I’ve landed in a new land and this particular country’s landscape is more internal, emotional, and subjective than anything else, so it may be a bit challenging to describe it, but I will try and at the same time hope that you, my reader, will plug along with me as I flit here and there and talk about “unplugging” among other things.
One month ago on December 29, 2017, I retired from an almost 30 year career that I loved. As my friends and readers know, I was beset with doubts and anxieties over the decision. I gave my employer a year’s notice and that year flew by; too soon I was faced with a countdown that left me with just a few days to savor my colleagues and the place I had called my second home. I was in a daze and disbelief that a year could fly by so quickly and that soon I would be walking out the door destined for a new territory that was so foreign to me – I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. Folks who had gone through it were kind and offered encouraging words, but I did not fully believe them when they said they were busier than ever.
I put on a brave face as the minutes ticked down and I finally had to make my exit. I was stalling so my boss finally said he would not leave until I did. He wanted to take those last steps with me which inspired me to joke: “So security is escorting me out of the building, eh?” We exchanged some sentiments and he said although he didn’t want to see me retire, he thought it would be good for me. My boss had seen me juggle many balls over the years, both personally and professionally, and he knew that I wanted to spend more time with family. I had not one flipping clue about what to expect in this new world – was it going to be wonderful, strange, delightful, or exotic? I was not one who necessarily ran away from change or the unknown. More often than not change invigorated and renewed me. And then there were other times that change came unbidden and pulled me out of complacency and challenged me to grow.
My boss’ final words were: “Feel free to call any time” and I replied “And feel free to pick up the phone!” 🙂
That was a month ago.
I didn’t waste any time – my first order of business was to not isolate and to stay busy. I asked a relative if I could visit her during New Year’s Eve weekend at her new home in the California Sierra foothills. A road trip to keep me distracted and invigorated! And then I immediately texted some friends to set up tea dates. I wasn’t going to retreat into a cocoon of isolation; I was going to make sure I reached out to others and took advantage of community. I don’t like to feel isolated or lonely and I’ve learned to keep my senses peeled for warning flags such as described by the acronym “H.A.L.T.” Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired is something that 12 Steppers like to say. When warning lights flash, we can take positive steps to keep the gargoyles at bay. I wasn’t always good at assessing what was going on with me in any given moment, but I’m better at it now and have become an avid explorer of the inner landscape. It takes practice and commitment and like with anything else, one can get better at it.
Somewhere in Alanon literature, it is written:
“Will we ever arrive? Will we feel joyful all the time, have no cruelty, tragedy or injustice to face? Probably not… but community, rather than loneliness will define our lives and we will know that we belong, we are welcome, we have something to contribute, and that is enough! Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
A kind colleague sent me a goodbye gift – a book titled “365 Ways to Unplug.” Little did she know that my noble intent in retirement was to set aside defined periods of time to contemplate inner silence and to unplug (as much as possible) and little did she know that I had already set a goal of trying a new healing modality shortly after retirement. I wasn’t going to waste any time. My daughter overheard me talking about this particular healing treatment and handed me a gift certificate at Christmas. “Here, Nana, melt all your toxins away in a sauna, and while you are at it, float your stress away in 1,000 lbs of Epsom salts.” I happily grasped my certificate and dreamed about the time I would expel sweat droplets in an infrared-sauna booth, and then float in a sea of salt infused water. I suppose most people don’t have dreams like this, but maybe they do. 😉 I love body work, massage, Reposturing, Reiki, acupuncture, salt scrubs, body wraps, aromatherapy, sound therapy, singing Tibetan bowls, breathwork – you name it, if it’s not too freakish, I will try it. Although I loved the idea of floating effortlessly as if I were in the balmy ocean waters off the lovely island of Maui, I did feel some apprehension as well. What would it be like to be cooped up for 30 minutes in a small hot box, or enclosed for 60 minutes in a capsule that was called a “pod”! Yikes.
To check in for my sauna-float session, I had to venture down to a basement of a small, tired looking office building. Down, down I went. After finding the place and checking in, I was handed a robe and a towel and cup of water and directed to a small wooden cubicle with a glass door and told to sit in there for 20-30 minutes. I knew if I got uncomfortable with the 138 degree infrared temperature, I could simply open the door and exit. So I took a seat… and waited for the sweat droplets to flow. I waited and waited for what seemed like an interminable time but it was actually only 10 minutes and then the sweat begin to drip. I did not have a lot of room to move around so it was just little ol’ me and my thoughts. And then I thought I heard a “text ping” from the cubicle next door to me.
My mind began to race:
Did my neighbor bring in a cell phone?
She better had not brought in a cell phone! The nerve! If I’m sitting here all alone forced to deal with my thoughts, everyone else better darn do the same thing.
And so on.
And finally I let it go. But it’s funny when we watch our mind how comical it can be. It actually thinks it’s a comedian at the local comedy club standing up on a stage at a microphone demanding to be front and center and to be heard and have its jokes laughed at!
It finally dawned on me that I could do a few stretches in the cramped space and pretend I was leading my own hot yoga class! I did a spinal twist, hip stretch and was just finishing a shoulder exercise when the attendant signaled “time up”. I had just settled into a comfortable acceptance of my experience and now time was up? I was just beginning to have fun. Oh well, I had another adventure to experience and embrace…onto the next treatment.
