Musings on a retirement state of mind
By Mike O'Hare
This article is for retirees and it is about going with the flow.
OK, I can hear your response right now:
“What is this New Age mumbo-jumbo?” ‘Live in the flow,’ what the hell does that mean?”
And now for my response to your cynicism:
What is all this Old Age mumbo-jumbo? How often do you say “I am so busy now, how did I get things done when I worked?’ Or: “I am so bored. I need to find something to do!”
This debate would do nothing but take us down the wrong road, or should I say stream?
My life has been surrounded by a related analogy, that I have never fully realized or articulated until now. Rivers have been surrounding me all my life and still do in my seventh decade on the planet.
To begin, my mother and her large family went from the Pittsburgh area to Canadohta Lake in Crawford County to stay in a cottage for a week one summer. My father came up from Titusville with some friends and, as flow would have it, met my mom. I was born in Titusville some years later, not far from Oil Creek, which begins at Canadohta.
Getting the idea?
Mom and Dad moved to Avalon, in the Ohio River Valley and the area was my home until my later 30s. I met my wife Mary Ellen by chance (aka flow) at a dance hall along Ohio River Boulevard. We were married and our son was 3 when we came to Kittanning as I had gotten a job there.
I need not point out – but I will – that we lived in the Allegheny River Valley, fed by streams to the north, such as Oil Creek which merges into the river at Oil City. We now live in Bellevue, back in the Ohio Valley just northwest of Pittsburgh’s North Side. Different river, same water with a dose from the Mon.
OK, pretty artsy-smartsy you smirk and say, but what’s this have to do with living by going with the flow?
The answer is: nothing. I was just going with the flow. But now, here is the heart of the story:
You need to lighten up. As I must do quite often. We do it by becoming still, a cork in the steam if you will, and stop thinking we can control things.
Get this: There is nothing we can control. Even if we think there is, even if we think we have done so.
Life, as John Lennon sang, is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans; surely by now we should have gotten that fact.
Does any of this suggest that we can’t do anything?
No. just do it from the flow.
Anyone who has played sports has felt it during a good game. They begin to pay intense attention to their every move, on approach to the net or the basket or the goal. You are totally aware of nearly everything, the competing players, your teammates, the ball. Nothing is outside your awareness, but you move without any assessment, no judgment, in fact you flow only in awareness.
This approach can be part of a simple and slow walk down the street.
Let’s try it down Kittanning’s Market Street, from the courthouse to the Citizens Bridge, only now they have no names.
We see white clouds moving in a slight breeze in a blue sky. There are a few cars, a few pedestrians, but we put no names to any of this. Just as our hearts beat, our blood flows, muscles tighten and loosen and we move down the avenue, all without any concentrated effort.
This time we move without judgment, no assessment of the building fronts, the passersby, the weather, the time of the day, our past or future, not even our destination. We will find ourselves where we wanted to go, but without effort or thought. We are without ongoing opinionating.
Can you do this?
Yes, you can.
Will you forget the walk? No, in fact if you are a writer you many discover material for a poem, but only after you are home and sit in stillness for a bit.
Going with the flow will enhance your sense of gratitude and will calm you, lifting your appreciation of just being. I am reminded of the Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, who says in a TED Talk that happiness does not make us grateful, but that gratefulness makes us happy. It is how we look at things. (You may want to visit his website gratefulness.org).
Lastly, two more suggestions for staying in the flow:
Sit by a river (or a lake or creek if the river isn’t near) and just watch. Make no assessment of what you see, just watch the movement of the water. Spend as much time as you like; it is important but need not be a concern. Just go with the flow.
Return to your childhood, not in memory but right now. As children, new to the planet, we simply watched without judgement. Unfortunately, that approach changed all too soon, but we can go back to it.
See the lesson in the song that starts “Row, row, row your boat…”
Enjoy the dream, it really is why you are here.
Mike O'Hare spent most of his 40 years in newspaper journalism working at the Leader Times in Kittanning, writing a weekly column called Meandering in the later years. He retired as editor in 2014. He was started in the business by his mentor and first editor, the late Wayne B. Owen.