Finding Sanctuary

Belintash Sanctuary*

    I am sitting beside a pool at a southern resort. Surrounding me are the sounds of children’s voices, country music, quiet ripples, and the more insistent splashing of water. I am in sanctuary.  The children’s voices, country music, and splashing of water do not distract and the ripples serve as a soft accompaniment to my meditation. Sanctuary is a place I seek more often as I age. Sanctuary is a space that, in my opinion, is a right of all gifted elders.

    Sanctuary most often connotes a sheltered, protected place. In my mind it is not necessarily a physical place, rather it is the placid inner space in which we rearrange the furniture of our mind in such a way that we create harmony and quietude.  Terry Hershey, in his book, Sanctuary: Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life, wrote that finding sanctuary is intentional. It is a time when we search for the sacred in the ordinary; in Hershey’ words, “refilling of the chalice of being with spirit.” 

    The lives of gifted elders are often filled with the directives of others, telling us to eat well, to take it easy, not to worry. In addition, for some gifted elders as they age, cognitive changes may cause anxiety as they struggle to maintain an optimum level of functioning. Constant noise in the residential care environment also contributes to difficulty in finding one’s healing balance. These factors and others highlight the need for gifted elders to find the restorative benefits that sanctuary offers.

   Where do I find sanctuary as a gifted elder? First and foremost I find any natural setting allows me to quiet my mind, gather my thoughts, and engage in soul care.  There are several favorite spots for my reverie, our front porch or a deck overlooking water, a bench in a clearing in our local arboretum, or walking along a beach. I am sure that you, my reader, can add other perfect spaces to the list.

    However, even when I have no access to the natural world, sanctuary is an intentional choice I find I need to make often, and more so as I age. It is there that I can sort out the realities of aging and process the losses of friends and family as well as the physical and mental losses that aging brings. In sanctuary I can learn to accept the “never-agains” along with the gifts of elderhood. I make peace with myself and with the world.

Where do you find Sanctuary?

Reference:

Hershey, T. (2015). Sanctuary: creating a space for grace in your life. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

*Photo by Filip Stoyanov, Belintash Sanctuary  on Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Image may contain: text
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page September 2017 Blog Hop on Philosophical/Spiritual Anxiety. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted  Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

Gifted Elders ~ Resilience

Previous posts addressed reverence, gratitude, and other Be-Attitudes of gifted elders. In this post, I chose to deliberate a crucial construct and posture that enhances the lives of gifted elders–resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of difficulties. Picture a rubber band in its resting state. That can be a metaphor for the gifted elder as she addresses everyday needs, engaging in problem solving and future planning. Now imagine the rubber band being stretched to the point of breaking. The metaphor changes and we see a gifted elder being stretched to his limit by the phenomena that accompany aging. A few examples of the factors that can stress older adults are sleep difficulties, the aches and pains of aging muscles and joints, financial concerns, the loss of friends and loved ones, and perhaps terminal disease. 

At this point in our example, if one end of the rubber band is released, it snaps back into its original state. However, to picture this snapping back in our gifted elders may not be the best scenario in the face of stress; because trauma followed by a rapid return to status quo without processing the depth of the cognitive disruption may create conditions for acute or long term stress. Thus, contrary to a rapid release of difficulty, resilience in my view is more a matter of using one’s coping strengths to facilitate an easing of stress, creative problem solving, and the recovery of a perspective of inner strength. Edwards, Hall, and Zautra (2015) wrote that,  “Resilience thinking allows older adults to accept the wear and tear of aging, while also dealing with problems and crises – like losing a loved one, spousal caregiving, or acquiring a disability – in ways that leave them feeling stronger than they would have been if they had not encountered those crises. In resilience thinking, failure leads to growth” (p 1). 

What does resilience look like in the gifted elder?  Resilience is my brilliant ninety year-old friend who, despite loss, frailty and pain, continues to review his important body of work, making sure that colleagues have the needed notes and analyses in their hands. Resilience is my friend reeling from a life of coping with trauma, a university student in her sixties, who is of creating an affordable and sustainable residential living community for creative elders. Resilience is a health provider who, while healing from traumatic illness and surgery, spends hours “off the clock” supporting and allaying the fears of patients. These are just a few examples of strength and coping that I witness every day in our gifted elders.

