Retirement: Liberation and Sensuality
Mairin from San Diego, California asks:
I’m not sure if you addressed this issue earlier, but I find myself in an interesting place in my aging female life. I’m 58 years old, happy, healthy, I feel young, but am exhausted from work a lot of the time. I want to retire from full-time work, but I have no idea how one should make the final decision regarding if, when, or how to proceed. I would love to hear your wisdom on the subject. There doesn’t appear to be much guidance available on such an important decision/stage in human life. Thank you.
Greetings, Mairin, and thank you for such an interesting inquiry. Though not a sexual question per se, your thoughts do include aspects of liberation and sensuality that took me to places of contemplation ranging from Eastern ideals of life duty, to the Hermit Card of the Tarot, to the very question of what it is to be human. Are we what we think? Or are we what we do? Or are we what we think we do? In American society, retirement is considered a major milestone probably because Americans tend to put an enormous amount of value on work and toil.
Unfortunately, this causes our culture to harbor a strange disregard for what happens after that phase of life is over. For that reason, retirement can appear as a very grey area for those first venturing into it; a nimbus field where social identity is either entirely obliterated or meshed in a tangle of confusion. What defines us is not so much what we think we are but what we think others think we are. And in this country, what we do for a living is an enormous part of that. If you don’t believe me just consider how quickly the question, “What do you do?” is traded between two people when they first meet.
In regard to making that all-important decision to retire, you need to ask yourself if you feel your mission in that career is complete. Is there work there that you don’t feel you’ve accomplished? Are there goals that will go unachieved? Some people never retire: artists, scientists and other people of passion who are so strongly connected to the creative process of their work that to walk away from it would be like committing a form of emotional suicide. These people always have another task to complete, another project to oversee, another question to answer. But in your case, I sense that work is not a passion. It was useful to achieve an end. Sometimes it might even have been enjoyable, but now it is simply a burden and that means it’s time to look for other paths to follow.
In many cultures, the latter phases of life are considered the most important, the most sacred, and the most revered. We, of course, have the whole thing ass-backwards here. Older people that have left their careers behind are often portrayed in our media and entertainment as doddering fools, nonproductive and slow. Like children. In other cultures, retirement is seen as a freedom from the menial and material duties of life so that the spiritual aspects can be brought into clearer focus. Ask your Hindu friends about the stages of life and the belief that each one has different duties and tasks. To them, the elder stage allows for true spiritual contemplation; the logic being, that in youth one is and should be consumed with matters of home and children. As the years pass and those responsibilities fade, the material world begins to loosen its hold and it is time to venture forth in search of deeper truths and the heart of the self. Perhaps the time has finally come for you to take this profound and sacred road. If so, good fortune on the path and be well.
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