What is your Friend?

The din from the kitchen area was appalling. One of our favorite aunts was a-visiting and the nieces had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt) ? How do you pass time?” we asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile. “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt a few months ago, and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her student later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy.  These people seem to me the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays.  The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

  • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
  • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
  • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

upstream

Talking to people around me, I hear many who say that they would do this or that after retirement: I would take up gardening after retiring, I will take up reading after retiring. I am guilty of postponing  some of my desires to a golden time in my mind that is post-retirement ( I will learn to play an instrument after I retire).

But how would you know whether you like one activity over the other? The problem is finding that ‘something’ becomes more elusive the longer you deny it. 

Finding something that makes us want to do something without rewards is at once the least monetarily tangible and the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood, or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power.

What is your friend?

Note: A version of the essay by Mary Oliver is found here: 

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task 

Brain Pickings – The Third Self

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