Category: Sharper brains (page 1 of 3)

What you do (don’t) want.

You’d like to be thinner, but you enjoy pretty good health.

The car is really boring, but it’s paid for. 

He’s doesn’t share your values, but he’s willing to help in an emergency.

The fog is too heavy to see through, but the golden and red leaves covering the path under your feet are so lovely.

You’d really rather be over there, but you’re okay here.

It’s enough to make you crazy.  This whole back and forth of what we want, what we need and what we be better be careful we ask for.  Cause we might get it.

They say being able to delay gratification is a sign of maturity.  But what about the yearning for it that won’t go away?  The incessant buzzing like a mosquito in your ear that keeps telling you hey, you’re supposed to be someplace else.  Doing something else.  With someone else.  Living this other life.  You know, the one you live in your head.

Is it enough to practice gratitude every day?  Or do we have to go deeper….finding the shutoff valve in the very back of our head where our parents’ voices, our teachers’ voices, and whoever else we’ve invited to take up space keep telling us how it all should be.  As my mother used to say, “how the cow ate the cabbage.”

Technology isn’t much help.  Even though we’re boomers and we lived many years not having so many things at our fingertips, we’re getting spoiled too.  A recent Psychology Today article touched on how so many younger people have been conditioned to think everything comes as quick and easy as a Google search. Like relationships:

“Young people are lacking a sense of meaning and feeling unsatisfied at a deep level. Simultaneously, there has been a deterioration in the depth, reliability, and connectedness of friendships and relationships in general.  The reason, in part, for these unfortunate changes is that we have taken the values and expectations that we have learned through our relationship with technology, and applied them to all of life. And yet, immediacy and ease, as values for the more profound aspects of our existence, don’t work.”

Things take effort.  Change can hurt.  It’s not easy to get in shape.  Get a better job.  Make a scary move.  Cut all your hair off and dye your head pink.  Whatever it is, it’s not just going to happen.  You have to put in the effort.

Maybe sometimes the real lesson comes in just sitting in confusion.  Enduring the anxiety that arises when the way ahead is not clear.  Actually being still.

As Wendell Berry says:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

Could that be true?  If so, it’s actually kind of encouraging.  Because instead of feeling like you’re at the end of the road, it means there’s another path ahead.  One that will take you somewhere new and maybe unexpected…but maybe exactly where you need to be.

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit and think about it.  Go out and get busy.”

       Dale Carnegie

 

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Sharpening our 50+ brains.

 

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What’s a 6-letter word that means peaceful?

Silent? No, that won’t fit. Dreamy? No, not unless you’re talking like a teenager in the 1950s. Wow, do I remember watching those Beach Blanket movies…I think “dreamy” was all Gidget ever said….let’s see….6 letters…oh wait…it’s placid. Yes, that fits nicely. Wasn’t there a movie about a giant alligator that somehow migrated to Lake Placid? Who was in that again? Bridgett Fonda? Isn’t she the daughter of that guy who rode the motorcycle in the desert with Jack Nicholson? Boy, I’d love to visit the desert again….

Think I can’t keep my mind still? You’re right. But that’s a good thing. Just working a crossword puzzle forces my mind to reach back, make connections, think about new things and remember. All great exercises for my over-50-and-tired synapses.

A crossword puzzle is just one form of mental aerobics. Even better for a 50+ brain is learning something completely new. (And no, I’m not talking about how to program your new cell phone. For just a moment, let’s branch out a bit further.)

Like learning how to speak French. Taking a course in Native American culture. Enrolling in a ceramics course. Tackling Bach on the piano. Studying the classics.

Things that give your noggin a real workout.

 

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Learning new things is important as we boomers get older. But so is working our muscles.

Reports have been coming out lately saying, “sitting is the new smoking.” We just plain sit too much. Whether it’s at a desk, on the couch or even on a bench in the park, we tend to not realize how much time is going by. The good news is the same reports tell us to counteract the effects of all that sitting, all we need to do is get up at least once an hour and move about—get the blood flowing, the oxygen moving through our lungs and waking up our brains.

Exercise increases serotonin in the brain, which helps us think more clearly. (I can use that.) It’s good for fighting off depression, and helps us not be as likely to start an argument or react to a stressor. (For example, opening my cable bill.) It helps produce more of those brain cells that impact memory. It even can help make us more creative.

We joke about losing brain cells as we age, but it’s really more a matter and needing a bit more stimulation to catch our attention: like brighter light, louder volume, and more intense flavors to awaken our taste buds. I base this on nothing but my personal experience but since my 40s, I crave spicy foods. The hotter the salsa the better, which actually is good news, as studies tout chili peppers’ power to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, prevent stomach ulcers, boost immunity, and help lower blood pressure.

Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory properties that help protect diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (I had to mention this because I’m craving cinnamon toast at this very second. Hey, it’s my blog.)

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You can  continue to build and grow your brain no matter what your age.

It’s all about synapses and neurons and acetylcholine receptors and well, you get the idea.  Even something as simple as writing your name with your left hand if you are usually right-handed….see how different that feels?  Your brain is learning something new.

That’s one reason behind the push at many retirement communities to include lifelong learning on the list of amenities. These communities encourage residents to take classes, participate in activities, and access university or college libraries. You can finally study the works of Mark Twain, decipher Wall Street or explore constellations in the night sky.

