Archives for category: Retirement

There is a simplicity in silence. Sitting watching the rain over the last two days reminded me of the fullness of life there is in apparently ‘doing’ nothing. Yet watching the rain fall upon a garden bleached brown by the lovely summer to date, awakened again memories of sitting as a child conscious of nothing more then the present moment.

Of course as a contemplative the disciplined practice of silence is an essential element of my daily rhythm of life. I deploy the tool of Centering Prayer as my springboard into silence. For silence can be approached along a number of pathways. The place for silence is growing in importance for as a society we are increasingly turning to noise to distract us from the stresses life presents. I have been surprised over recent years the number of car radios that continue to play even as I travel as a passenger. We talk, yet the radio is a perpetual background noise, filing any silence between our conversation. For others social media affords the suitable distraction. I will turn on the TV instinctively when wanting to relax. Of course all such methods are passive rather than active; I am the object, not the subject of such activity.

I wonder just how lost I am as I wade through yet another Netflix box set. The story lines are much the same, just located in a different context. And I’m amazed at the amount of what I would call ‘soft porn’ has crept onto my screen. I cannot see what additional value or context it affords the plot. Of course all this is entering through my eye-gate and is being processed somewhere in my brain. To good or ill effect I am uncertain, but fear the latter.

Silence is a practice best served without distractions. For those familiar with Centering Prayer it is by use of a prayer word that the individual seeks to refocus upon God when the mind consistently seeks to distract with a myriad of unrelated thoughts. The mind never stops, therefore this constant traffic noise of random thoughts will never go away. Yet learning to abide in silence is of increasing importance in value as we age and have more time on our hands and less energy for activity.

Another favoured route is to use Ignatian techniques that utilise the imagination. This means our mind is employed in directed activity to serve our desire to make use of the silence. These meditative approaches, as distinct from contemplation, enable us to direct the minds creativity to serve a divine purpose.

For me I have discovered an increasing desire for more silence as I’ve applied myself to contemplation. Rather than reading I seek time to be still, silent and rested in the divine presence. The simplicity is the very fact that I need little to sustain me in such a space. I emerge sometimes frustrated for managing my forever active mind has proved draining. Yet, then I remind myself I am being hijacked by a sense, deeply embedded in the human psyche, that time somehow has to produce results. Time spent in silence is its own result. It demands no ancillary product.

So gazing at the rain falling from the sky was a valuable lesson recovered from my childhood practice. I do indeed need to become a child again to approach God in any meaningful way.

IF you are interested in discovering more about the simplicity of silence consider our day retreat in the Oratory on Friday October 19, TURN UP THE QUIET’. A Beginner’s Guide to Contemplation‘.

Statistics reveal that ageing well is fast becoming the major topic for conversation. The ‘silver hair‘ market is a prime target for those seeking to monetise age. Many in the UK are retiring with a respectable pension, often a combination of private and company pots carefully invested. The generation of which I’m a part has seen house prices rise astronomically across their working life creating a very healthy tangible asset. Yet, some critical questions remain.

When non contributory state pensions were introduced in 1948, life expectancy in the UK was sixty eight. So retirement at sixty five left the taxpaying workforce to fund a three year state pension on average. Today life expectancy is around eighty, even though recent reports show the rate of increase in life expectancy is dropping in the UK. It is still rising historically, increasing by two years every decade over the last century.

This poses a challenge for us all. My generation is the first sandwich generation caring for children and ageing parents simultaneously. The current preferred method of managing old age through a network of expensive homes is probably as unsustainable economically as it is unpalatable socially. I’ve observed my mum become institutionalised within a year. Yes, at one level her anxiety about daily living that caused her to select a care home as an option have reduced. Yet, her limitless ability to find things to worry about has not deserted her. She dislikes the food, but fails to complain due to an unrealised fear of penalties. She complains about staff who change regularly and who she struggles to understand. As a business I guess it offers the ideal scenario. Hi yield and low cost meaning healthy profits.

But my mum is of a generation who enjoys disposable income. I won’t enjoy that luxury. And my daughter struggles to conceive of owning her own house, one financial nest egg gone, and she won’t expect to inherit anything from me as it will be absorbed no doubt in dealing with my own old age requirements, albeit this will by preference be in some hermit house.

So it is perhaps time to engage in an effective debate about ageing. The church, of which I have been involved in various forms for forty five years, is also at a loss when it comes to managing the ageing issue. It still believes it’s future is in directing its primary resources towards the young, who in UK are a declining percentile of the population. Whilst society’s fixation with sixty five as the retirement age means that older people are not effectively deployed in church life. This as much the responsibility of the oldies themselves, with their misdirected love affair with the idea of ‘retirement’, as it is of church leadership.

Here in the Oratory we are opening up this discussion as we gather people for retreats, seminars and through coaching. The tripartite life (education, career, retirement) is over. We now need to expand our engagement in life to reflect increased longevity. What’s more as has been said, ‘People yearn for eternity when the struggle to know what to do with a wet Sunday afternoon’! This is the testimony of many ageing people with whom I interact. We explore building an effective, holistic retirement plan to realise dreams and recognising the inner desire to continue t love and serve God.

Planning to make sense of faith and life through the autumn years is a key element of life here in the Oratory. If you want to join in drop me an email. I am also thrilled to have been invited to facilitate a round-table discussion on mortality and morbidity this autumn and if this interests you then email me for details.

Ageing well, in the full life God offers, is central to our journey here in the Oratory. We have taken a lead and so do be in touch if you want to explore ageing and continuing to serve God in the outstanding years of your life yet to come.

