Braiding Sweetgrass (On Being)

A wonderful listen & read from national treasure Krista Tippett & Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass.

Favorite snippets (just a few of so many!)

RWK:  I can’t think of a single scientific study in the last few decades that has demonstrated that plants or animals are dumber than we think. It’s always the opposite, right? What we’re revealing is the fact that they have extraordinary capacities, which are so unlike our own, but we dismiss them because, well, if they don’t do it like animals do it, then they must not be doing anything, when, in fact, they’re sensing their environment, responding to their environment in incredibly sophisticated ways. The science which is showing that plants have capacity to learn, to have memory, it’s really — we’re at the edge of a wonderful revolution in really understanding the sentience of other beings.

RWK:   What I mean when I say that “science polishes the gift of seeing” brings us to an intense kind of attention that science allows us to bring to the natural world, and that kind of attention also includes ways of seeing, quite literally, through other lenses — that we might have the hand lens, the magnifying glass in our hands that allows us to look at that moss with an acuity that the human eye doesn’t have so we see more. The microscope that lets us see the gorgeous architecture by which it’s put together, the scientific instrumentation in the laboratory that would allow us to look at the miraculous way that water interacts with cellulose, let’s say. That’s what I mean by “science polishes our ability to see” — it extends our eyes into other realms. But we’re, in many cases, looking at the surface. And by the surface, I mean the material being alone. ~ ~ But in indigenous ways of knowing, we say that we know a thing when we know it not only with our physical senses, with our intellect, but also when we engage our intuitive ways of knowing, of emotional knowledge and spiritual knowledge. And that’s really what I mean by listening. By seeing that traditional knowledge engages us in listening. And what is the story that that being might share with us if we know how to listen as well as we know how to see?

RWK:   In talking with my environment students, they wholeheartedly agree that they love the earth. But when I ask them the question of does the earth love you back, there’s a great deal of hesitation and reluctance and eyes cast down, like, oh, gosh, I don’t know. Are we even allowed to talk about that? That would mean that the earth had agency and that I was not an anonymous little blip on the landscape, that I was known by my home place. ~ ~ So it’s a very challenging notion, but I bring it to the garden and think about the way that when we, as human people, demonstrate our love for one another, it is in ways that I find very much analogous to the way that the earth takes care of us, is when we love somebody, we put their wellbeing at the top of a list and we want to feed them well. We want to nurture them. We want to teach them. We want to bring beauty into their lives. We want to make them comfortable and safe and healthy. That’s how I demonstrate love, in part, to my family, and that’s just what I feel in the garden, as the earth loves us back in beans and corn and strawberries. Food could taste bad. It could be bland and boring, but it isn’t. There are these wonderful gifts that the plant beings, to my mind, have shared with us. And it’s a really liberating idea to think that the earth could love us back, but it’s also the notion that — it opens the notion of reciprocity that with that love and regard from the earth comes a real deep responsibility.

Chip Conley’s “mutual mentoring” sets my heart aflutter

Even as I put out a welcome mat to Chip Conley, who promises to be a core disruptor of our current woeful culture around aging, felt a tad cautious that his Modern Elder Academy  would “boutique” the challenges & opportunities of bridging from middle age into older adulthood.  Optimism was tempered by caution.

So I dug & delved.  And became a true believe.

I love what is promised in Wisdom@Work, the making of a modern elder.  Am totally in synch with his view of olders feeling invisible by today’s youth-focused work place,  devalued & openly threatened by a forces that put us on the outside.  Chip believes the day of being redeemed & restored is at hand, that corporate power brokers recognize the folly of dismissing – figuratively & literally – crucial core sources of the humility, emotional intelligence & (gasp!) wisdom it once found woefully archaic.

Dear to my heart is his dedication to  intergenerational mentoring – both ways, with olders as both teacher & student, master & novice.  Amen & hallelujah!

For all to succeed, youngers have to open up to NOT knowing everything on the face of the Earth & olders have to open up to learning something whiz bang different than what made them successful in earlier careers.  Cross training that’s intergenerational outreach.  Gotta love it.

