Saturday, May 23, 2015

Knocking on 50

Knocking on the doors of 50: the 49 year-old women's guide to jumping the abyss

remember being 39 and planning my approaching 40th birthday celebrations. I never gave much thought to the significance of a 40th birthday other than to wonder where on earth the last decade of my life had gone.
Here I am in my 49 year standing on the brink of the abyss on the other side of which is 50, again wondering....where on earth did that decade go?
I am determined not to be on the edge of 59 about to front flip into 60 and wondering again...where the last 10 years of my life YET AGAIN has gone!
My resolve over the last 12 months of my life has been to live more mindfully. My 49th year feels like the year I have finally "arrived". That is not to say my 49th year has been a walk in the park, rather that it has been a year of feeling as if things are "coming together"... As vague as that sounds...I am more aware now of what I need, of what I want, of what I am and am not willing to accept into my life and of who I am. This , I believe, is a positive thing at least. Some might balk at a 49 year-old woman finally sorting her shit out; but I firmly believe that whilst people can have the illusion of having their proverbial shit sorted, the reality can be blindingly different. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe, an illness, a major life-changing event for people to truly evaluate their life - with honesty (sometimes even then it can be too difficult or raw for people to go down that track).
Here's 50 things I have learnt - and yes you may well say "what took you so long"... but some of us take longer to figure things out ... and lucky you for being so together!

1. Remain curious 
Curiosity is something we think only children are qualified to have. Just imagine if the worlds most creative and innovative people lost their curiosity! Anyone can ask how a thing works; or what something does...but not everyone is interested in why things are as they are. Be curious. Ask why.

2. Keeping an open mind
In karate this is referred to as Shoshin -beginners mind- with the explanation being "in the beginners mind there are many possibilities; in the experts mind there are very few". This relates in a way to number 1; once you think you know things, you cease being curious; you become closed minded and rigid in thinking. This halts growth. There is always something to learn.

3. Accepting people as they are
It's just where they are at; it's neither right nor wrong - it just is.

4. Keep a gratitude journal
You don't need to write "Dear Diary" fashion every night, but when the mood strikes it is a mindful gratitude that brings more awareness. It is a reflective journey you can keep track of.

5. Shut up
Let the last word belong to those who want it. Sometimes it really just does not matter and having the last word may not add any further value to a conflict context. Getting heard is not the most important thing sometimes. It's useful to be aware, however, of when that time might be!

6. Listen
Learn to shut up so that you are able to listen. Too often people talk at each 
other - each desperate to get his or her word in ... Seriously! Someone needs to do the listening! Listen gently and with intent. Listen to those much older-they've gotten to be that old because they obviously did something very right!

7. it your phone you're looking for?
Lift your gaze from the phone and look up! The world is not contained within a 
6 x 3 perspex gadget. Watch this interesting take on mobile phone use...
8. Nurture your body
This is possibly one of the biggest things I have learnt - the truth about what happens to our body when we neglect it. Nurture your body - it's the mode for transporting you around in this life, respect it.

9. Read
I mean a real book. Reading is a lost practice. Texting and Facebook is the new reading. Whatever happened to taking a good book into a comfy corner of the house and drowning In its pages? The smell alone of books is enough to make me want to read one! It is also good for the eye muscle coordination; better for them than reading from a screen; it is great for de-stressing and keeping the brain active.

10. Garden
How does your garden grow? Well this last summer I didn't get the bountiful garden I had planned for as I had put things in too late. It didn't however, diminish the great sense of nurturing I got from tending to my veges and the even better sense of satisfaction I got from eating them (once they decided to arrive!). It's really good for us to get down and dirty in the garden (see a previous  blog on gardening). Soil contains thousands of microbes which are beneficial for us to be in contact with, and furthermore to be in contact with the earth is very grounding.

I really liked this garden in the Catlins on the side of the road offering people free veges. How cool is that!?

11. Practice mindful living
Practice mindful in-the-moment living and avoid dwelling or investing too much thought on the future. The future hasn't happened yet! My karate instructor used to say "if doing dishes just do dishes". Women are guilty especially if trying to multi-task - DONT! Every multi-tasking woman is a stressed-out zombie. Read Dr Libby Weavers book "Rushing Women's Syndrome" and you will understand why tackling tasks one task at a time with FULL attention and mindfulness, is so vital for overall health.
Being mindful also helps us to appreciate the moment we are in right now; this also means we are able to make better decisions and choices because we are fully present.

12. Start the day with raw apple cider vinegar
Drink raw ACV every morning before food. Just a teaspoon mixed in with half a cup of water - sipped about 30 minutes prior to breakfast - will kick-start those digestive enzymes and keep your gut healthy. I cannot even begin to stress the many benefits of raw ACV! Look it up!