What are ways to foster resilience?  Edwards and colleagues suggested that several characteristics and behaviors foster resilience in elders, including optimism, effective coping, personal connections, a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and a healthy diet/active lifestyle. I concur that all of these factors are important to building resilience in my observations. In addition, gratitude, mindfulness, the opportunity to continue creative productivity, and a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature are other aspects that I would mention as a result of my research and writing on gifted elders. 

Returning to the metaphor of the rubber band, the resilient gifted elder is one who stretches herself in response to stressful life events, always having within the resources to gently relax, return to center, and regain a sense of awe and peace.

Reference: Edwards, E. S., Hall, J., & Zautra, A. (2015). Resilience in Aging. Elder Care: A Resource for Interprofessional Providers. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/kDYJEQ.

Image: Rubber Band  Ball, by Michael Thompson on Flickr, 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image may contain: text

This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2017 Blog Hop on Elder Gifted Issues. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

A Winter’s Night

9033955690_52776df87b_z

Dear Readers,

   As I write this note, we are just days away from the winter solstice. This winter and the spring to follow will be times of creative productivity in which I will be completing a manuscript that hopefully will become a published book in late 2017 or early 2018. It is because of this obligation that you have not seen recent posts. As well, throughout the winter I will not be posting here on a regular basis. I hope that you, my readers, will bear with me throughout my absence. Know that, even as I write my book, I will be thinking of new ideas to include here in the future. 

   In the meantime, I wish you all lives filled with love and creative productivity throughout these months and beyond. May the still, quiet beauty of a winter’s night be your inspiration, your joy, your peace! 

Abundant blessings, 

Joy

Photo: Campus scape winter 2011. hu album on Flickr (https://goo.gl/aPzHLx).  (CC BY 2.0)

The Fifth Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders ~ Nurture Your Poetic Soul, Emotional Intelligence, a Request

16356090122_7ecaae575e_b

The past summer and early fall was a grace-filled time for me. Not only was I gifted with several weeks to spend with our treasured grandson; additionally, I had the chance to re-connect with some very dear friends from years ago. The lives of the six members of their family life are interwoven with mine into cherished memories – as students, as friends, as participants in our wedding. After a lovely, fall lunch in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York with the oldest daughter, she shared with me the poem below by Mary Oliver.

Mindful

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

     I confess that I have not been nurturing my poetic soul much lately. I have not spent the time lost in words, or nature, or images. It takes the jarring of lines such as those above to bring me back to the hunger for poetry that needs to be satisfied in order to restore my balance. Other paths to nourishing our poetic souls are found in music, in art, in any of the creative worlds, either natural or crafted by humans. In gratitude for the student who brought me back, I offer this as the fifth be-attitude of gifted elders – nurture your poetic soul. 

What about you? Do you feel as I do? How many times do we stop in the middle of a crowd, where we perceive the light resting softly on a branch, a blossom, or a sculpture? How often do we listen to the feelings forming words inside us that create the images and metaphors that describe the awe that we feel as a result of what we behold? When do we take the time to sit in the warmth of the waning autumn sun with the lines of our favorite poet before us? If you are held in the grasp of the present business of our lives – as am I, probably not often enough.

     The theme for this month’s Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop is Emotional Intelligence, defined by Mayer and Salovey (1997, p. 5) as, ” the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”  In my experience, poetry is a direct conduit to the depths of our emotions and to my intellectual growth. This may not be true for all, since individuals have different strengths and therefore, I believe that we each access our emotions in different ways – through our hands, through our ears, through our other senses, through other media, and in other ways.

That brings me to the request I have for you, my readers. I am interested in learning how gifted elders nourish their poetic soul and access their emotional intelligence. Would you share your stories with me? They can be your own or stories of others, elders who you have known. Please feel free to write them here by attaching a comment, or send me a personal message on Facebook (Navan Gifted). I will not share your words without your consent and all stories will remain anonymous. Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing!

References:

Oliver, M. (2005). Mindful. In Why I wake early. Boston MA: Beacon Press.

Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence?  In P. Salovey & D.J. Sluyter (Eds.) Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 2-31).  New York: Basic Books.

Photo credit: Poetry, Riccardo Cupinni, on Flicker, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

blog_hop_nov16_emotional_intelligence_small

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

Reverence ~ The Fourth Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders

214712424_d2fb6d6aa8_b

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.

5784439427_6607a87574_z

     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

11409948174_4a749d2fdd_kThree Older People Talk*

     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

5434162347_48cb7baf62_b

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).