A good teacher friend of mine posted a photo of the view from her lanai overlooking the ocean on the first morning of winter break. She commented that the only bad thing about this is that she could get easily get used to this. I commented back that this is my life all the time.
And while you may be envious of me, and I know I am extremely blessed to be able to retire early, there is a dark side to this. Well, maybe not dark, but "moon shadow". I remember that Cat Stevens song from my teen years, and it always resonated. Since I don't have job responsibilities to give my life structure and meaning, I have to create it myself. And it is not easy. Don't get me wrong. I am loving retirement. But there is a but ...
Yes, I have had some amazing travel experiences. The thing about travel is that it is meaningful in and of itself. When you visit places you have never been before, you are enriching your perspective on life. When you visit good friends and family, you are strengthening those bonds.
But it's good to be home, to have a home. Though it may seem idyllic to be a professional traveler, I like having a place to call home and to be home. So now that I'm home, how do I get this a sense of meaningfulness that one usually gets from work, travel, or motherhood? (I know, spiritual meaning is a whole other big topic).
Well, there are goals. I am proud to say that I have achieved a major health goal, a healthy sleep pattern. I read myself to sleep as I always have, but I wake up when I wake up, usually 7 hours later. I do see that it has made a difference is my appearance and my overall energy.
I have always wanted to be a writer. And this passion of mine emerged every once in a while, in plays, in letters to the editor, in blogs, in poems. But I had a job, and a very all-consuming one at that. But now that I am retired, I can make it my priority. Theoretically.
You would think it would be a snap. But there are so many distractions. When I came back from my trip to South America, I put my attention to the Thanksgiving dinner (the compliments were worth it!). Then there was Christmas. I did manage to update this website, and I do consider this my "writing." However, I have many projects that I have not touched.
Retirement is an opportunity to just go with the flow, to be in tune with the flow, which reminds me of the psychologist with the difficult name to spell but with a brilliant view of life:
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow." (from intro to his Ted Talk).
After watching this Ted Talk, I realized that flow isn't just about puttering and flitting around aimlessly, and having peace with that, which would be easy to do. But bringing about a state of flow is a kind of work, but it is meaningful work. There is an energy and clarity to it. So yes, in this my retirement, when I am not constricted by the need to make a living, and the expectation to conform to external demands on my time and energy, I do intend to connect with "the flow."
There is discipline required for that. If it's a priority, it must not be put on the back burner. It must be the first thing I do in the part of the day that I am most alert. Since my life is a never-ending weekend, I must be careful about honoring and respecting the gift of time, and aiming for the flow state is that.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.