Archive for the tag “wisdom”

When I Grow Up I Want to Be Wise

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I asked my 8-year old granddaughter, Sofia, what she thought “wise” meant. Her response: An older person who is smart and makes good decisions. I guess I would say that at age 8 she is wiser than most of us.

I then began to wonder if we aren’t wise at a young age and for some, again in older years. In between, we are deeply focused on gaining experiences, power, possessions and love, creating a false sense of wisdom.

Why “false”? Because true wisdom as Sofia tells us is not only being smart (“experience” smart, not intellectually smart) but also “making good decisions.” Believing that life experiences and success alone leads to wisdom is not a good decision.

The wise elders I’ve known have had a broad range of life experiences—some held powerful positions and were wealthy but most were of lesser means. Some were religious and others more spiritual. What they have in common is a believe in another power because they know that we can’t get through this life alone and the ability to incorporate life experiences at a “soul” level—a place where we can listen, see and “be” without all the layers of judgment that we learn throughout our life.

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Why is wisdom easier in youngest and oldest years? In younger years we haven’t yet incorporated all the taught and lived family and social biases, prejudices and expectations of power and possessions that become the basis for how we view ourselves and others. In older years, as losses accumulate, we realize any success or power or position is fleeting. At that time, the wise elders focus on incorporating all that was good and “not so good” in their past, realizing that all that has happened has made them who they are today and that even in oldest old years we continue to learn, to change, to wake up to a new opportunity to improve and focus on what truly matters in life.

However, choosing a path towards wisdom doesn’t come to everyone. Many become bitter as they view the past as “the best time” or as a time when they made too many mistakes. Meanwhile they exist in a present filled with loneliness and losses—loss of independence, of friends and family, of power and possessions. They may see this as a loss of self and as a time when their God has forgotten them.

Living beyond such tremendous losses and into wisdom that frees us from the weight of a judgmental, power-seeking life is a spiritual journey requiring tremendous faith and forgiveness of self and of others regardless of the injustices we may have experienced. Until we see ourselves as one with all others—those we knew and those we didn’t and one with the universe and with God, wisdom will be elusive.

Finally, wisdom and peace is also about accepting that we aren’t traveling alone. God—whomever that is to each of us—is not only at the center of this journey but is next to us holding our hand, above us watching over each step and beneath us holding us up when we are certain we can’t endure another loss.

Susan

 

Lessons from cooking

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I love to cook and always have. I learned to cook by watching my mom and as a youngster, the hardest part was patience—putting ingredients together correctly and slowly and waiting through the baking and cooling time. Today as I made a cake from one of her favorite recipes, I reflected on her patience. The recipe required that I fold in beaten egg whites “until there are no white ribbons running through the batter.” When I was younger—perhaps 40 and below, I would rush the process and usually move on to the next step before the whites were fully integrated. Now I take my time. I enjoy the process of watching the small stripes of white become one with the batter.

At 64, I experience life as a time to move more carefully, slowly, living in the “now” and letting the fullness of each event, each word spoken, settle into and become a new bit of “me”. I fold in the whites of day-to-day experiences more completely.

Of course, I am not always able to live in the present—I still worry about the future—the health and happiness of our children and grandchildren, my husband’s and my health as we age, and affording retirement.  These thoughts lead me to the “what ifs”—what if I hadn’t moved or had stayed in that fulltime job rather than starting my own business, etc.

However, increasingly I realize the futility of worrying over the future, or judging past actions and words of myself and others. I find I am able to move out of distracting and often negative thoughts and back into the present. This new ability to live in the moment, to walk away from unimportant thoughts, to forgive myself and others quickly is a gift of aging. In younger years as we rush through daily life to constantly seeking power and success, living in the now is nearly impossible.

I’ve noticed that our older adult clients—many who are in their 80’s and beyond are considerably more expert at living in the now than I am. Like many life lessons that make us better, stronger, and more adaptable, the many losses of later years are balanced by the gift of forgiveness, tolerance and hope of what is yet to come. I am thankful for my clients and for myself that the gift of now is available as a buffer to loss.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch the ribbons of egg whites disappear as you reflect on integrating your life stories, here’s my mom’s recipe for German Chocolate cake that she probably wrote down in the 1940’s when she was a young housemaker and my Dad was in the war.

German Chocolate Cake

4 ounces German Chocolate if you have it otherwise semi-sweet baking chocolate is OK

½ cup of water (I changed this to ½ cup of coffee—coffee enhances the chocolate)

2 ½ cups cake flour (or 2 ¼ cups regular flour)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt (I use ½ tsp because I use unsalted butter)

2 cups sugar

1 cup margarine (I always use unsalted butter)

4 large eggs separated

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans. I put parchment paper in the bottom as well.

In small pan (I do this in microwave), heat water (coffee) and add broken up chocolate. After it’s melted, let it cool.

Sift flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside. Beat room temperature margarine (butter) and add sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time incorporating before adding another. Beat in chocolate and vanilla.

Alternately add in flour and buttermilk beating until smooth after each addition.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of eggs whites into the batter until you can’t see any ribbons of egg whites. Then folk in remaining egg whites completely and quickly. Divide the batter into the three pans and bake. If you can’t fit all three pans in the oven, put the third one in the fridge.

