Learning in Life: A Life of Learning


“ Past midnight, never knew such silence.
The earth must be uninhabited….
Perhaps my best years are gone…
But I wouldn’t want them back.
Not with the fire in me now.
No, I wouldn’t want them back.”

Samuel Beckett

Do we have fire within us, blazing away in our depths? A fire that enlivens our creative passions, that constantly crackles and burns for expression? Or has the fire of enthusiasm, the fire of inspired life been slowly extinguished, perhaps without even noticing?
Staying awake, being engaged, finding new ways of moving forward can invigorate our lives for future growth. A fresh dynamic that can lead us into a new landscape before it is too late….

I recall many years ago a friend telling me that at university, he meet a mature student (a woman in her late 60’s ) who was studying fine art. He spoke to her once at a social gathering about her studies and enquired why she was: “ …still at it ? ” The woman looked at him in a relaxed but quizzical manner and replied: “ If you have to ask that question you don’t deserve an answer.” My friend was bemused, at first, by the response but eventually understood the value and wisdom that lay behind it. His question had expressed a rather restrictive, fixed view on education – learning was for the young and you simply stopped studying after a certain age. His fellow student however, had a very different idea for she saw education as being continuous process where you never stopped learning. Education for her was a committed, lifelong engagement of enquiry that echoed the spirit of Trofimov in Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard. When challenged about his studying, later in life, Trofimov said: “ I expect I shall be a student to the end of my days.”

Life continuously throws up new challenges to face, fresh learning curves to negotiate, so we must make ourselves ready and prepare to undertake this work. We can never really afford to stop learning, to stop growing to our full potential, despite what we might say at times about our being ‘ too old ‘ or ‘ too tired ‘. Age itself should never be a barrier to fresh achievement. Recently figures were published that showed the average age of Nobel Prize Recipients for Literature, over the last ten years, is 67. For Peace it’s 64 and for Physics it is 62.These are people, intellectually at their peak, breaking through to attain the highest awards in their field. We will do well to remember this next time we start to pull away our commitment and energy from a project because of uncertainty and fear about our age……

Perhaps the metaphorical fire that Beckett cites, is the accumulated experience that took him deeper into understanding, deeper into a ‘ knowing ‘ that transcended his earlier years. Certainly youth could be considered a trial time of exploration and experimentation, where diversity can, and should be courted. Where risks are taken to find direction and purpose for coming years. But hopefully, in the fullness of time, informed choices have been made, decisions on direction have matured, so all that remains is the need to go deeper into our selected paths.
Creative energy, focused and concentrated will always gather in a rich harvest in later years…..


“ Looking back over the first 50 years my career, I can find nothing that I have done that is worthwhile. At the age of 73 I have at last arrived at the point where I can perceive the true form and characteristics of birds, animals and plants. Thus my true life as an artist is just beginning.”

Katsushika Hokusai

PERSONAL GROWTH: UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS OF POTENTIAL
According to the UK International Longevity Centre, the average life expectancy of a 5th century man was 30. Today, in Britain, it is 75 for a man and 80 for a woman. As a species, we are indeed living much longer than at any other time in human history. Given also the exceptionally enriched culture of science, technology and artistic creativity that we are surrounded by, is it no wonder that personal frontiers of achievement, in so many fields, have been pushed back by ‘ older ‘ people? Few individuals could run a marathon 50 years ago, now thousands successfully complete the distance, some well into their 80’s.
I have known many individuals who have had a second lease of life in retirement. Being freed form the necessity of earning a salary, they now pursue interests and activities that fulfill their lives like never before. Engagement with the creative arts, travel, sport, voluntary work have brought enormous benefits to them. This freedom to explore, in a wholly new way in later life, has made many of them blossom as fully engaged, enlivened, inspired people and this, I celebrate……

IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH WE FIND OUR TRUE TEACHER
In the closing years – if we have trod the right path – we are finally allowed to enter a space of real wisdom and discernment. This is the time of depth and spiritual presence where we can cultivate insight and understanding which will contribute to other lives, beyond our own. The continuing vicissitudes of samsaric life still impinge, but the calmer, more settled perspective that ageing brings, makes us more accepting and magnanimous. This enlargement we experience can finally lead to a spiritually enriched view on life which sees the imperative of embracing, as soon as we can, a plan of life closure…..