Over-the-moon with his term “curious learner” – – such a need on all sides for that quality.

Reading the various interviews, listening to Chip speak, am struck with how we all need to revamp expectations of mentoring, of what passes as crucial within a business model, what defines success & what’s needed to achieve it.  Take it deeper, richer, MORE.

His comments about how thirsty young professionals are for tutoring from old hands brought to mind The Intern, a film that was basically panned but which I found pretty spot on.  The 20- & early 30-somethings were hungry for what they considered the cool vibe wisdom for an old codger, who went from relic to revered.  And he got as much as he gave.

When Chip says olders have to repackage themselves – bring it on!  I’ve seen people embrace that challenge, rise to the occasion & ace the new opportunities around them, or brush it off & sink.  It’s not reinventing as much as furthering a remarkable evolution, one that reaches out in directions I never considered.

Let’s see – Chip gets involved at a incredibly young age developing successful boutique hotels, gets burned out as he approaches his fifties, sells them off at the bottom of the market, is recruited by Airbnb to lend his depth of experience to their successful but young, on all counts, business model, which he does & discovers his impression it’s a growth-minded model – leadership was as open to learning as they were to leading.

(Chip cracks me up when he notes, “Carol Dweck wrote a book Mindset long ago” – – it was published in 2007!  Eleven years is apparently an eon to him!)

How Chip describes Airbnb’s three leaders – freely admitting there’s a lot they don’t know & willing, eager to be life-long learners – describes the quality I’ve found in folks who age with enthusiasm & joy.  They are okay with not knowing everything & curious about what’s around the corner.

Still, it was his talk of “mutual mentorship” that set my heart racing.  The angels sang, trumpets sounded!

What was his example of mutual mentoring?  Airbnb connected with its most prolific users, which turned out NOT to be a pair of millennials but a 72 & 62-year old husband & wife traveling the world, staying solely at Airbnbs home.  The company promptly invited the elders in for a 10-week “senior internship program”!

And voila – Chip was taken even deeper into the importance & impact of intergenerational connections.   Deeper into the awareness of what has become Wisdom@Work & the Modern Elder Academy.

I was nervous, reading about the Modern Elder Academy.  Seemed more like a cool two weeks hanging out in a gorgeous place with beautiful people who are hardly in dire straits if they can afford the experience.  But instead of popping off, I kicked back & did my research & discovered that Chip tied his newest interest with a core strength.

This posting didn’t turn out at all how I expected when I started writing.  I was horrified that such important insights would be offered in such an exclusive setting.  It ended with me being mega impressed with the workings of Chip’s mind & its interaction with his heart, with being blown away with him tying it back to his early experience with hotels & his clear love of hospitality.

Which brings me back to mutual mentorship, which connects in my mind with Chip’s core sense of hospitality – he wants olders to feel welcome in the younger world & for them to welcome youngers to theirs.  Intergeneration symbiosis.  Deep chills & keen anticipation!

In which Joan Borysenko joins the team

I’ve admired JOAN BORYSENKO for eons, since reading A Woman’s Book of Life after a 09/2001 perfect storm of upheavals stripped me of long-time core expectations, turned foundational assumptions to rubble.

The PlantPlus Diet Solution has been tucked away on a den bookshelf for 3+ years.  Apparently read a few pages before the Universe realized, “Not YET!  She’s not ready to process this!  She still has work to do!

Here I am, two days into July 2018, post-processing The Greatest Salesman in the World,  (just reading it properly takes a YEAR), post-Die Empty & Playing Big, You Are A Badass, The Right Kind of Crazy  & anything by Brene Brown.  FINALLY, the Universe considers me ready for the Big Time, kicking in my Analog Summer & connecting me with the great Joan’s book on… dieting?

Right person, right approach, right info, right reader.  When the student is ready…  July 14 will find me starting a Reboot Month, which will be… interesting.  At 66, am old enough to PAY ATTENTION.  And – thanks to the personal growth program customized for me by a wise & tough Universe – reading to take big plunges with integrity & determination.

