Reverence ~ The Fourth Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders

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Old Woman in Thailand

The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him – that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.

~Swami Vivekananda~

      Several years ago, my husband and I took a nostalgic trip along Route 66 through the southwestern U.S. While in the area, we took a side trip to Grand Canyon National Park, which I had visited in my late teens. Visiting the park, I miraculously found myself completely alone walking along the South Rim of the Canyon. I use the adverb miraculously because, unlike a visit there more than fifty years before, one has a difficult time in this millennium finding a place of solitude on the South Rim. Yet, for a few brief minutes, I found that place. Walking along and pausing at the edge of the precipice, with no sound other than the ever-present wind sweeping along the canyon and the thunder in the distance, I was overcome with reverence. Reverence for the place – carved ribbons of varying shades of ochre, gray, and violet, with the scent of sage wafting on the breeze, and the ancients – whose spirits floated majestically and wisely in the air around me. It was an awe-filled moment.

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     Reverence is deep respect, approaching awe. It is a feeling or an expression of honor for someone or something. Along with other be-attitudes of gifted elders like gratitude, legacy, and finding your tribe, reverence requires bringing our gifted intensities to the moment and focusing our awareness on that for which we feel reverence. Below, are a few of the phenomena in my life that spark feelings of reverence.

     This day. The older we are, the more we need to bring reverence to each day. Opening our eyes is a gift, getting out of bed, beginning our day, these are all moments that we come to honor when we are more conscious that our days are numbered. When I bring my awareness to the first moments of the day, the words of one of my favorite poets come to mind.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings
1894-1962

     The natural world. Every day that I am able, the first thing I do each morning is to take a walk. Out the door and along our country road, I view the fields of soybeans that will soon morph into winter wheat, the line of trees with leaves changing to autumn colors, and the mackerel sky forecasting rain. The dew on the grass and the silence of the early morning air allow me to bring reverence to creation.

     Emotions. I am learning as a therapist that one of the first steps to healing is for my clients to realize that there are no bad emotions, there are just emotions. Thus, I must feel reverence for my joy as well as my anger, my fear of aging as well as my eagerness to see what happens next, my trust that all will be well as well as my caution as I enter new paths.

     Pain. Our son tells me of a drill sergeant he knew whose favorite expression was, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I believe that pain is a natural part of aging, at least for me it is. Thus, I can fight the aging pain that I feel or I can recognize it, honor it, and let it move on.

    Solitude. Most of my life I have been surrounded by people both at home and in my work life. Now more often, my days are days of solitude and recollection. Notice that I say solitude and not loneliness. Solitude is an interlude that can be revered. It is a time to do the mental work – the life review – that gives meaning to what came before and what is to come. It is a time to honor this day, my emotions, the natural world, and pain. It is blessed time.

     There are many other reasons in my life to feel reverence and I have just skimmed the surface here.  In what ways do you express reverence in your life?

Reference:

cummings, e.e. (1959). i thank You God for most this amazing. 100 Selected Poems. New York, NY: Grove Press.

Photo ~ Old Woman in Thailand by Dinhin Rakpong-Asoke on Flickr ~ Public Domain.

Photo ~ Grand Canyon View by Leonardo Stabile on Flickr ~ Public Domain.

Find Your Tribe ~ The Third Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders

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     When I was a resource teacher for gifted students it was extremely important for me to ensure that our students had the opportunity to be with like peers as much time during the school day as educators could manage. It was vital for their intellectual and emotional well-being that they interacted with others who shared their abilities, their passion for learning, as well as their sensitivities and intensities. The placement gifted students using the “sprinkle” method (placing one in one classroom and perhaps a couple in another) was tantamount to malpractice in my view. Many of us have spent our childhood thinking that there was something wrong with us because we were so different from other children, not recognizing that it was our giftedness that made us feel so isolated. When we did have the chance to congregate with others like ourselves, it was a joy to feel included. For many gifted individuals, that time does not occur until late high school, college, or later.

     Where do you feel most included – at home, in church, with your community, with other gifted individuals, with multiage groups, in diverse settings?  Adults have the freedom to choose our friendships and we tend to gravitate toward others who enjoy the same careers, hobbies, and other interests. Although difficult to an extent, for many gifted adults, like peers are not impossible to find – at work, in places of worship, in our social activities. 

      What about our gifted elders? How do they find their tribe? I propose that – similar to younger counterparts – elders may consider their tribe as composed of between one and 7.4 billion individuals. They may prefer a community of one, of a small group, of large groups, or  a global community. Allow me to explain.

