Slowing down

On this week Micheal asks us to write about the benefits of old age.

Earlier this year I wrote about aging as a spiritual journey.   I still think that developing an vibrant inner life is an important part of aging positively but recently it has occurred to me that there is another aspect to aging that I overlooked in those earlier posts.

Aging gives us a chance to do things slowly.   It’s a rare day now when I have to be somewhere at 9am.   Usually my days begin in an unhurried way when I journal, read blogs, maybe do a little creative writing, have a light breakfast and generally muddle about.

Mid morning is usualy when I attend to jobs that have to be done and/or see people that I need to see that day.

By mid afternoon I’m slowing down.   It’s then that I really start to appreciate the fact I’m getting older.    My time is my own and I can do whatever I want to do.

Recently I went to an import warehouse and purchased a few Indian wood blocks.   One afternoon this week I inked them up and printed them onto all kinds of scrap paper and cloth:

Bag for a special journal created from repurposed Indian embroidered cloth

I had no clear idea of what I was going to do with all these little prints but was curious to see how they looked on various surfaces. Since then I’ve started pasting some into my current visual journal. I’m treating it as a kind of game.

Journal spread – in the temple of the mind

In his prompt Micheal talks about how getting older is often seen as kind of second childhood. As I paste these scraps of paper into my journal along with other collaged materials I feel affinity to the young child I once was. For the first time in years and years I have the time to play about with art supplies without thinking about what kind of product I am making.

I fiddle about with paper, paint and glue until a page feels completed and/or some kind of meaning emerges.

It’s a slow painstaking way of passing the time. Another activity from my childhood that I’ve re-discovered recently is the joy of slow sewing – of stitching by hand.   On sunny afternoons I often pull out some fabric and stitch scraps together to make little bags and appliqued cloths.   As I work I feel my great grandmother is close by me.   She worked as a dressmaker all her life.   As I young child I would sit beside her and carefully copy her movements as she taught me the intricacies of stitching cloth by hand.

As I work I often hear my neighbour, the sculptor, chipping away at the huge hunks of rock he periodically gets delivered.   He is much older than me and I feel he has been doing this every afternoon for years and years.   Listening to him work I have a sense that I have strayed into a magical kingdom where there is finally time to slow down and truly listen to the muse.  At last I am free to follow my creative urges wherever they lead me.


Leave taking

I felt a need to write in response to this prompt. “Describe the circumstances and emotions of your hardest departure from family.”

I had driven over to my dad’s place with my youngest son  It had been several months since dad died.  My brother was sole executor of the Will and had rushed the proceedings through while the rest of us were still coming to terms with what was happening.   He’d somehow managed to buy the place and pay out our shares so the house now was his, not mum and dad’s place.  All that remained was to collect the bits and pieces he’d divvied up as our share of the family possessions.

My brother supervised the loading of my car.   I didn’t really know why I’d even bothered coming over.   It all felt so sordid – so utterly grubby.  All the misunderstandings and miscommunications that had gone down when dad was dying.   All those torrid terrible years when he ranted and raved in the Nursing Home.   His personality had disintegrated as his dementia advanced.   He’d always been a strong and opinionated man.   As his illness progressed it was as if those qualities were distilled down into a loud and implacable rage.    He’d forgotten who I was several years before.

Prior to that my mum had died a slow and tragic death from Parkinson’s disease.    It had broken my dad.     He’d never sorted out her possessions.   Now they were apparently owned by my brother.   Old raincoats and the stained white jumper dad had worn when he went bowling hung in dusty wardrobes with wonky doors alongside what remained of mum’s paintings – the ones that hadn’t sold – the near misses and the failures no one wanted.   Cupboards still housed the chipped plates and scattered remnants of household goods that had been inherited from forgotten ancestors.  Somewhere a few old photos were hidden away in tattered boxes.

Overseeing the loading of my car my brother was bombastic and acted like the Lord of Manor although the house was really just a holiday shack mum and dad had bought on retirement.   As we said goodbye I noticed a greenish mould growing on the shady walls that faced seaward.   My brother’s problem now.

I grabbed a moment and rushed back to the shed on some pretext.   A place of happy memories – dad sorting through his own dad’s old tools and giving my sons some strange object from times past –  the old wooden handles polished from use and brass fittings glowing softly in the dim light.

Suddenly it hit me.   I was not likely to come back.  At least for a good long while. My brother was already staking claims of ownership as he talked of remodeling the downstairs living room.   It was his place now and he wanted to put his stamp on it as he described it in his bullying way.

I raised my camera and photographed the broken chairs hanging from the roof.  I remembered them once standing proud and strong in the family home we’d grown up in.    Like the rest of us they now bore the scars of the difficult years that followed.

old chairs with noise.jpg

That was nearly ten years ago.   Much of the stuff I collected that day proved to be too hard to have around – bad memories of my father’s anger, my mother’s bipolar mood swings.  The few things I’ve hung on to are from my own grandparents.   People my children never knew.   They are curious.   “What was this grandmother’s name?” they ask.   “What was she like?”    An interest in the family tree has emerged.   I recall old photos and family letters.   “We must go there and record these things?” they say.  Tentatively we plan a date later in the year when we will do just that.   Although I see the sense in it and can see that my kids are seeking some kind of closure I’m not looking forward to it.   Sometimes the need for healing takes us to difficult places.