Joan ~ welcome to the team!   Looking forward to your energies disquieting the status quo, connecting me (and a delighted John) to a true-to-my-true-self wise ways!

An unexpected present – living in an America most increasingly can’t afford

My generation (born 1952), countless before & a couple after were taught from their mother’s knee through grad school that America’s success was built 4-square on having a strong, thriving middle class.

A middle class that began a full-threaded unraveling in the Great Meltdown of 2008, a financial disaster from which the tippy top of our economic strata – the folks who created the fiscal calamity in the first place – have recovered quite nicely, thank you, leaving shredded fragments of a devastated bourgeoisie in its wake, millions of us raised on an American dream increasing beyond our reach.

I came of age during the push for women’s rights, when activists broke through glass ceilings & made 2-working parent households the norm rather than exception.  An age when women worked as an act of fulfillment, in contrast to today when millions work – often well beyond retirement – out of necessity.

In her book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, journalist/poet Alissa Quart reports from the front lines of an embattled & shrinking – disappearing – demographic.  People who are a broken down car or defunct fridge away from slipping into poverty;  individuals, couples, families living precariously on the edge of potential financial disaster – what Ms. Quart describes as the “Middle Precariat.”   Men & women, across the age spectrum, who believed in a good education as the doorway to a good job, to career stability, to the second car in the driveway, maybe a second home at the lake.  Nothing flashy, but a little more than simply enough.  Men & women, retired fired & barely getting by, who now find their jobs could be gone in the shrug of a merger, getting by on incomes that are stagnant (or worse), for whom decent affordable benefits without huge deductibles are as rare as a Screaming Eagle Cabernet 1992.

These are the people, Ms. Quart writes, “Who did everything ‘rightand  yet the math of their family lives is simply not adding up.”

The birth of her daughter, seven years ago, tipped her & her husband – both freelance writers – into a few years of “fiscal vertigo.”  They faced the double whammy of hospital charges & child care costs, but ultimately – for the moment – avoided the financial abyss.  Although Ms. Quart is now gainfully employed as exec editor of the nonprofit, Economic Hardship Reporting Project, she clearly identifies with her subjects because she was one.

Back in the 1960s & ’70s – my high school, college & early career years – the American dream was the afore mentioned 2-car family, vacation home, college for all the kids.  Olders elders ancients found new freedom in the  “senior lifestyle communities” that were springing up, offering them independence & fun in their golden years.  American manufacturing was strong, Coca Cola & Sarah Lee filled kitchen pantries around the world.  Folks might have guessed that “offshoring” was summertime fun at the beach, while “offsourcing” would have left them clueless.

Little did my generation imagine an older age where we’d find “golden ticket” jobs as computer programmers moved to India, gilt-edged positions cut due to mergers.  My boss’s promise, when he brought me on as a public relations writer at Prudential Healthcare, that the position was “cradle to grave” had an early death in 1997, when PHCS was purchased by AETNA, which slashed staff & moved most remaining positions to NJ.

Over the past twenty-five years, the age pegged as “senior” fell to 50, while discrimination against over “senior” employees hit an all-time high.   Instead of the job security our parents enjoyed, even workers in their forties & fifties find themselves shown the door with the hollow “Look at it as an opportunity to reinvent yourself!” only to discover themselves in an age-twisted landscape where ability to forget & relearn is elevated over experience & wisdom.

As one 50+ woman who sought 2nd career, racking  up debt without getting job offers, sighs, “The world has evolved beyond me.”

Can America exist without a strong middle class?  Not if you asked my teachers.  They saw out nation’s success as rooted in the hard work ethic  & deep values that were the hallmarks of America’s bourgeoisie.  Can it thrive in a system that caters to the financially elite, leaving the rest to sink or swim on their own.