13. Get your greens and your purples
It can be hard to squeeze in all the "right" nutrients to be healthy. As a general rule I try to include daily greens and purples even if it is in a smoothie (I must admit I am not a smoothie fan; however they DO pack a nutrient-dense punch). Greens I swear by are spinach, rocket, kale and chickweed (don't weed your garden!), and all the herbs such as parsley, mint, coriander, basil. Purples I enjoy are beetroot (raw and grated into salad or omelette); purple kale; blueberries. Greens and purples are highly nutritious especially for magnesium and anti-oxidants.

14. Money can't buy happiness
...but it can sure as heck help! Someone once said money can rent you happiness. I take this to mean that when we purchase that new "thing", it remains our feel-good focus until slowly that void re-appears and we need to find the next "thing" to make us feel happy. We rent happiness. What I mean here really is the attachment we give to things. Money buys things, and apart from the obvious food; shelter; clothing...what more really do we need?
I would rather buy experiences these days and yep it does require money; but not necessarily lots if done wisely. So -figure out what you really need to do the stuff that's important to you and and realise it's in the connecting not the collecting, that will bring happiness. Really important to minimise unnecessary spending; to reduce debt and to stop and pause if tempted to buy stuff and ask yourself..."do I really need this ... Will it make me happy ... Will my world crumble if I say no to it?". Putting some money aside (how do we know KiwiSaver will still be in existence when we are ready to stop working) is also important.
Just remember though; no person on their death bed is ever going to say 
"man ... I am soooo glad I bought that boat, car, drone, new dress, gold watch..." (You get my drift).

15. Stop comparing yourself to others
Drop any comparisons to other people.  Don't try to be someone you are not; as they say "be yourself - everyone else is taken".

16. Be yourself NOW
This sort of follows on from #15. Don't be afraid to be who you are and please don't compare yourself to how you were in previous decades. That time has past! You are not that same person! Everyday you are evolving; changing ... So how could you  possibly be the same as a previous version of you! People say to me all the time (and I know if they're not brave enough to say it to my face, they sure as heck think it!) "act your age"... how SHOULD someone of 49 going on 50 act? Push push push away the barriers that contain and define you as a certain age. You are ageless! Defy the rules and make no apologies for it ... It's your life!

17. Travel
Just for the rich? You can actually do this on the cheap if you are willing to trust in the process of self-booking, travelling like a back-packer, not expecting to  have everything planned to the last hour. Be willing to let go and "go with the flow".  Talk to the locals about where to go; what to see; where to stay. The experience of travel will be richer and  more often than not, you will experience a version of travel that isn't presented in the guide books by unleashing a sense of adventure.

18. Work is NOT who you are! 
People often define their identity (or are defined) through their job ... "oh he/she is a doctor ... lawyer ... process worker ... property developer ... blah blah bloody blah".  We are defined/judged and even socially accepted (or not) based on this notion. You are NOT your job. If your job was made redundant tomorrow who would you be then?  Also do not judge people by their jobs. Learn to look for "the person" not the definition of the person as presented through the job he or she has. 

19. Get OFF the dating sites
If you are single and looking for a relationship get off the dating sites!! Allow yourself to stop looking; expecting and sifting through endless possibilities and at the mercy of a screen! It is not real-life! People present a flawed; photo-shopped "best" version of themselves and with that comes expectations. It's like being in a shopping mall dedicated only to relationships. Gaak! Get real. Get out into the real world and do stuff that will bring you into contact with real people. See number 20.

20. Take up a new interest
Always wanted to earn another language? Play a different sport? Learn to do the tango? Go tramping? Find a group, class or club in your area and GO! Get out and get involved ... That's  how you meet real people ... not screen people!
On that note actually DO learn another language! Research shows taking up a new language later in life fires up all manner of neural activity in the brain! Hey - and speaking another language is sexy ... Let's be honest here!

21. Remove sugar in its many forms, from your life
Learn to look for the different names/forms of sugar. Sugar is THE cause of a myriad of major life-altering and early death-producing illnesses including diabetes type 2; dementia and alzheimers (diabetes type 3); heart attacks; cancer; fatty liver disease; metabolic syndrome; depression to name just a few.

22. Eat real food
Real food doesn't come in a tin, packet, box or jar (except for my delicious salad in a jar below!). Read food labels. Forget the "nutritional information" box, read the "ingredients" list.  If its full of names you don't recognise or numbers then it's not food even if it says it's the next best thing to sliced bread! Oh and drop the bread unless you make it yourself with good organic heritage flours (if you MUST have bread). Grains cloud the brain. Stay clear ... live longer (see Dr David Perlmutter's book "Grain Brain").