Bake about 20-30 minutes testing for doneness. The cake should spring back when you touch it gently or test with a toothpick.

Coconut-pecan frosting

1 can condensed (sweetened) milk

2 eggs

1 cube margarine (unsalted butter please!)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups of coconut (best if you lightly toast this in the oven or in a pan on the stove in advance)

1 cup pecans chopped (I also toast these lightly)

In a medium sized sauce pan over a low flame, slowly heat butter, condensed milk and eggs, continuously stirring. Let come to a slow boil for a couple of minutes (stir carefully so it doesn’t burn on the bottom). Remove from heat, add vanilla, coconut and pecans.

When the cake is completely cooked, assemble the cake, spreading frosting between the layers and on the top of the cake—no need to do the sides unless you want to. The frosting is very sweet so doing the side of the cake can be overwhelming.

~Susan

Ten Minutes

Tired from a turn-around trip that began with a 6:15 am flight out of Portland, I waited at San Jose Terminal B, gate 23 for my return flight on Southwest. I had spend much of the past week preparing for the new business meeting that took me to San Jose. As I sat in the terminal following the meeting, I contemplated business, the slow economic recovery, money and retirement. Looking up from deep thoughts, I noted an older man, somewhat disheveled walking unevenly and tentatively toward the gate counter. With shaky hands he withdrew his ticket from his shirt pocket handing it to the gate agent, “Am I in the right place?” She responded automatically, “Yes” and offered nothing else. He looked around and walked towards the empty chair next to me. Knowing he was uncomfortable, I wanted to make up for the insensitivity of the gate agent.

I began, “Hi, are you flying home to Portland or visiting someone?”

“I’m going to visit my son. I haven’t flown in a very long time and I feel so unsure of myself.”

“It’s fine. Together we can listen for the boarding call and then I can show you where to line up. Has it been a long time since you’ve seen your son?”

Tears filled his eyes as he replied, “No, he and his brothers and sisters have visited me often recently. Their mom died three months ago after being on life support for too long.  It’s an awfully hard decision to know when to say “it’s time’ after more than 60 years of a life together. I just couldn’t let go and I think I made her suffer too long.”

 

Filled with his pain, I offered what seemed like empty platitudes, “There’s no way to know when the time is right and no one can guide that decision. It’s something you worked though, and when you were ready and you felt she was ready, you let her go.  There’s no timeline for letting go of the person you’ve loved so dearly.”

His smile of appreciation felt undeserved.

“I’m John.”

“Hi John. I’m Susan. It’s so nice to meet such a brave man.”

With a weak chuckle he said, “I’m not brave. In fact, I know this will sound bad but I’m not sure I will choose to stay around much longer. That must sound awful to you, but each day when I begin to wake and reach over to the empty place on the bed, I can barely breathe. I lay in bed sometimes till afternoon. Just waiting for the pain to leave, for her to talk to me, for something…I don’t even know what. I’m so empty inside.”

Frozen in grief I couldn’t find words, and I knew that nothing I said could answer his need.  Still the energy connection gripped me. His heaviness was now mine as well.

Slowly and painfully I offered, “I don’t judge you. I have told my children that I when I’m done, I’m done. My father died recently—he was 95 and he very much wanted to die for the last two years of his life. It hurt me terribly to watch him. He even asked me to help him die and I could do nothing.  He thought he wanted to die when he was about 85 and my mother died. The first year was the worst.  After that he began going back to church, getting out a little more, and he found he had more life to live. Meaning and purpose may shift for you too.”

“I don’t know. I can’t see beyond today. I don’t really want to visit my son although I love him. It takes so much energy and I’m exhausted. I’m hoping that if I force myself, I might find some relief.  Traveling is hard on me. I’m uncomfortable asking for help or directions. I feel like people look at me like I’m just a helpless old man. I’m getting forgetful—happens when you are old.”

“John, I’m forgetful and I’m 63. I don’t know when this “forgetfulness” started for you but it started for me in my 20’s when I had four children!  It’s not exclusive to being older. It comes about because we accumulate years and years of to do lists, of birthdays, of 85 years worth of schedules and memories we want to hold onto.  People think so many things are old age related when in fact aging begins the day we’re born.”

He laughed and his hand grabbed my hand and he simply said “Thank you.”

The gate agent called for A boarding—my group. I asked John to move closer to the lines and told him that when they called for B boarding he would line up in the first column pointing to where he should stand. Noticing a seat near the line I suggested he sit until it was time to line up. As we walked together, I noticed a young woman making her way toward the seat. Touching her arm I asked if she’d mind if John sat. She nodded to him and said, “Of course not.”

John looked at her slyly and said, “Or I could sit and you could sit on my lap.”  Pleased with himself he lit up and we all laughed.

I was hopeful as I boarded the plane that his momentary joy might be a brief peek into a life of renewed purpose. He is such a beautiful soul and to have him leave this world early would be a loss for all those whose life he touched, including me. Ten minutes with John and my life is forever changed.

Susan Cain, Sometimes weary but recently enlightened life course traveler

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