     In a previous post, we referenced research that indicated that the majority of gifted individuals are introverts. Therefore, many gifted elders may be content to be a tribe of one. They are gratified in pursuing their interests and continued self-actualization without the need to socialize beyond a small group of family or friends. This is their right and, in my opinion, it is a right that needs to be honored and protected, especially in residential care facilities. Too often I see introverts who are pressured to interact in settings that do not respond to who they are under the mandate of socialization. We know that many early childhood educators oppose academic acceleration with the argument, which has been proven incorrect by research, that acceleration harms social development. In the same way, residential caregivers must understand that most gifted elders require quiet time alone and unless they show clinical signs of depression or another difficulty, they deserve the choice to decline activities without sanctions or criticism.

     Finally, my readers are probably asking why I would write that gifted elders may consider themselves as members of a tribe of 7.4 billion. That statistic represents the Earth’s current population. Once more we have to look at the familiar characteristics of gifted children in order to understand the gifted elder. We know that most gifted children have a hunger to learn about their world, have a strong sense of justice, and are concerned about problems in the world. That hunger does not stop when childhood ends. My experience following the lives of the many gifted children that I have taught and mentored demonstrates that, when given the opportunity, gifted individuals possess a lifelong dedication to learning about their world and making it a more just, healthier, and more peaceful globe. Gifted elders have so much to share in this regard when given the chance to do so.

      To conclude, my third be-attitude for gifted elders is – Find your tribe. For some this will mean reaching out globally through technology to find their like peers. For others, their community is a small social group of intimate friends, or quiet, reflective time spent alone. Indeed others may want to be a part of a larger face-to-face community. The important thing  is that we as family, friends, and caregivers assist them and creating their special community.

*Photo by Malcome Payne on Flicker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This blog post is a part of the September Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Read more about Gifted and Community by clicking on the link below.

The Second Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders ~ Being Present to Gratitude

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Gratitude*

“Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all of the way.”

from He Went to Paris by Jimmy Buffett

       In the first post in this series regarding dispositions that enhance the lives of gifted elders, we looked at the rich social legacy that many elders choose to leave as a result of their work for the common good in society. The second BE-attitude is being present to gratitude. Over the last few years, my spouse and I remarked often on how fortunate our lives have been – we have a marriage that has endured for close to 43 years in spite of many health and other difficulties, we have two wonderful sons and their families, and we had the opportunity to develop fulfilling careers. Yes, we are grateful. However, do I cultivate the disposition of being truly present to gratitude?

     I look forward toward my remaining years, which I calculate to be a maximum of twenty years, and I recognize a desire to experience gratitude with a depth and palpability that can only come from showing up and being present. In other words, rather than just “paying lip service” to gratitude, I want to live in such a way that I exude the gratefulness I feel for all of the gifts – of people, of nature, and of my own development – that I have experienced throughout my life.

     As I wrote above, I have at most twenty years remaining in my life. If I spend a mere fifteen minutes a day saying that I am grateful, I have the potential to accumulate about three months of gratitude in those twenty years. If I, however, develop a habit of being continuously present to gratitude, I multiply that time exponentially.

 6475925577_5a8cdd88c3_z  What is gratitude and what does it mean to be present? Gratitude is defined as a feeling of thankfulness. Mere thankfulness does not explain the depths of feeling many gifted individuals can experience. For me, gratitude is the feeling that overwhelms me when I become aware of the wonder of creation, when I behold the awesomeness of Nature, my spouse, my grandchild, or any number of moments in my day when the beauty of my existence washes over me in continuous, unrelenting waves. 

   As we age, a number of negatives may confront us. Among these are impending death, diminished physical and mental health, limited financial resources, loss of loved ones, and more. It is no surprise then, that so many elders are at risk of developing mood disorders. We learn from research that gratitude is one of the best defenses against mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and existential angst. Gifted elders perhaps more so that many others, due to their heightened sensitivities, experience both extremes – of sadness and of joy – much more intensely. It is my hope that all our elders have caring family and friends that help them to awaken the presence of gratitude.

   What does it mean to be present? It is to be here and to be here now.  Currently, more and more baby boomers are entering elderhood having been indoctrinated by a culture of busyness and multitasking. However, the reality is that our brain is not wired to multitask. Rather, we are wired to attend to one stimulus at a time. Thus, being present to gratitude is attending, and attending, and attending, in a succession of moments. I read an article recently by Michael Formica (2011) in which he suggested a number of steps that assist us in being present and, thus, in allowing us to cultivate the be-attitude of being present to gratitude. To paraphrase him, they are:

  • Breathing at a slow and deliberate pace, focusing on the out-breath.
  • Practicing awareness of the present moment –  where you are, what your thoughts are, what you are feeling.
  • Being a witness to yourself and what you are doing in the present moment.
  • Letting go of whatever is not in the present moment.
  • Returning to the breath when something pulls you away from the present moment. Inhale slowly, breathe out, focusing on the out-breath.