23. Get a dog
They need walks. They need love.

    Lulu - 2015

24. Live by the ocean
Not all of us can do this due to the sizes of our countries (if you are bang smack in the middle of USA then it's a huge mammoth undertaking). The ocean inculcates all kinds of good things in people. The air; the sound of the sea; the views ... It's all feel-good stuff. Remember back in the day how sickly people would be sent to live with Great-aunt so-and-so to "get some sea air". They knew stuff back then...

24. Connect
Not on social media but for real. Spend time with people - real people. Make the time to make connections and nurture them. Spend time with family and close friends. It's connections not collections that are most important. 

26. Drink GOOD coffee
Life is too short for crap coffee. Try to source unfermented (sun-dried) where possible as it still has a fair whack of minerals retained unlike heated coffee which is devoid of the good stuff. Enough said.

27. Move
You don't need to register for a marathon! just start adding movement into your day. A walk perhaps.

28. Re-think your bucket list
If you have one! Evaluate it frequently. What IS really important to you on that list? What things do you really wish to experience in your life? Start making it happen. You never know what tomorrow brings.

29. Get real regarding relationships
Sharing a similar "world view" is the most important aspect for me. It is really important to be honest with oneself about this. If it is so vastly different from another person, I'm sorry but it's inevitable that there will be major clashes. You can't force another person to view the world the same as you do so it's best to start out with a similar (it doesn't have to be identical) vision from the get go; although people can and do grow and change (that's life) but if you don't do this growth TOGETHER and in a similar direction with a similar world view then there is no point being together. You might as well speak a different language to each other! know the things you are happy to compromise on and the things that are deal breakers for you.

30. Re-evaluate how you live
Ask yourself what you really need. Do you REALLY need a large house for example? Could you live happily/comfortably in something that takes up a smaller environmental and ecological foot print? Are  you wasteful? Could you conserve more water? Walk more and drive less? Could you turn more lawn into edible food crops? Could you give recycling a more honest go? Do you have junk no longer in use that someone else could use ... if so, don't complain about not having enough storage space - if it's in storage then you really don't need it, but someone else might; give it away!

31. Live simply
"Live simply": we hear this all the time and when people talk about it perhaps you think WTF is this? It's about simplifying how you live.  Are you unnecessarily complicating your life? Is this adding to or creating stress for you? If so what needs to change?

32. Update your CV
Keep updating your personal CV. I say this because everything counts in this current world! It is no longer the world where we trained for "a career". Young people now can expect to have several careers across their life span. I have done this and been labelled as unstable (thank you those of you who have done this!) as a result! A "jack of all trades and master of none" someone called me too once. I realised a long time ago my outlook on "work" is more like the younger generation. I make NO apologies for that! I've loved the various things I have done -each of them with a passion that at that time consumed me. I learnt what I REALLY didn't want to do and I also discovered some things I had a natural talent for - like running my own cafe; cooking and being a contemporary artist in silver and gold. I still long for a work bench so I can create...

33. Here's my favourite: Give up trying to impress or please others
In the grand scheme of things; so long as you are not intentionally hurting anyone else - you shouldn't worry about what anyone thinks.  But this one really does kick-in with age. The older I get the less I care what others think of me. Most of the people I know, for  example, couldn't care if I dropped off the face of the planet! That's the reality. So it's important to live for me and no one else. I care what I think of me; and that's all that should matter really. Live your life for you not for the approval of others ... it's such a time waster!

35. Be honest
I hate a lier. My ex cheated on me in my 1st year in my new job that I had shifted to for a one year contract. It was the reason my one year became three (still counting). The cheating wasn't as a big an issue to me as the year or more of total point blank lies that made me reconsider my own sanity. When he admitted in counselling over two years later that yes he had a relationship with this woman (but it was my fault why he did!) I was more pissed off about the lies than the act of cheating. Don't lie. Period. We make a choice in that moment when confronted with the truth. Pause ... take a breath ... consider the potential damage of a lie.