An Imaginative Connection

I was scrolling through my WordPress Reader when I came across Sue Vincent’s latest #writephotoimage.

When I saw it I did a double take for I spent hours yesterday making this collage – 001.jpg

What a strange imaginative connection links Sue’s photo and my collage.  I have no idea what motivated Sue to post that particular image but the inspiration for my collage came from thinking about the life and work of the 11th century Christian nun, Hildegarde of Bingen.

I find Hildegarde inspirational for she was an accomplished writer, herbalist, mystic, composer, artist and environmentalist back in an age where women were too often voiceless and powerless.

The brilliant colours of her manuscript art inspired my own collage –

Image result for hildegard of bingen manuscript illumination

Her music is hauntingly beautiful.

One of Hildegarde’s most enduring ideas is the concept of Viriditas, a Latin word which loosely translates as vitality, freshness, lushness,greening, or growth.    In Hildegarde’s philosophical writings the word is used as a metaphor for spiritual and physical health.  She celebrates the sacred energetic force that animates all life and actively sought to connect with the natural world for she saw it as a source of creative and healing power.

“O most honored Greening Force,
You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.
You are enfolded in the weaving of divine mysteries.
You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.”

–  Hildegard von Bingen, Viriditas

Hildegarde experienced visions from an early age but it wasn’t until she was 42 that she felt compelled to share her visions with the world despite the disapproval of patriarchal church authorities.  Later on in life she undertook four preaching tours where she told her male superiors that they would fall from grace if they didn’t change their attitudes.     Huffington Post – why Hildegarde matters  Her words have relevance today as the male clergy that control many Christian churches are being held to account for their role in covering up child sexual abuses.

There is so much to learn from Hildegarde’s life and work.   What came through for me yesterday while I was working on my collage was an understanding of the energy and inspiration found in having a sense of purpose that is greater than personal self interest.

Hildegarde’s voice speaks loud and clear down through the centuries.   I hear it in the calm pure notes of her music and in her writings.  I see its imprint in her art.  “Take your time,” she says to me.  “Celebrate life.   Create with clear intention.  Discipline the will and seek to serve the greater good. Speak your truth.”

Aging as a spiritual journey – part 2

I spent yesterday finishing my art journal on aging as a spiritual journey.  I realized I could have done more blog posts on this but they would just be compilations of other people’s ideas.  Instead I copied ideas that resonated with me into the journal.   If you want to follow up on any let me know and I’ll send you a link to the source material.

Here’s the completed journal page by page.   As you can see some pages have been altered but the journal never did get any neater.   If you missed the post about how I constructed it you can find it here


You can find my other posts in this series  here and here

Aging as a Spiritual Journey

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.”   Carl Jung

Coming to terms with physical decline and with the loss of old roles that occurs during the aging process takes conscious effort.  Carol Osborn, author and founder of Fierce with Age says “Mourn your lost youth, illnesses or other losses.  Acknowledge that it’s happening as a passage you have to go through.”

The journey through this passage can be the thing that propels us to shift our awareness into a more spiritualized view of the aging process.

The University of Maryland Medical Center defines spirituality as “a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself; a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures; and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values. Even the non-religious may describe themselves as spiritual.”  aging as a spiritual process

The clinical psychologist, Dr. John Robinson writes:-
“While we can hang onto past identities and achievements, these memories grow stale for they no longer represent who we really are. But this procession of losses, as the mystics tell us, constitutes the quintessential pre-requisite for enlightenment. What’s left when the ego’s filters of identity, time and story dissolve is consciousness itself, which the mystics also tell us is the consciousness of the divine.”


Robinson describes the process of coming to terms with the losses of age as a descent – either a descent into distress or, if we move to the spiritual side of the matrix, a descent into ‘the arms of the divine mother.’


I like the idea that the descent is a mystic journey back to the divine mother for that is where my own meditations take me.

Through some alchemical process I don’t know the words for, this journey into the mystical depths can lead to an intuitive awareness of the interconnection of all life.  The sense of purpose that grows from this awareness is greater than purely personal concerns yet it infuses the personal life with meaning and a sense of joy.  It is here where the path into aging opens up into a greater awareness of the wonder of life.

It is here too where the interior landscape becomes archetypal and the spiritual journey is shown to be a journey that anyone can take at any time.   Age is not a pre-requisite.

I will leave my quest across the landscape of aging here.   My quest to find new stories continues.  I might blog about that in 2019 but I’m not sure.



This is the 3rd post in my series ‘Aging as a spiritual journey’
Part 1 of this journey can be found here
Part 2 of this journey can be found  here











Defining the Journey

More on the quest to age well –

Although I wrote the words “Aging as a Spiritual Journey” into my journal I had only the vaguest idea of what I meant by them.  Googling them I discovered many people have written books and articles on the subject.