By being present and practicing gratitude, it is my belief that gifted elders will find more contentment and pleasure in their lives. I am here. I am here now and I am grateful.

Reference: 

Formica, M. J. (2011, June 11). 5 Steps for Being Present. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/201106/5-steps-being-present

*Photo: Gratitude by Joker the Lurcher on Flikr. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

** Photo: Here, now by Joanna Paterson on Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Be-attitudes of Gifted Elders ~ A Social Legacy

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My last few blog posts explored goal setting and how gifted elders might plan their remaining years in such a way that they feel a sense of satisfaction with lives of creative productivity. In the next several posts, we move from goals to dispositions. The term disposition connotes a particular temperament, stance, and internal impetus to action that reflect the character and values of an individual. I choose to think of them as Be-attitudes because these perspectives convey a sense of commitment to a way of being that is consistent and integral to who the individual is and to how the individual chooses to be.

This blog post is a part of the August Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. The topic of this month’s hop – Gifted Social Issues, was difficult to grasp in terms of gifted elders. As with so many issues, to explore the social life of the aging gifted, one must view it from a different lens. Turning the subject over in my mind, I came to perceive with more clarity the rich social gifts of gifted elders.

Just as the majority of younger gifted individuals are introverts (Burruss & Kaenzig, 1999), most aging gifted share this trait. While the young gifted person tends to have only one or two close friends and to avoid large social gatherings, preferring quiet time with a small group or choosing to withdraw for quiet time alone. However, far from becoming reclusive, they are often involved in social causes. I remember students that I have mentored who have been active in Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, environmental conservation, green architecture, and other activities that promote the public good.

 Likewise, older gifted individuals may have a small social group and prefer solitary pursuits instead of socializing. Nevertheless, in my experience and in that of many of my colleagues, we find gifted elders to be quite active in society. No, they are not your typical social butterfly, nor are they intent on adding friends and “likes” on Facebook. Rather, they are the quiet presence where tasks considered for the public good are accomplished. The following are just a few examples of my own observations of the social life of gifted elders.

  • Whenever I visit nursing homes, I see talented elders providing music, spiritual enrichment, playing games with residents, and involved in other activities.
  • Our team that prepares and serves food to the hungry at the local soup kitchen every month or two consists entirely of seniors, most of them gifted elders, and I suspect that the membership for most other teams is the same or very similar.
  • An acquaintance of mine and her spouse serve as surrogate grandparents for two children from an economically disadvantaged and dysfunctional family. They take the boys to outings and for cultural enrichment each weekend, pay for a reading teacher to work with them in the summer  (along with providing transportation for the child), and otherwise provide needed support. I know they are just two of thousands of couples throughout the country that serve in this role.
  • A local group of quilters meets regularly to create beautiful quilts to present to newborns in the community.
  • Local fish fry dinners, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, and other community events and fundraisers are staffed almost entirely by seniors.
  • I have observed gifted elders working as volunteers at every blood donation event I have attended.

This is most certainly not an exhaustive list; rather, I share a few of many facets of the social legacy of our elders. There is a multitude of other ways that gifted elders continue to contribute to the public trust. Lovecky (1986), writing of the characteristics of gifted adults, used the term entelechy to describe the inner drive that motivates gifted adults to self-actualize, to fulfill the blueprint of potentiality that is giftedness. It is my experience that our gifted elders – when given the health, strength, and opportunity – continue to fulfill their blueprint, to evolve, and to contribute to the greater good. Thus, the first be-attitude of gifted elderhood is – Leave a Social Legacy.

Reference:

Burruss, J. D. & Kaenzig, L. (1999).  Introversion: The often forgotten factor impacting the gifted. Virginia Association for the Gifted Newsletter, 21, 1. Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/introversion-the-often-forgotten-factor-impacting-the-gifted

Lovecky, D. V. (1986) Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults. Journal of Counseling and Development64, 572-575. Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/can-you-hear-the-flowers-sing-issues-for-gifted-adults

Photo: Grandmothers’ Stories by elstudio  on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This blog post is a part of the August Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Read more about Gifted Social Issues by clicking on the link below.