35. Resist the urge to marinate in other people's drama 
We all know those people ... they seem to always have some crisis on the go, and they love to draw you in. Furthermore, their hardships are always much more important and "hard" than yours. Don't accept their invitation to their drama. Also, don't be that person! Experience the pain, anger for what it is AT THAT MOMENT ... but let it go  
(how ... you say?) mindfulness (being in the moment); the emotions are where you are at at that moment in time but you don't need to remain in that moment for an extended period of time. Not only is it creating more stress which eventually will have a physiological effect; it drags other people down. I'm not suggesting putting on a happy brave face every minute of the day; I'm suggesting learning to acknowledge the emotion and knowing this time will pass. Also regarding others who do seem to need to have something of significance going on - this is a call for "hey acknowledge me ... I'm Important!". How you handle those people who tend towards this is the key. Get too drawn in or invested and you become drained; being an ear for support without judgement is freeing and also allows you space to mitigate the stress the other person is feeling. 
Create distance from people who bring you down if necessary. If the above situation really is bringing you down then perhaps realising you need to look after yourself is more important. No one needs negativity. Get away from it! As the saying goes "not my circus ... not my monkeys". You can be a supportive ear without being drawn in.

36. Seek out local farmers markets
I like to support our wee local farmers market because I don't wish to buy into BIG Food. I enjoy the taste of locally produced veges, and the chance to get to know the growers. That is how trust is built. I like to know where my food is coming from. 

37. Get up to watch the sun rise
Get up early even once a week and watch the sunrise. It's a pretty special feeling watching the sky get ready to burst forth that firey ball and announce daytime to us all. Get up early anyway!  This can create space/time just for you. 

38. Give up "to-do" lists 
Says she who has just written 37 things in list format before this point ...

39. Stretch the boundaries of your comfort zone
What really makes you nervous/anxious/unsettled? Perhaps learning to dwell in that space will alleviate the discomfort surrounding it and bring you to a realisation that it's not that bad (or perhaps the opposite) but you won't really find out unless you push a little. Sometimes the thing that scares us the most is what we need to go and do.

40. Don't feel you should apologise for the things you strongly believe in
I don't mean forcing your beliefs down others throats; but your strong passions around a particular thing could be catalysts for change somewhere.

41. Be present
Activities such as a martial art; yoga; running; climbing  keep you in the here and now. They keep you present. To stay as present as possible allows you to truly experience each moment and avoid ruminating on tomorrow ... the future.

42. Meditate
I cannot state enough how this has changed my life. Learn to meditate. People think wrongly it's doing nothing. Never is the brain more alive with possibilities than during meditation. This deliberate practice of being "the real you" is possibly one of the best kept secrets in terms of health benefits. Considered too wacko to be taken seriously as a treatment for disease; it can (at the very least) reduce stress remarkably and have amazing benefits in terms of sleep; ability to focus and concentrate; reducing blood pressure and so any other things the mind boggles!

43. Be compassionate
Practice acts of compassion - this is big really and encompasses much of what I have written above. Living gently amongst others is an art and a daily process. Everyone has a story; let them be.

44. Look at the night sky 
REALlY look at it with wonder. It is bigger than your wild imaginings and realms of thinking. It's bigger than you can ever ever imagine and then some! Now realise your place amongst this vastness!
Know that every cell in your body is made of molecules which are made of atoms which are what the planets; stars and other things out there in the enormousness of the universe are made from. You ARE the universe! Wow! That's heavy.

45. Drop "I can't"
Stop saying I can't; I shouldn't ... start saying "fuck it I will and I can". Part of the culture of "I shouldn't" stems from our misguided notion that we must do what society expects of us ... "Oh I shouldn't  really do this". STOP IT! Of course you should!

46. Clear the clutter
Sometimes literally cleaning stuff out is important but also the mental emotional clutter too. This goes back to the meditation suggestion. To deal with mental clutter takes practice; the process is long but worth it.

47. Volunteer
Think about volunteering somewhere overseas for a truly immersive experience. More often than not food and accommodation will be taken care of in return for volunteering. This enriches the experience of travel and is an opportunity to see a country through the eyes of those who live there rather than as a tourist. It is surprising how the new "bucket-listers" are including philanthropic ventures into travel. It is rapidly becoming the new focus of travel.

48. Family
Whether you are close or not, remember your family - your parents, siblings,aunts and uncles; your children and grandchildren. They are your history. Even if you feel your family have hurt or helped you; one thing remains is they are a large part of who you have become. There is value in that.

49. Sleep

I cannot stress enough how vital getting adequate sleep is. For over two years I existed on as little as 2-3 hours sleep a night. I was addicted to sleeping pills. I got that way through several factors - the 2011 Christchurch quakes and stress brought on by relationship issues.
I had to totally re-evaluate how I spent my evenings in order to get on top of the sleeping issues. It took around 12 months to establish a good sleeping pattern again but now I sleep really well; not necessarily as long as I would like sometimes - but when I do it is good solid sleep.

50. This is my favourite quote. It sums up everything I feel really (possibly could have just posted that and saved myself writing an incredibly long blog!)

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