Via Basel: Dilemmas of Later Years
Recently I’ve been experiencing a certain unusual angst. On weeks that I have few planned events or obligations re: work, family, lectures etc…I find myself a bit anxious instead of being more relaxed and enjoying the freedom associated with a blank slate. Over many decades, my life was planned and structured in many ways and forms, and that allowed me to get to where I am today. For which I am grateful and satisfied. Of course there were periods of extended “free time” or “rest and relaxation time” but even these were somehow pre-planned.
The last few years after a major reduction in my workload and especially since COVID, a new reality has emerged along with a new perspective. I am encountering more weeks like the one above. Now, I acknowledge concepts like “nature abhors a vacuum” and “lack of physical and mental activity leads to atrophy in both” and these are certainly true from a socio-biological point of view. Waiting for the “void” to be filled can itself be fun and full of possibilities and surprises.
Yet I keep pondering the ongoing tension between effort and flow, willing and letting go, and ultimately doing versus being. As a meditation practitioner and teacher I emphasize flow, letting go, and non-doing. But that is because the predominant and overwhelming tendencies in our world today are maximum effort, holding on to stuff, etc., as well as excessive doing.
In my last column “Aging and Meaning” I alluded to similar issues, but it felt complicated and confusing to some. I agree, but I had just read Cormic McCarthy’s Stella Maris. Blame it on him.
Finally, for some of us in the later stages of life, there may still be some guilty feelings of sloth and non-accomplishment. I, for one, intend to work hard with great effort to get rid of these sensations.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, public speaking, teaching, and social engagement.