THE TIME HAS COME…..to reflect realistically on what we can do to make our life full, to make our life complete at this stage, and do it !

……to reflect deeply upon the path that we have taken in life, acknowledging our failings and disappointments. Then we must set them within a context of acceptance and reconciliation to finally release them…..

……to reflect upon the achievements in our lives, however ‘ small ‘, and celebrate them. Achievements that, to some extent have, like our failings, made us who we are.

THE TIME HAS COME…..to start involving ourselves in all those interests that may have taken a back seat in our lives. Perhaps it was meditation, yoga, writing, walking, quality reading, painting – anything that we felt drawn to but never quite managed to engage with fully. Now is the time….

.….to consider the fact that we are never, really too old to change our views on embedded thoughts. Everything can be given fresh consideration / evaluation and from this position fresh directions and new beginnings can start. Its never too late……

..….to settle up all unfinished business, especially in the emotional sphere. It’s a time for healing. Letters may need to be sent, phone calls to be made – apologies given, apologies received. Bridges can be repaired and rebuilt if we adopt a commitment to reconciliation, and now is the time for reconciliation – before it is too late….

THE TIME HAS COME…..to get our financial affairs up to date, and on a sound footing, so that no confusion surfaces after we have gone.

……to stop striving and achieving. We must start to relax more in the quality time that remains. Days then stretch – out and we can enjoy their presence without feeling that we must somehow be constantly DOING.’

…..to be adventurous. But we must not risk our health. We must never put ourselves in a position where we can get physically hurt. In the later years recovery from any injury can take that much longer. Ailments can linger on causing a lot of distress, so we must go carefully.

THE TIME HAS COME..….to collect all our photographs and cherished letters together so that they are easily accessible to view. Take time out to look at them thoroughly. Ensure that they are kept in a safe place with written references to locations, dates, peoples’ names, etc.

……to start writing up some sort of autobiography. Our life story expressed, in our own words, to record a life lived.

…..to meditate deeply and reflectively on our passage through life and try to see it in terms of continuity – a never ending flow of life force of which we are all an integral part, even after we depart from this existence.

THE TIME HAS COME……to recognize that later life can be a joy, if we decide to make it so. It rests with us, no one else.

…..to feel a sense of gratitude and appreciation because we have been allowed to complete this course of a full life. Many, unfortunately, do not. Many depart from this life prematurely.

.…to stay awake, pay attention and listen to any residue calls that could lead us off to something better. We must be bold if required.

……to continue our commitment to life. Greeting each new day with a freshness of mind and an appreciation of what potential we have left to explore.

AND FINALLY…..

THE TIME HAS COME.….to find ways to share our accumulated wisdom with others, especially the young. In a full, lived life we do acquire, through the fire of experience, a grounded knowledge and wisdom that could benefit others. We mustn’t be afraid to offer that up, to pass that on.

HOW SWEET LIFE IS…….
The issue of death can present us with many anxious moments, many unresolved difficulties to face. But eventually we must come to terms with its reality and hopefully move forward into some kind of acceptance, for there is simply no escape from its clutches. We have no choice but to surrender to its power, to give way to its insistence on taking our lives away..…

All our searching for insight, clarity and understanding into the nature of death, in the final analysis, is futile because the entire process is beyond our restrictive comprehension, beyond our limited perceptual field. Death is the great mystery of life and no meditation practice, no study of the sutras, no chanting of mantras will bring us any the closer to knowing its mystery. Nothing can really prepare us for our moment of demise. Nothing can offer us any meaningful comprehension of this last, supremely individual act. So, in knowing our limitations here shouldn’t we just focus on what time we do have left, to see how we can live more attentively, responsibly, caringly and creatively, whilst we can?

Life is not a problem that we must seek to solve in someway. It is rather a special gift that we need to recognize and celebrate. Because our lives are finite we must attend to them with consistent and serious commitment, underpinned by pragmatic spirituality. Then, when the time comes for us to die, we can leave this life knowing that we have lived as fully and completely as we could, and for more we cannot ask…

“ A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger chased him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of a root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away at the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other..…HOW SWEET IT TASTED ! “

A Buddhist Parable

JOURNEY WELL AND BE MINDFUL OF TIGERS ( AND MICE )……