For generations – from pre-WWII to post-9/11 – Americans held the “social contract” as sacrosanct.  Get the right education, find the right job, work hard & all will be well.  Sure, we were shaken in the 1980s by the S&L Crisis &  Black Monday  (people watched life savings wiped out, real time, on computer), but all sectors of the economy eventually recovered.  Today, America’s booming economy doesn’t rest on a thriving middle class – per Ms. Quart, it’s “rigged” to shut it out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the few who actually HAS risen from the ashes of fiscal disaster, but mine hit in 2001, when my highly praised corporate career disappeared due to a parental health crisis, 9/11 & execs who loved the results I delivered but were disquieted because they couldn’t figure out how I managed to act outside set norms & get exceptional results.  I was blessed because of realizing on the drive from my old job to an unexpected new life that something incredible was on my horizon, I just didn’t know what.  But I had a home that was paid for, a husband who loved me & no children depending on me for room & board or tuition.

Ms. Quart goes straight to the heart talking about this last point – parents caught in the squeeze  of a flourishing economy, an increasingly shredded social net & precious few full time jobs offering the hefty salaries & generous benefits that were our norm in the ’80s & ’90s.  The people who barely register, if at all, on the radar of legislators who are more concerned about winning their next election than helping their struggling constituents.

We live in surreal times.  My thanks to Ms. Quart for doing her bit in documenting some of the most unimagined aspects of these spaced out days.

Advice for Future Corpses (and those who love them) – hot off the presses!

One of those books that can’t wait for me to purchase & read – clearly have to promote it ASAP!

Was clued into it by today’s NY Times, which devoted a fair amount of print to its review, which included a heaping amount of praise.  Parul Sehgal, who admits to getting zoned out by today’s deluge of books on death & dying (“It’s very well to quail in front of the indomitable human spirit and all that, but is it wrong to crave some variety?“), finds Sallie Tisdale’s just-released Advice for Future Corpses (and those who love them)  “a wild and brilliantly deceptive book.”  Bring it on!

One of the all-time great opening lines – “I have never died, so this entire book is a fool’s advice.”  –  is fair warning that we are headed into some uncharted waters.

Clearly the reviewers are delighted with what Ms. Tisdale’s tale,  which weaves together her experiences as a Zen Buddhist, nurse & end-of-life educator to present her thoughts & theories through “enchanting prose (that)  searches as often as it instructs.”

Rather than wing my way through a pseudo-review of a clearly must-read book, will link you to Sallie’s Summer 2018 interview with Tricycle.   Not the typical beach read, but sure to catch everyone’s attention!

Sweet haunting

Reading John Leland’s Happiness is a Choice You Make has me feeling Mom’s presence.  Based on his year-long series of New York Times‘ articles on a year among the oldest of NYC’s old, the stories John shares hit close to home, ditto the lessons he was surprised to learn by being with them.

Resiliency, kindness, generosity.

Making the most of the moment.

Full-throttle living, in their own way.

Wish everyone could read the articles, which I enjoyed immensely, savor the book & perhaps feel the nodding presence of a beloved older!

Whiffling through my bookcases

One great way to prep for the Positive Aging Conference six weeks from now (!) is to kick off a serious browse through my well-stocked bookshelves & share some of my favorite authors with whoever is out yonder, reading this.  So, here’s what’s coming up – each week, will pick a book, browse through it’s corners-turned-down, yellow-highlighted pages, & share favorite bits & pieces.

Started to do that with the books that helped get me from where I was to this amazing NOW, but ground to a halt after realizing I’m meant to LIVE what they taught, not review it.  Besides, the boodle of books that made a huge difference in opening up my life are not going to have the same oomph for another reader – self development is highly individual, the antithesis of cookie cutter solutions!

The  books by Gene Cohen – Dayle Friedman – Wendy Lustbader – Ram Dass – Atul Gawande & other leading lights in the elder care (r)evolution are anything but cookie cutter, but each IS essential reading for people involved on all sides of the caregiving equation.

Bear with me as I whiffle through my bookcases & share the wondrous wisdom insight clarity of authors who opened my eyes -and- touched my heart.