A few acquaintances, friends and family members got together recently. There were a few of us “retirees” present. While some had reached their “normal retirement age” some of us had opted to quit work early. It was interesting, after the exchange of initial pleasantries that the only question us retired folks had to contend with was, “So, how do you kill time” or, “How do you pass time?”
Each of us had our own response and a few common ones are listed below, not necessarily in any order of priority:
• Find it difficult to get used to this lifestyle and don’t know what to do
• Have a “bucket list” of things that “my wife and I’ve always wanted to do”
• Worry whether my pension/finances will be sufficient for my family
• Considering joining a Board
• Want to do some “social work” but don’t know what
• “Sort my papers”
• Go to the library, gym or for a swim
• Start yoga and/or meditation
• Go for a walk with my wife (and/or dog)
• Take up golf
• Regularly check my portfolio of stocks
• Take/pick up grandkids to/from their schools
It was evident that a couple of persons at the reception had given some thought to their retired lifestyle and mapped out activities they planned to engage in. They readily professed retirement was the best thing that had happened to them. Others were clearly struggling to cope with the vacuum created by the now missing colleagues and non-existent routine that had involved more than half of one’s daily waking-life in office or related commute. Spouses too shrugged their shoulders and softly added, “He is really finding it difficult to adjust. He wants to do something part-time to keep himself busy and not just sit at home, bored.”
On the way back home, musing over the evening’s discussions I was struck by the irony of the inquiries. Does Time Pass Us By, I wondered, or do we “pass time”? Surely, it is Time That Kills Us (eventually, any way) rather than the other way around!
Each person has his/her priorities, interests, hobbies and activities or things that provide a meaning to their life and contribute to a general feeling of well-being and happiness. Everyone talks about “keeping the mind busy and active” yet are unable to make up their mind on how they expect to do so. I have friends who struggled during the early period after retiring. They would sit and watch television in an effort to keep themselves entertained, or, surf the internet all day long every single day convinced that they were “busy doing research”. Choosing to retire during the winter months had not helped as it further confined them and restricted social interaction. A friend had sunk into depression and medical intervention was needed to get him back on his feet.
In the Tao Te Ching ascribed to Zen master Lao Tzu it is stated, “Retire when your work is done. Such is heaven’s way.” The mystic Osho clarifies “When you see that a work has given you balance, that you have attained happiness, don’t ask for more. Retire, enjoy it. Revel in it. The mind is always asking for more. There are two dimensions. One is horizontal… more, more, more. You move in a line. You are on the point A; you want to be on the point B, then on C. This is mechanical mind. No moment to enjoy, no moment to celebrate, no moment to retire and just be. Then there is another way of life: the vertical. You move from A to A1 to A2 to A3 in a vertical line, in depth. Whatsoever is in the moment you move deep into it. And then even one moment becomes eternity. And your happiness knows no bounds.”
A longtime retired friend recently drove home this very point to me. Living in a high-rise condo on the waterfront in Toronto, he said that while watching a ballgame on TV the planes landing and taking-off from Billy Bishop airport would draw his attention. He could spend hours observing the expanse of the waters stretching beyond his windows and simply enjoy all the visual delights that the lake offered. Having recently concluded a series of drawing and painting classes, I have learned to observe shapes and colors differently. As I lie in bed gradually waking to a new day, looking out the window I see dark, almost black leaves of the maple tree in the pre-dawn light. As the sun rises, these hues get magically transformed; dark green to an emerald green and then speckled with bright yellow as the sun emerges above the tree top. Through that window my time stands still, even as the day starts and slowly but surely moves towards its end.
“Retired” moments in my life resonate within Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful poem:
“Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.
Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.
Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.”
Best that we retired folks do not tire ourselves needlessly. When walking, let’s just walk.