My Year of Adrenaline
My first year of retirement was intended to be a primer in the Beginner’s Mind, the Buddhist concept of viewing and interacting with life from the mind of inexperience: as a novice, a child. It’s the practice of cultivating a sense of wonder, curiosity and joy through mindfulness in any given moment.
Oh, I was childlike. Pretty much a hyperactive child. I was hell bent on doing everything I felt I hadn’t been able to do during my career years. I dove head first into what I now call, “My Year of Adrenaline.” Frankly, there wasn’t a lot of mindfulness going on. No, more a lot of “doingness.”
It all started back in the school staff lunchroom. This is where we would eat our meal in less than 15 minutes while also running copies. If the phone rang in that room, it was, more often than not, for me and it meant a Code Red somewhere in our building. Relaxing. It was during these “breaks” that the conversation would often turn to talking about what we would do if we didn’t have “this job.” Now don’t get me wrong, I really loved my career as an Elementary School Counselor, but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t sometimes long for days without a single sound other than nature, a day without a child snot-crying on my sleeve, a day filled with a predicable schedule. A day when I could use the bathroom, at any time, without worry that catastrophe awaited just outside the stall door.
What I discovered in these conversations is that many of us have what I call “an escape job.” It’s essentially the opposite occupation of what you are currently doing. So, a Vet Tech may long for a job that involved more people; an Engineer may yearn for the life of a painter; and an Educator. Well, 9 times out of 10 my colleagues and I concurred. Park Ranger, Master Gardener or a Barista in a “no kids allowed” establishment. And, without exception we discussed our plans for exotic travel during the non-summer months.
So, this is where my educator friends and my non-educator friends will clash. During my entire career as an educator, if I, in any way, complained about the nature of my “breaks”, my non-educator friends would look at me in astonishment and then quickly mock me. “Oh no. I have 2 months off in the summer. Wah.” They may have had a tiny point, but for once, I really wanted to take a trip in September. Or January. Or May. Not summer, not Christmas, not Spring Break. I wanted a cheap airline fare, a discounted hotel package, a manageable line at a theme park.
And so it was. Upon retirement we immediately moved from the city of Tacoma to the tiny community of Mats Mats. I planted a garden, tended the yard, painted walls and organized. The gardener in me was feeling quite satisfied. I made friends with my neighbors (all adults except for 2 children who tend to wipe their noses before a hug) and started planning my travel agenda. Of course. A fall trip. The apex of educator dreams. Just when school is starting, I will be among those that jet away from the crucial “first 30 days.”
So, right after I applied, organized and displayed my 1962 World’s Fair Memorabilia collection in the Washington State Fair, we traveled to the Northeast and visited friends in Vermont and New Hamphire after completing an Inn to Inn cycle adventure. Epic fall trip. Then, the holidays at the family cabin. Then, a month of skiing and National Parks in February. (Park Ranger. Check) But, the big event was still in the offing. The big one. The one that, over beers, seemed easy enough. The one that we would do, “once we were retired.” Cycling across Europe. Which we did. Over 2 ½ months from mid-April to July.
And then it was summer again and we had our older son’s wedding, at our house, to get ready for and then our younger son decided to get married so we hosted a reception and then suddenly it was late October so we popped onto the Black Ball Ferry for a week on Vancouver Island and then it was the holidays and we wanted to ski in the Canadian Okanogan so why not housesit there and get in some turns?
Now, eighteen months since my last day of work, I think that I fully understand what the term “detox” means. All of that bottled up desire was released. I was able to gorge on my fantasies and roll around in some of the most amazing experiences. Spectacular. No regrets at all. Would I do it again? A resounding YES.
But it’s time to find that other child. The one that can view the world with curiosity and wonder, right here. Right now. The Dalai Lama said “We are human beings not human doings.” And as usual, he’s right. It may take a little extra practice on my part (as I continue to watch for great travel opportunities). This doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, there are days when I am completely beside myself – the internal battle between doing and being. If truth be told, I’m trying to figure out just what it means to “be.” But I’m willing to put in the time. I mean, I’ve got a lot of that kicking around.
So, I’ll start with a walk and see what happens from there. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see a bird or something.
“How we deal with our daily lives is the most important question.”
from, Being Peace, Thich Nhatt Hanh
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