Most of these articles begin with acknowledging the fact that aging is inevitable. Although western culture tends to deny the aging process and to glorify youth we are completely unable to stop the process altogether.   It’s a fact of life – we all grow older and we all eventually die.

The psychologist Robert Peck defined three psychological phases of aging.

1. The first phase happens around retirement.    This is when we begin to wonder “Who am I now?”   The more our identity has been tied up in our career, the more difficult this stage can be.  Around this time we are also beginning to show the physical signs of aging.  Many people feel they have become invisible.

The spiritual teacher Ram Dass sums this phase up well:-

“I can remember when I became irrelevant.  I mean, you can walk down certain streets in any city and you’re either a potential, a competitor, or irrelevant. I became a walking lamp post after awhile. It was incredible because people look right through you, they don’t even see you. At first I got all uptight about it and I’d wear my hair spread all over my head and do all these things. Get tighter suits and diet and everything so I’d be somebody, but then it’s a new moment, and you realize that’s the way it is.”

At some point we come to terms with this invisibility and discover freedom within it.  It doesn’t matter so much what others think of us for, chances are they are probably barely noticing us.


Peck’s second phase of aging begins when we realise the body is changing with age.            We are slowing down and don’t have the agility we once had.   It can take longer to recover from illness.  This stage is particularly difficult if you have identified with being physically fit.

The third psychological phase of aging is about the preparation for death.   This phase is often foreshadowed many years beforehand as we consider just what we are leaving behind for future generations.

For me this third phase is like a tune playing in the background.    I think about it from time to time but my main pre-occupations are more immediate. What do I do in the interim between having a busy, active life in the world and my eventual demise? Keeping busy and distracting myself with hobbies, shopping excursions and reading the novels I never got around to reading when I was younger gets boring.   Traveling isn’t always an option – the finances don’t always stretch that far and beside, my physical stamina is sometimes just not enough.

As the old roles and identities I have inhabited fall away I am left wondering ‘what next?’  It seems to me that I now face a choice.   I can either despair or I can figure out ways to age with integrity.

Somewhere in all my reading about the aging process I came across the idea that although the physical body declines the potential for spiritual development increases.


In her book, “The Measure of My Days”  the Jungian analyst, Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote of this approach to aging –

“The purpose of life may be to clarify our essence, and everything else is the rich, dull, hard, absorbing chaos that allows the central transmutation.”


I will develop these ideas in my next post.  You can find my first post in this series here

(as you can see the journal is continuing to develop as I read more about aging well.    It’s become a place to work out what I’m thinking and feeling about everything I’m reading.  I’ve had to leave my inclination to tidy it up and make it neat for the spontaneity gets lost when I try to do that).






The quest begins

Although I said I would wait till till the new year to post again I have been working away at making blog posts.   I’m starting to feel I need to start posting again to clear the way forward into 2019.     Here’s the first one:-

Thoughts on ways to age positively –

In my post time-for-a-quest I wrote ” Growing older and moving into the third stage of life I find this culture is not providing me with models of aging that sustain me.  The medical model of age as a disease is sickening- literally –  the cultural idea of denying and/or defying age doesn’t work for me either.   Of course bodies age and interests change – that is the way of life.  The idea of retiring to play golf and bingo bores me witless.   There has to be more fulfilling ways to age.”

When I attempted to sort through my thoughts around aging I found I had so many conflicting ideas they overwhelmed me.   I needed some way to organise the chaos within – some way of externalizing my thoughts so that I could sort them out.  I decided the first step would be to make an art journal.

To get started with this I collected together 8 small pieces of watercolour paper that were roughly the same size (15 x 20 cm).    I then painted on these with acrylic paint.   At this stage I just slapped on colour to cover the white paper.


When the first side was dry I turned the paper over and painted the back.DSCF3008

Once both sides were dry I started embellishing them with words and pictures cut from magazines.   I also used a few of my own photos and digital images I had printed out some time ago.   To select the magazines pictures I flicked through old magazines without much conscious thought.   Whenever I found a picture that made me look twice I tore out that page.  Once I had pile of pages I cut out the bits of the pictures that attracted me.

I struck the words and images onto my painted papers using a glue stick.  At this stage I had stop myself getting caught up in my thoughts.    Whenever I started to manipulate the pages so that they reflected a specific idea the process would bog down.  For example, I stuck the words ‘building blocks’ onto one of the papers in the photo below but soon after taking the photo I pulled them off again as they seemed too definitive.  Luckily the paper was still damp from the painting process so they peeled off easily.DSCF3010.JPG

I then drew and painted on the papers – again without too much pre-meditated thought.


Once all the paper was dry I folded the pieces in half and collected them into a book format.   To make a cover  I used a piece of leather.  I punched three holes into the pages and the cover and laced them together with thonging.

Although a lot of the pages were incomplete the book began to develop a theme.   On one page  I had glued a photo of a Buddhist woman on a spiritual pilgrimage.  It was only when I had assembled the book that the words “Aging as a Spiritual Journey” popped into my mind.   I wrote them on a scrap of paper and glued them onto the page.


I now had a journal to work in and a broad theme to work with…

more in the next post