Some senior living communities have the advantage of being located on or near a university campus, while others have built relationships with area colleges and encourage faculty members to conduct on-site lectures and seminars.

The more you learn, the more you think. The more you think, the harder your brain works. And that’s smart aging! And a great way to rock the wrinkle.

 

” To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy, busy, busy.

When did we get so busy?

Seriously.  When was it?  

Remember when you could get through a week, a day, an hour without checking the calendar?  Without looking at your phone to see where you were supposed to be?  Without having to respond to someone’s request for a call or meeting or visit?

How can it suddenly be Sunday night and still there is a stack of magazines and newspapers you want to read, that are dated several days before?  Why is the house never clean?  Where is that stack of mail you were definitely going to sort through?

How can there be so much to do, yet even when it’s done, we don’t feel like we’ve really done anything that matters?

Have we traveled somewhere new?  No.

Have we learned something truly important?  Probably not.

Have we impacted someone’s life?  Highly doubtful most days.

And in the midst of it all, when we feel our reserves are running low, and we actually try to sit still, decompress, breathe deeply and withdraw from the world, why are we bombarded by messages and emails and tweets that demand to know why we aren’t responding?

Think of the pioneers.  People who got up at 4 a.m. and went in the fields to plow, cut lumber, wash clothes, feed the chickens and in general toil to the point of exhaustion.  They knew how to work hard.  And they need when to rest.  And I have a feeling they all understand how important it was to rest when they could.

We seem to have forgotten that.  And for sure, we boomers know better.

Work is good.  Feeling productive is wonderful.  Some weeks are crazy.  But in the midst of it all, one thing does not change:  we have to rest.  We have to recharge.  We have to let our minds settle.

When we don’t, our motors burn out.   We get angry, depressed, and we can’t be happy.

Chances are, you’ve put in many years of working late.  Or raised children without many nights’ sleep.  Or composed a symphony or graded papers or sewed a prom dress long after you’ve reached exhaustion. You pushed yourself many times.  And you survived.

But now, maybe it’s time to take a look at what is keeping you busy now.

Is it really that important?

Can’t the call wait?

Does the email have to be answered right this minute?

Does it really matter if you don’t make up your mind right now?

Maybe take a moment.  Maybe pretend the phone didn’t ring.  Maybe for just a few minutes, or a day, or a weekend, be a pioneer.  Work hard, then sit and rest.  Listen to the birds.

And is those around you don’t understand, do it anyway.

Listen to your spirit.

Enough.   Get busy just being.

You might be amazed at what you’ve been missing.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

        Anonymous

 

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Being Where We Are.

Are you here?

Right now, are you here…or are you somewhere else?

 Maybe you are really back in school, wishing you had made a different choice in what you studied, wondering what career you would have now. 

 Or maybe you see yourself sitting in a car with a boyfriend who has just asked you a very big question.  What if you had answered differently?

 You could be at the beach, at that great vacation you took so many years ago, watching your wife and smallest child romp in the waves, so sure that life held so much promise for you and your family, not knowing the sadness that lie ahead.   

 If you are somewhere else in your mind, you are not here.  It sounds obvious.  Yet we can spend so much of our lives in this mental limbo, which is unfortunate as our lives go quickly enough.

Studies show we spend more than one-half of our waking hours, and one-third of our lives, daydreaming. It can make us more creative.  But it can also churn up a lot of anxiety and regret.

Why did I move there?  Why did I not go on that trip?  What would have happened had I gone to the doctor earlier?  Can I not hit a reset button and take back those awful things I said?

We daydream less as we get older.  This is primarily thought to be because so many daydreams are about what we want to do in the future, and there is simply less of that.  (The flip side is in many cases we have done those things, or at least now have the ability to do them.)

Stress can increase daydreaming.  Sometimes our subconscious uses this to give us solutions to problems that are vexing us.

In itself, daydreaming is not inherently bad for us. But constantly second-guessing ourselves and fretting about whether we made a wrong turn can make us feel lost, scattering our thoughts until we feel like we are unraveling.

 Professor, Director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, and On Being columnist Omid Safi offers this:

“So much of our lives are spent in a fractured state of heart. We are, too often, scattered. We speak about being scatterbrained. The truth of the matter is that the scatteredness is much more systematic. We are scattered at every level: body, soul, mind, spirit.

We do this to ourselves. We throw ourselves to the past, often clinging to a past pain and trauma. Or, we hurl ourselves towards the future, attaching ourselves to a hope for the future, or fear of losing something. We are in the past, or in the future, everywhere but here.

 To pray with the heart, to have presence in the heart, is a remedy. It is a healing, an un-scattering. Presence is simply to have our heart be where our feet are.”

So much energy spent on things we cannot control.  Things that have already occurred.  Or things that will go the way they should, regardless of what we do.

Wherever we are, it is good because it is where we are.  We have to find some peace with it.

Breathe.

Quiet the mind.

Feel the earth beneath us.

Let the heart rest.

Then, perhaps a new way will open that will take us where we want to go.

Or a door to the past will close that will let us heal.

But it all starts with now.  Right here.

Safi also says:

The inner and the outer are reflected in each other.

When we are internally divided, we will be externally divided.

If we wish to be united as a human community, we have to strive for unity and healing at the heart level.

 We need the prayer of the heart.

By whatever form we pray, we need to become whole.

May it begin one breath at a time.

May it begin with me.

“Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment, fully alive, fully aware.”

   Thich Nhat Hanh

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