Playing with Gusto

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Age brings strength of many types.
Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life, but the whole thesis of this book [Falling Upward] is exactly the opposite.  What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.  -Richard Rohr*

I’ve been in a slump—hunkering down with a brick wall in my face: the brick wall of “I don’t have any ideas worth writing about”; “My friends are going to get sick of me, if they aren’t already”; “I’ve messed up so many things in my life”; and “If I don’t hurry and get it together, it will be too late.”

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Don’t get me wrong: all sorts of wonderful things have filled vast expanses of my most recent slump time: happy and deeply meaningful experiences with friends, the arrival of the beautiful weather and blossoming brilliance of late spring, the royal wedding (which I watched live and then watched again later in the day). . . .  But the sense of time ticking past with frightening speed while I fail to catch hold has once again thrown me up against that brick wall.  Life has been and is profoundly good to me, but I’m not doing my share, or so it seems.

Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest with an embracing and ecumenical spirituality, not only writes of the value and strength of later life, he also does the same for our mistakes: “Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences—all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey” (Falling Upward, 21).  Richard Rohr’s books and daily meditations, available by e-mail, speak in harmony with my needs and personal philosophy.  They give me comfort and encouragement.  But I have continued feeling bogged down along the path of my particular journey.

And so, as I have before, I asked my Loved Ones in the Light to give me their perspective.  Here is what I think they told me today:

We think you’re doing pretty well, better than you recognize.  But there is room for improvement for the sake of your peace of mind and sense of purpose.  This is a prime time in your life.  You think that many possibilities are behind you—and they are, those of your now-past life stages.  But the possibilities available and offering themselves to you now are just as vibrant, interesting, and important as were those of your youth.  Such is the case for everyone.

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Evening is beautiful.

The key is in not regretting what has slipped through your life and into the past but, instead, valuing the lessons distilled from

  • Missteps, wrong turns, right turns, and byways along life’s journey
  • Opportunities—taken or not
  • Challenges—muddled or surmounted
  • Deep regrets
  • And dear memories

Who you were, you are now.  Your four-year-old self and your forty-year-old self are with you, transmuted but not abandoned or lost.

You know very well that if you spend your days mourning what no longer seems possible, fearing you cannot meet your own high standards and others’ expectations, and feeling like residue left behind after those you love have crossed to the other side, you will damage or destroy your health, your serenity, and much of your joy.

This evening, you have finally wrestled aside your fear enough to pick up a pen again after a long siege by the paralysis of self-doubt.  Look at the pleasure that writing even these few lines has given you.  This small success has reignited a sense of living life instead of merely bouncing around with its buffeting—back and forth between happy times, like those with friends, and the desperation of sleepless nights spent tangling with the What Am I Going to Do Monsters:

  • What am I going to do to bring life and purpose to my blog?
  • What am I going to do to become calmer and stronger?
  • What am I going to do to be a better friend to my friends?
  • What am I going to do to bring order to my days?
  • What am I going to do to bring stability to my finances?

And so on.

Richard Rohr reminds his readers of the value of mistakes.  To give our own analogy: wrong notes cue you about what the right notes are as you continue playing your life symphony.  As the late Adlerian psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs, an acquaintance of your family’s, said when someone pointed out a wrong note he had played on the piano, “But look at all the notes I got right.”  Besides, the “wrong” notes you have played may not, in fact, have been mistakes so much as modulations into valuable new improvisations, or into the development section of your current symphonic movement.

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Okay, so some of the notes you played really were sour.  Yes, entire measures of your life have been filled with missed accidentals and a failure to follow the key signature.  But you are now a much more skilled musician of life as a result.  While you may not be able to present your life’s music with the full force and vigor that you could muster when you were fifteen or thirty, you are able to play with greater finesse, passion, and virtuosity.  And remember that pianissimo moments can be captivating and lyrical; they complement the fortissimo, con brio, and con fuoco passages.

So play the melodies of your days with gusto, even in the minor keys.  Remember that while nothing, including practice, makes perfect, practice in interpreting life with determination and courage makes meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment.  Play on.

Namaste

* Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 139 (Nook edition).

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