Goal Setting for Gifted Elders: Part 2

 2712270416_de2b2f9c95_o  In my last entry, I wrote about the importance of setting goals for gifted elders. This is especially important for those who find themselves in the midst of a transition from a busy professional life to a more relaxed agenda that retirement offers. Allow me to share a personal example. As some of my readers know, I recently completed a major goal that I set for myself when I retired. I returned to university and began a new course of study in Clinical Psychology. Having completed all requirements for the MA, I am currently awaiting temporary licensure as a Licensed Psychological Associate.  The completion of this major goal gave me pause for reflection regarding what other goals are on my “dream list.” These become my long-term goals.

      I spent an afternoon a few weeks ago thinking about goals and what amount of time might remain for me to achieve them. In view of the fact that during the past year many of our good friends and colleagues have passed on, it was a sobering reflective experience to realize that I too might pass at any time. At most, I have a couple of decades remaining in my life. Thus, I tried to picture what I would like to be doing twenty years from now. The activities that came to mind were simple and, fitting with what my age will be at that time (my nineties), realistic. I wish to find myself at leisure to read, walk, and write poetry.

      My fifteen-year goals were similar – reading, walking, and writing. As the years from the present into the future diminished, I added other activities. For example, within five to ten years, I plan to have published three additional books and will have walked a good portion of the Camino   (see my previous blog post, Walking as a Spiritual Experience). Within three years, my psychological practice should be established; and in one year, I will have, hopefully, passed the national psychology exam, the EPPP – Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. These are my long-term goals.

     My next step was to look at each long-term goal and break it down into short-term goals. Take, for example, the EPPP exam. It has eight different areas on which one is tested (e.g., Ethics, Social Psychology). Thus, it is easy to turn each of the sub-areas of the exam into short-term goals. I find it important to assign a deadline by which I will have completed studying each topic. Another vital part of goal setting is considering deadlines as sacred.

     Therefore, I have my long-term and short-term goals set. The next part of the process is taking each short-term goal and enumerating the action items or tasks necessary to complete the goal. These are the proximal  – next step – goals or tasks. Continuing with my example of studying for the EPPP, I choose an area (i.e., Ethics), and then list the necessary tasks to completion, such as gather materials, work through the content of the materials while taking notes, studying the notes and/or flashcards, and then taking several practice tests on the topic. Then I move on to the next area of study, returning periodically to what has been previously studied to refresh my knowledge.

     Gifted elders who have not made concrete plans prior to retirement, who are in residential facilities, who are in early stages of dementia, or others, may need assistance in (1) identifying and ordering their goals, (2) organizing themselves to meet their goals, and (3) acquiring adequate materials to achieve their goals. Caregivers, family, and friends can all be of assistance in helping them to set and accomplish goals. If you have a gifted elder friend in similar circumstances, spending time talking with her about her dreams for the time remaining is the first step. Afterward, following the process that I describe in this blog entry, you can be valuable in supporting your friend in planning and living joyfully over the years. 

Photo: Goal Poster by EvelynGiggles on Flicker. (CC BY  2.0).

Goal-Setting for Gifted Elders

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Pen and Journal

     In my last post I wrote of my desire to someday walk El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, in Spain. Since I am in my early 70’s, that is a fairly lofty goal. Yes, others in their seventh and eighth decades have done the nearly 500-mile trek. However, I am sure that they were in much better health and physical condition than I am. This brings me to these thoughts about goal-setting for gifted elders.

     In my view retirement can be a precarious time for seniors. Many look forward to the years following a life of work as a time that they will be able to do “all those things I never had time to do before.” Yet, the same individuals may look back after ten or fifteen years of retirement and realize that yes, perhaps they spent a bit more time with family and maybe they traveled a little. Nevertheless, the lofty goals they had set upon retirement remain unaccomplished and they find they cannot account for how they spent the time.

     Other retirees begin an entirely new venture in their senior years. They may choose, as I did, to return to school and retool themselves for a new type of work. Or, they may begin a business, develop their artistic talents, or pursue any number of new activities fulltime. Aging in the post-retirement years is a regenerative time for many gifted elders.

     What is the difference between the two groups? I am sure there are many variables that play into the life course of each individual and which affect one’s productivity. Nonetheless, it is my belief that, foremost among the differing factors is self-regulation.  In my book, Nurturing the Gifted Female, I wrote of the need for gifted females (and others!) to develop self-regulation – the ability to set goals, to understand how one learns and accomplishes tasks, to organize oneself in such a way to complete those tasks successfully, and the capacity to judge when one is successful in reaching goals.  Self-regulation is also an important construct in the lives of gifted elders.