I was speaking with someone last week passing through one of life’s many transitions, and we identified the challenge of facing our fear.

Fear is an unpleasant feeling that troubles our whole physiology. It is born of something that lies beyond our control, often in the future and yet it troubles us deeply in the NOW. It impacts mood and our ability to get on with life. It dominates our thinking and can steal our sleep.

We all face fear of various degrees at different times. I well remember my mum expressing her deep fear of how to cope as the undertakers removed dad’s body from her home. There was terror in her eyes, even as she attempted to engage with the grief she felt from the loss of her husband of sixty three years.

Whilst that’s extreme, many focus upon their anxiety of what tomorrow might NOT bring due to lack of wealth, health or stealth. Problem is, as the gospel makes clear, I can only worry about today, since I’ve not yet reached tomorrow. Most fear it seems to me is a consequence of future thinking.

Money, or lack of it, is a common cause of fear. However, if I look back over my many years that have brought me to this point I have not been without all that I’ve needed. True I may have aspired to more or coveted by comparison with others, yet how can I possibly complain? A roof over my head, food to eat and the second of two perfect marriages, can a guy get any luckier?

Fear stalks us because it directs our attention to serve a situation that has not, and may never, arrive. I remember taking Katey, my first wife, with me on a working trip to Zimbabwe. We took some holiday whilst there and spent our tenth wedding anniversary up a tree house on safari. And this was a real luxury tree house let me tell you. We couldn’t afford the trip on paper, yet had we waited for when we could, Katey would never have enjoyed it, dying from MS in her early fifties. At that stage we didn’t know of her future MS diagnosis.

The future is a fickle mistress to serve. I know many people who even in their eighties are worried their savings will run out. They’ve saved faithfully for a rainy day, and failed to enjoy all the sunny ones now behind them. I know in actuarial terms I have just a 9% chance of reaching 100 years old. Making provision for my nineties is not on my ‘To Do’ list!

It is when facing our fear that we address the one limitation we place upon life’s enjoyment. We face it only once we acknowledge it, own it and choose to share it with people we trust. There may be real substance to our fear, yet we can do little about resolving our future apart from living as best we can today in both the service of God and of others.

 

I have concluded after numerous conversations that there are the three essentials of prayer.

Too often prayer is a seemingly endless monotone of requests, concerns, hopes and fears directed broadly at some entity we trust is God, or in reality someone or something that might come to our aid. The ‘God’ persona is regarded as some form of life belt, required as we struggle to stay afloat in stormy seas, a means of escape from an inevitable drowning.

This, of course, may well reflect our point of entry into God. For God is often ill considered when the yacht’s intact and the cruise in full swing. Crisis creates quasi believers of us all. And why not? Better to grasp for a life belt in despair, than quietly slip beneath the waters of obliteration.

What is Prayer?

In fact prayer is a practical and precise response in search of a God who I desire to encounter. There are no guarantees! I may simply be ‘whistling Dixie’. For God is sought and found in faith, and faith is literally without substance, built solely upon the insubstantial foundation of inner resolve. In other words it can only ever be established a priori. For faith is to knowledge, what skill is to sport, intuition + practice = Performance.

So there are the three essential of prayer for anyone who desires to explore the unknowable God proclaimed by the Christian church for two millennia, and Judaism for quite some time before that. Today let’s look at the first of these three essentials; Stillness.

Prayer Essential #1: Stillness

Stillness is the absence of motion. Of course this might recall the game you may have played as a child called statues. Yet, it’s not stillness in the sense of being perfectly motionless physically. It is the stillness of mind and heart, the management of the distractions that flood in once we choose to be still.

Of course the mind is never still. It is processing millions of bytes of data that our senses send for interpretation. The brain is the control centre for our life, and must itself learn the art of stillness. The discipline of stillness trains us to manage distraction. For many people the thought of stillness proves highly problematic. Years of activity including work, family, maintenance, hobbies, all take their toll. The brain demands stimulation which each of these activities offered in spades. This is something stillness apparently fails to offer. We are restless within ourselves when forced to do nothing through periods of illness or when retirement creates a breach in our life time routine of work and the longed for rest proves a challenge to occupy effectively and satisfactorily.

Stillness is a process through which we grow to know ourselves. In stillness we grow content within ourselves and with our own company. Stillness reduces our constant need for distractions to sustain us. Into that stillness we can find the space and the time to wait upon God. For God is apparently elusive, and never seeks to compete with our preferred distractions. As in every relationship, for that is what we can enjoy with God, the party to that relationship demands my attention and is wounded at every distraction. Even those distractions I foolishly convince myself are for their primary benefit. Most often they are for my own satisfaction.

The Practice of Stillness

Oratory Garden

This practice requires three steps.

  1. A heart’s desire to move away from dependency upon distraction. What I call our inner spiritual Intuition.
  2. The concentrated discipline of taking time each day for short periods of Stillness. What I call Practice.
  3. Living below the constant rumble of traffic noise as the brain processes all that incoming data, whilst you disengage from interacting with it and find a sacred space into which you invite God. What I call Performance.

There are tools to accompany our search of this stillness such as breathing prayer, a long practiced form of centring self on God. Details of breath prayer are available from the Oratory.

It’s also worth ditching portable electronic devices for each period of stillness. Oh, how mobile devices have increased our fascination with distraction whilst crowding out yet another space for stillness.

Conclusion

What I can say is this first step takes time and demands my full attention. It can prove painful, for stillness is nowhere practiced in a society that is forever speeding up and driving each one of us to feel a loss of self worth if we are not ourselves busy, where busy has become a false synonym for productive.

Essentials #2 & #3 to follow.

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