After a refreshing shower, I was led to the flotation device that looked like a mini space capsule and given instructions regarding entry and exit. The first thing I noticed was the word “Samadhi” etched on the top of the pod. Aah, just that word alone seemed to inspire release and relaxation. As a student of yoga, I am somewhat versed in yoga philosophy and the word Samadhi is what every true yogi aims for. It means union, and is usually viewed as union with Source/God/Creator/Cosmic Intelligence. Oneness with the One. It’s the Mount Everest of rewards for life time striving, self-perfection, contemplation and inward searching. It is also as rare as the most valued and rarefied of jewels on the planet. It doesn’t come along very often and many give their lives simply for a glimpse of that sublime and hallowed state.
So I prepared to step into my Samadhi! But first, I had to discard my robe and close the door behind me. I did as instructed, stepped in backwards and then turned my body to lay down in the water. I was given a foam ring on which to rest my head so I tucked that under my head right away. I endeavored to become accustomed to these strange surroundings – there wasn’t as much water as I thought there would be; it was a bit smaller space than I thought, and my feet banged here and there and my 5′ 7″ frame slid side to side, lightly hitting the walls. I tried to center myself and become still, but if I were truly relaxed, I thought, I should feel free to explore this new environment. Perhaps I would move forwards and backwards and side to side and check that out. And so I did. Good idea, I told myself, you are making progress. I soon settled into a semi-comfortable state as I began to scan my body for any organic clue that would help me focus on areas that needed extra TLC.
And that is when the problems started! Ha ha.
My neck and shoulders could *not* get comfortable. I became a bit squeamish and didn’t think I could last with that pain. To be honest, these were already established problem areas; yet, I was so uncomfortable that I thought I might actually need to make a quick exit and flee. Then before I knew it, the pain was squeezed out and I found comfort and ease. But I wasn’t home free yet; pain started shooting through my hands (another problem area), but once again, it was squeezed out by the Epsom salts and I relaxed even more. Hey, I thought, this actually works! My body is releasing pain and tension.
At this point, I was free to explore the more pleasant sensations. I imagined myself floating on clouds or in a sea of stars. I also imagined myself as a fetus floating in the amniotic fluid in my Mother’s womb. This was great, and before I knew it I caught myself snoring! I had fallen asleep and then came the knock on the pod signaling “session over”. This meant the hour was up. Seriously? I had just entered into a blissful acceptance and my time was now up? I knocked back to signal that I heard.
I reached back to try to open the heavy vault door and realized that with my compromised shoulders I was going to have a struggle. I yelled out that I needed help opening the door. An issue suddenly crossed my mind as I called out for help: I was naked as a new born babe! As the attendant came to open the door for me, I could see he was endeavoring to keep his eyes pointed away. I had to laugh because at this point I did not care – I just wanted the door opened. I needed my rebirth and like a newborn babe, it was time to exit my watery, insulated and safe world and enter the three dimensional one. The hour had just flown by and now my Samadhi was complete and I left it with some regret! I told the attendant “I’m pretty sure I fell asleep in there!” He answered, “When that happens, it’s the best!” Wow, I had succeeded at my first float in 1,000 lbs of Epsom salts, hee hee.
48 hours later I was on a plane to join my husband who had preceded me in retirement by 6 1/2 years. I was headed to this “new land”. When I saw him at the airport terminal, a palpable bubble of emotion seemed to float up from a deep inner well… an emotion that spoke to my new life as retiree. I had a concrete thought that this visit was going to be completely different and unlike any that had preceded it. I would not be rushing 5 days later to make a 7:00 AM flight back to the big city to get to work. This time I knew I was there to stay with no big deadlines, obligations, stresses, and I felt emotional. I choked back the emotions and a huge relief engulfed me as I hugged and kissed my husband.
So what does this new land feel like? 24 hours after I arrived, I felt it without question or doubt. I felt as if a huge, heavy boulder had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt the exhilaration of a freedom I had never felt, but possibly felt once upon a time in early childhood days. I was a bit giddy and tried to find my sea legs. I still feel like I am floating, just like I did in that pod. I am content and happy and not sure if I am going through a honeymoon period. For all those who told me good things about this land, I had to experience it myself – first hand.
I feel free, inside and outside; lighter, happier. I know it is normal for many people to get worked up about retirement and harbor doubts and anxiety. Although friends who tread this path before me spoke of retired lives filled with ease, balance and grace, I still didn’t believe them and I had to learn the lesson myself and no one could tell me; I had to discover it for myself. I was actually surprised at how quickly I adapted to this new terrain of no deadlines or gridlock commutes. Go figure.
This internal freedom is intoxicating and I’m still riding the high. A sister sent me a quote that reminded me of my moments in the floating pod:
“That which sings and contemplates in you dwells within that first moment which scattered the stars into space.” (Kahil Gibran)
Well that space inside me is singing and contemplating. It is a highly joyous place to be, and I highly recommend it; but I won’t tell you what to do, or how you should be feeling, or the decisions that you should make. Since I had to figure it out myself and discover there was nothing to fear, the same freedom applies to your life. The joy and exhilaration are in the journey.
I saw a wall with a door; I was afraid to turn the knob – what was on the other side? I forced myself to be brave, to make the decision to turn the knob and I did, tentatively at first, and then I pushed the door open. I was greeted by a stunning radiance of a luminous land that enfolded me in its warm, graceful and gentle arms. I’ve been floating (swooning with gratitude) ever since.
If you’ve been patient and traveled all the way to the end of this story with me (and if you have, I thank you from the bottom of my heart), I would be delighted to hear of ways you unplug from stress or smart phones.
May your day be radiant and may you float with ease, balance and grace – whether you are working or retired!