     Some important self-regulation skills include organizing tasks, managing time conscientiously, efficiently planning and revising work as needed, and reflecting on and improving needed skills. The most important behavior for self-regulated individuals is, in my opinion, effective goal-setting.

     There are three facets to meaningful goal setting; namely, long-term, short-term, and proximal goals. For the young females in my research, long-term goals might represent those accomplishments that one wanted to achieve in, for example, a year, two years, or fifty years in the future. Because of age and time concerns, this process looks quite different in elderhood. In my own case, even five, ten, or fifteen-year goals are quite tentative. For all of us, our time on the planet is finite and for some of us, the finiteness of time is inexorably clear. So, how do we go about goal setting as a part of the aging process? In my next post, I will explain more about goal setting for gifted elders.

 Reference:

Navan, J. L. (2009). Nurturing the gifted female: A guide for educators and parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Photo: Pen and Journal, Bob AuBouchon on Flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Walking as a Spiritual Experience

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     A dream, one which I have had since I saw a news article in 1989 about John Paul II visiting the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is to walk the Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James.  The Camino, for those not familiar with it, is actually a series of pilgrimage routes originating in different parts of Europe, all of them ending at the site – the Cathedral of Santiago – where legend has it the bones of St. James are buried. Although I first learned of the Camino in my undergraduate Spanish history and literature classes, until 1989 I did not realize that it was still a viable route and that thousands of people, pilgrims and otherwise, continue to walk it each year. For some, the Way is a long hike that tests their trekking skills. For others, it is an adventure and a chance to see and learn about the cities and small towns along the way. For many, religious or otherwise, walking the Camino is a time for spiritual reflection and renewal. Add to those reasons the opportunity to meet, walk, and converse with people from all over the world, and the Camino offers much to each individual who chooses to endure the hardships and reap its gifts.
In recent years, I have talked with some who have walked the Camino or intend to walk it. My curiosity piqued, I have read books and blogs, studied websites, and imagined what it would be like to walk the most popular of the routes, the Camino Francés, which stretches for close to 500 miles across northern Spain. I find that my interest in all things Camino grows during the spring and summer when I have the opportunity to spend time walking outdoors. It is a pleasure to spend early mornings outdoors walking along our long country road and around the streets of neighborhoods that branch off the road. However, I do not know if it will ever be possible to “do the Camino” in my own elderhood.
A swimmer for most of my life, I feel most at ease and most myself in the water. When I swim laps, I launch a stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe pattern that easily repeats itself. I find it easy, once the pattern is established, to slip into a semi-meditative state. Many of my writing sessions begin in the pool, as I pick up where I left off on a piece, solve the problems that may be preventing me from continuing on in a smooth flow, and compose the next parts in my mind as I stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe.
Walking is more difficult for me, especially as I age and aches and summer heat make it more difficult to enjoy the activity. When I walk, I find that on good days my feet create a rhythm that can easily lull me into a reflective state similar to swimming. In fact, I have experienced moments of awe and awareness of the mystery on past walks. I shared earlier in this blog of times that I was awed with a feeling of the oneness and spirit of universal love during a walk along a different country road. I read recently that others as well have experienced similar, transcendent moments.
Lately, in the step, step, step, of my walking cadence, I engage in a practice of imaginative contemplation that centers on the Camino. There are times that I look over the golden field of winter wheat beside the road and try to transport my mind to a wheat field on the Castilian Meseta. Or climbing a hill in the southern heat that leaves me glistening, I see myself climbing one of the taxing altos along the Way. When I walk through the green-soaked glade at the bottom of a hill, I bring to remembrance pictures of the Camino and the woods of Galicia. No, I am not really doing the Camino. However, I find that through my imaginings I am able to bring to mind those pilgrims who are currently trekking across Spain and perhaps I can, through my thoughts, send them a small amount of energy for the next hill or mountain.
Turning to gifted elders, it is so important that they have the freedom and strength to continue walking as long as possible. I remember my mother-in-law, who had lost so many of her abilities due to Alzheimer’s disease.  Still with the use of a special walking device that protected her from falling, allowed her to hold onto the sides and to sit when fatigued, she walked the halls of the residence from morning to night. As I am with swimming, it is in walking that so many of our elders are most content.

In my next blog, I will share with you some understanding of goal-setting behavior that has grown out of my musings. ¡Buen Camino!

Reference:

Caminoist: Pilgrim Adventures of Sandy Brown. Sprituality – https://caminoist.org/spirituality-of-the-camino/

Photo – Camino de Santiago en Burgos.  by aherrero on Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0).

Photo – Paisaje del Camino de Santigo by compostelavirtual.com on Flickr.com  (CC BY 2.0).