealing with contraction, quiescence, lack of activity and inwardness…”
-from a chapter called “The Art of Life Completion” in From Age-ing to Sage-ing by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller.

We can lose sight of the fact that we need a balance of outward and inward movement to our lives. A move towards quiescence or inwardness is not a danger or a problem. Quite naturally, our early lives are more active than the final phase, but all along the way there’s an ebb and flow of energy, of doing and reflecting. Being aware of this dynamic can help us steer a course of our choosing.

We seem to have more role models available for the most active stages of life than we do for ageing well. We are creating our own sage-ing myths as we carry on through the trials, the satisfactions and the letting go of ageing.

I once had the thought that as we get older, more and more often, we’ll be thrust into the care-taker role, for parents, siblings, neighbors, and community members. There was aversion attached to this thought until I realized that I would also probably be forcing others into the caretaker role. Then it occurred to me: what could be more appropriate? We’ll all be getting older together, it will be perfectly natural to look after each other. Is there anything more important for us to do?

A wise friend once suggested we review our lives to determine what activities and relationships we carry that no longer serve our needs or purpose. This reflection is appropriate at any age. Are our actions and activities aligned with our best intentions? Are we facing in the direction we’ve chosen to move or are we just drifting? Does our balance of expansive and contractive activities feel right?

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