Retirement days. Mrs Summerhouse and I were strolling through the park on our early morning pup walk. We are lucky with our local parks (see below for one example) and this morning the one we had chosen looked beautiful in the early morning sunshine. It must have been this beauty that prompted one of those early morning, ‘walking the pups’ type conversation about lightness. The ‘lightness of being’ I think it has been described as (see right without the unbearable bit – haven’t read the book so don’t ask me about the meaning of the image). The conversation went along the lines of what is it and how do you get it? I wondered whether this lightness of being comes easier or less easy to a retired person. But then in circular fashion, in order to answer that question, you needed to know more about this ‘state of lightness’*. And this is where the trouble started. Then the questions were – first how do you recognise that you are feeling the lightness and second what should a person do when they think they are in such a state. Is it possible that by putting it under the spotlight you risked destroying the much desired mindset? On the other hand, and of course there is always an ‘other hand’, how can you make the experience repeatable if you don’t know what it is or how you got there. Or do you simply have to wait for the state of lightness to happen to you? This is an anathema to me as a psychologist or rather ex-psychologist. My view of locus of control is that you have to take charge of these things not simply sit back, as some kind of helpless victim, and wait for good fortune to come along. Oh dearie me no.
As is often the case with trying to define / describe something, it seems easier to identify what it isn’t rather than what it is. Obviously the feeling that you have a steel band – metaphorical rather than Caribbean – around your head isn’t conducive to a state of lightness. Feeling under pressure to fill every waking moment of your retirement life with meaningful activities, as I seem to be doing at the moment, isn’t going to help. Worrying about whether I’m doing the right things with my time wouldn’t seem to hit the lightness button either. All well and good – thus far. But, and there is always a but, the opposite of the above would appear to be doing very little, sitting reading the paper, sitting in the garden getting a tan, having a nap mid-afternoon, watching day-time TV. I’m going to have to stop this because just writing these things is making my palms go sweaty. Relax? I spit on the word. I have never been a relaxed person and admittedly, although I thought as I approached my retirement, that here would be an opportunity to redesign myself, I now see the foolishness of this thinking. Even consulting one of my favourite authors – again – Garrison Keiller and his version of retirement from a previous blog – doesn’t help. Cut back on obligations and promote a certain elegant looseness in life, simple as that, he said. Sounds good, as it always does when Garrison writes something, but I really don’t think ‘elegant looseness’ and me go together, at this point.
So actually trying to feel relaxed or how I could miraculously become relaxed, moves me further from a state of lightness. I worry about not being relaxed. Maybe it’s about the place you are in, I mean literally the place, your location. It’s tempting to believe that, if you were on the beach of some remote, palm-fringed desert island somewhere, then you would feel lightness. Maybe for some people this would be true, but not, I think, yours truly. I remember well selling the idea of us all, as a family, going to work and live in New Zealand, that it would make me a more laid back person. Ha, as my family often remind me, that didn’t work – at all. I went all that way and was as screwed up there as I was here. How we laughed. Incidentally, if you want clear and on-going proof of this conclusion then read the section on this blog about our time in NZ, entitled 4 Go to New Zealand. Similarly, when we lived in Australia with its ‘she’ll be right, mate’ or ‘no worries’ philosophy, something to do with the sun perhaps, I wasn’t any more relaxed. So I can’t see lightness happening for me as a result of a particular location. We’re off to easy-going Ireland in a week or so, but I’m not hopeful that the land of my forefathers will provide the answer but then you never know.
So to come back to what is supposed to be the thread of this blog – how do you achieve this lightness of being? There’s masses of advice that seems possibly relevant. Don’t worry, live in the moment, tease apart any difficulties, count your blessings, focus on the positive, take small steps, set good goals, relax, don’t sweat the small stuff, take pleasure in the simple things, the best things in life are free. That sort of thing. They all sound good on paper but, for me, they don’t mean a damn thing. In the end perhaps lightness of being is not something you can cause to happen, it either comes or it doesn’t. Perhaps it’s just like happiness, there’s no point at all in trying to be happy, it’s all too vague and hi-falutin’ (is that a word?). Just unachievable. Pity though because on those rare occasions – maybe this morning was one of them – when I do feel that lightness, it’s great and I’d like more of it please. But I can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen, that’s not the approach of a control freak.
So to come back to one of my original questions – is it easier or harder to feel light when you are a retired person, buggered if I know. At times retirement seems more activities, more options, more choices and therefore, for me at least, more worries. Ergo lightness is more difficult to achieve. No doubt others would disagree. If there is anybody out there that has some thoughts on this lightness business then I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime my retirement life goes on and when you hear in the future about my next set of plans you will think, this guy is bonkers. He is a bonkers retiree. He’s nowhere near being a light retiree.
*It may be something to do with de-cluttering – a topic for a future blog.