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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

January 2014


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month


THE ROAD TO CALM: nurture yourself.

When travelling in other countries, although I think of myself as an agnostic, I like to partake of the local religious observances.  In Italy and France, I light the candles in the cathedrals and dip my fingers in the holy water in the font. In Washington DC, I have sung and swayed along with Baptist congregations - not very adeptly I admit. In a synagogue recently I studied the tablets next to the altar inscribed with the Ten Commandments and tasked myself to decipher the Hebrew lettering.

This last month, I travelled to Myanmar (Burma) where 89% of the population is Buddhist.  You can’t go very far without seeing a pagoda, the temple the people buildto gain merit. There are small ones, in every village, their golden domes glittering among the bamboo shacks. And huge ones, like the gold covered dome of the Shwedagon Paya which dominates the skyline of urban Yangon, much like the iconic dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral defines the skyline of London.

In my 12 days sailing on the Ayeyarwady River, through central Myanmar and to the far north, stopping off at the villages or the towns, I would often  find my way to a pagoda, not difficult, given their ubiquity, take off my shoes as you must  and leave them outside with the native flip flops, and walk silently inside.  I sat cross-legged before golden statues of the Buddha, asking for good health, happiness and peace for my family and friends and the world.  I bought gold leaf from a monk who placed my offering in a basket and sent it by pulley to another monk at the top of one of the tallest pagodas who then placed it on the gold leaf covered dome to bring all I loved good fortune .

I rang an enormous brass bell in another temple, with a weighty mallet -- a resounding three times.  I think this is for happiness. I climbed a pagoda formed of five terraces, each terrace inscribed with the teachings of Buddha.  I asked my guide to translate for me.

What made observing these practices this time especially pleasurable is that I have been learning about mindfulness, a meditative practice that helps to tame the mind from anxiety and stress that can be incapacitating.  This meditative practice has its roots in Buddhism.  Now backed by science, too, it is being adapted in classrooms, governmental bodies and corporate suites to improve productivity. 

I first wrote about it in my June 2013 laterlife column: “Are you making stupid mistakes? Try mindfulness”.  Mindfulness now appears to have struck a need worldwide, given the plethora of headlines.  Much of it has come into vogue with a generation trying to cope with technology without being consumed by its power to distract. But it is only recently that there is some attention being paid to the older generation whose stresses may be just as crippling. Even Saga magazine is now writing about it, offering some mindfulness guidelines.

There are new stresses for the over 50s beyond the workplace.  The midlife sandwich generation copes with raising the young and caring for the old.  There are the stresses of retirement.  And the anxieties brought on by deteriorating health or increasing physical disabilities. 

I have now completed an 8-week course in Mindfulness.  It is not easy to learn at first. It is hard work, largely testing your patience and commitment.  But if I do just one three-minute practice each day I can slip into a calmness that helps with whatever I want to do or what I must face.

During that holiday in Myanmar when I climbed the stone steps of the terraced pagoda to read the scriptures of Buddha, I had a lovely epiphany.  Fellow travellers apparently watched me climb the steep steeps cut into rough stone, barefoot of course, and one fit middle aged gentleman, commented how agile I was.  He and his wife had had considerable trouble.  He searched for the right word to follow.  “Agile,” he said, and with an embarrassed smile, “like a monkey.”  I treasure that observation because with my lately troubling arthritis, I often feel stiff and hopelessly awkward.    

I think it was the warm weather in Myanmar that made my bones and tendons more pliant.  I can now understand why people with arthritis head for warm climates.  One of the Buddha’s teachings we learn in mindfulness is “Nurture yourself”.  Like many of us, I have focussed my nurturing on others, my children, my family, for most of my adult years. We have forgotten ourselves.

I am now more open to ask what nourishes me.  I think I will now plan to head for a warm climate each year and once again sooth my aching body.

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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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