Transitions into new beginnings

Consolidation: “The action or process of combining a number of things into a single more effective or coherent whole.”                  Oxford Dictionary

Change is challenging for most of us. One of our most significant ones is transitioning from our career into what is still referred to by the inept term “retirement”. Our identity is heavily invested in our work for many of us.

Today’s retirees are younger physically, mentally, and spiritually. As the year 2011 began, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. From that point on, every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65 in the US. A similar proportion of Canadians will join them.

Having come of age in affluent times, boomers have high expectations of life. Consequently many of us don’t feel particularly positive about aging, worrying about finances and quality of life as we become elders. I share these fears. What stands out for me the most is life purpose. How to make my life meaningful in the years I have left. How to hold onto my hopefulness.

The most important thing in aging is to think increasingly seriously about how we want to use the time left, says my wise partner, Don. “I know it sounds like someone with a fatal diagnosis”, he says, “but it applies equally to those of us who do not have that. This applies in both broader strokes and to this very day, right now.”

Transitioning with grace is about connecting with what matters to us on a deep level. The process won’t necessarily be seamless, it may take years. There will be many bumps on the road. Because change does not happen in a straight line.

I’m an example of one’s identity being tied up in career. My work as a counsellor in a large Vancouver agency, followed by a return to the Sunshine Coast to a small counselling and coaching practice, along with authoring two books, gave me much purpose.

During that time there were three trips to India travelling and volunteering and one to Southeast Asia, combined with overseeing my mother’s care and visiting with her. Life was rich and I was engaged.

In late 2013 we became part of a group sponsoring a Tibetan family in our community through Canada’s Tibetan Resettlement Project, that is bringing 1000 Tibetan refugees to Canada from remote northeast India.

Last year I began to wind down my practice and to process the disappointment over it not growing the way I had anticipated. Added to that was the difficulty of marketing self-published books. Then, this January, we went off to India, on the odd trip I documented in two previous blogs, clearly part of our process.

I needed to close the door on what might have been before another door could open. As Alexander Graham Bell so aptly put it: “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

It has taken me fifteen months of processing to reach the point of moving on. It’s been a time of wondering, of reviewing, of literally wandering, sometimes in a what felt like a vacuum.

When we returned to Canada in May from the India/Ireland trip, the weather was warm, and I spent months sitting on the back deck, enjoying my garden. My friend Alma, the psychic who did the amazing channelling for An Indian Sojourn, told me quite firmly, through her guides, that I needed an overhaul, and should  do nothing for several months. Then it would be time to “honour my gifts” and begin to help others again.

This time of endings and of processing what had been, the unusual trip we took, followed by months of apparently “doing nothing” has been a period of consolidation for me, and I am now ready to slowly move into new projects. This new chapter incorporates what I’ve loved and enjoyed in the past, what has fed me, into a new way of being in the world.

For me those things are meditation, prayer, walking in nature, yoga, practicing energy work, volunteering, writing and renewing my commitment to music.

Internallized ageism is  a problem for me at times, and I’m sure for many of us. So I do my best to remain open to new opportunities, listening to my internal wisdom when it pushes me to try some new challenge, like singing in the Handel’s Messiah chorus this Christmas.

Everyone’s path is different. But I think most of us would agree that it’s very important to do what we really enjoy, at our own tempo, and to spend our time with people we enjoy and care about.

As my dear friend Rasheda, in her late seventies said to me recently, “Do everything you want to do now, because later you’ll want to but won’t be able to.”

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Good Times Too in Dharamsala

Although our trip did not meet our expectations, there were some memorable times in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala. A road trip with our busy Tibetan doctor friends to their older son’s residential school and to a vast, outdoor zoo was a pleasant day. Also visits to their home in the Men-Tsee-Khang Medical Centre’s staff housing were, as always relaxing and heartwarming. We’ve been there so many times over that it feels like a deja vu to sit in their living room, with its wide screen tv showing Dalai Lama footage, while Dekyi, and sometimes her old Mom, sometimes Khenrab, prepare a Tibetan lunch or dinner for us. We’ve had the privilege of seeing the children grow into fine young people over the last five years.

Also we connected several times with another Tibetan family with whom we have a deep heart bond, despite the lack of shared language with most family members. We met both the mother, who sold her handmade bracelets on the street, and the eldest son, at the Hope Centre where we volunteered, in 2009, but we did not get the family connection until 2012. Kelo and I were overjoyed to have a translator to speak through in her son. Our non-verbal communication was loving, but only went so far.

The family is very traditional, most of the adult children are monks and nuns. The eldest son has recently disrobed to run a business to support his aging parents. Former nomads, the father from a noble family, they’ve been out of Tibet for almost 10 years, but with their traditional dress and devout ways they seem like relative newcomers to Dharamsala.

We reconnected with S, a Christian Indian woman, a widow, who begs in McLeod Ganj. S supports her two children back home in the state of Bihar by doing this work, and is currently putting her daughter through nursing school. (She receives more money, and a reliable income this way, as some employers don’t pay up). One Sunday she invited us to her place in Lower Dharamsala. S had told us she lived in a “tent house”, but when she proudly took us to her home in the downtown area, we were shocked at it’s sparseness. Set on a cement pad, the walls actually were blue plastic tarps. Her bed was a pad on the floor, with a small table to hold her food and cooking implements. The public washroom was steps away, with toilets and showers. At night her two male friends, also from Bihar, slept on the cement pad outside her home. It was apparent that S has many friends in the community who care about her. When she goes to Bihar, everything is in place when she returns.

Our good friend Choezom, who we met in 2009 at the Hope Centre, is a strong, independent woman. She lived with her sister until she married and emigrated to France. Intelligent and enterprising, Choezom has found a variety of work in this area of high unemployment, recently studying hairdressing. On this visit she brought a former client to us, a man who needed financial help to attend computer school. We began a crowdfunding campaign on our return home, but his family in Tibet were harassed by the Chinese authorities, so we had to terminate it.

At Pema Thang Guesthouse, where we spent most of our six weeks, we made some new friends. The owner, a singer, is a very westernized Tibetan, having travelled the world giving Tibetan concerts, and before that running a restaurant in Kathmandu. Before we left she told me they had a shrine right there in the hotel, the room where a very evolved monk spent the last four months of his life, after 30 plus years in a mountain hut. Later that day Don and I had the privilege of sitting in the room, soaking up the tranquil, still energy of the monk’s presence, his energy still very much there.

We met few new people on our 2015 visit to McLeod Ganj, our fourth, because we were not able to do volunteer work as expected, however, soaking up the healing Buddhist energy of the town and reconnecting with friends was a gift, as always.

Ellen Besso is a life coach, counsellor, author & energy worker. Her new work combines her newly emerging High Heart Chakra work, EMDR, Reiki & Trager. Ellen’s books, An Indian Sojourn and Surviving Eldercare, can be purchased through Amazon.

Ellen lives on the West Coast of British Columbia and is available for in person or telephone sessions. You can contact her through the blog comment section or email her at: ellenbesso@gmail.com.