October 13th, 2006

ozarque figure

Eldering; elder-prep; "attitude yoga"...

In the context of our current discussion -- and the need to establish sturdy resources of patience, tolerance, and empathy well in advance of old age -- voxwoman commented:
"Maybe there's some sort of 'attitude' yoga one can do to keep the psyche flexible?"

I think there is, yes. Here's my proposal for four things that would serve nicely as an "attitude yoga." In no particular order....

1. Voluntarily spend some time with the most irritating person(s) you have access to, and spend it being pleasant. Instead of perceiving these persons as burdens inflicted on you by bad luck or Providence, perceive them as your Patience-and-Tolerance Coaches and appreciate the fact that they don't charge you a fee for their services. If you can do this for at least ten minutes half a dozen times a week, that's excellent; if not, do it as often as you can manage.

2. Take up the practice of daily meditation -- whatever form of meditation you can feel comfortable with. Almost nothing is as likely to help you learn patience as learning to meditate every single day (or almost every single day). Your Head Nanny will tell you that you don't have time to do this, that you're much too busy; ignore her. Even five minutes of meditation every day will be a tremendous help to you later when you have the POS Quandary to deal with. (And it will be a help no matter which side of that quandary you end up on.) When you can deliberately and voluntarily place your attention on a single image or a single prayer or a single proverb or a single word or sound and keep your attention there for five consecutive minutes, you are learning how to be in charge of your mind instead of at its mercy.

Suggestion: Consider doing a walking meditation -- one of the most venerable forms of multitasking. It's what I do myself, and I recommend it.

3. Sing, regularly, in a nonprofessional chorus or choir. Where people will irritate you by singing too slow, too fast, too sharp, too flat, too softly, or too loudly; where people will irritate you by singing the wrong words or pronouncing them incorrectly; where people will irritate you by talking to each other when they're supposed to be singing, or by asking the choir director stupid questions, or asking to sing a song you can't stand. There's no end to the multitudinous ways in which they will irritate you. Alternatively, you may realize that you are the one who is being irritating; either way, it's good elder-prep. You will have opportunities to feel sorry for those in your choir who constantly make mistakes; that's empathy training. Plus, singing is excellent exercise, both physical and mental.

4. Learn to listen with your full attention, deliberately and voluntarily. You do this with your television set and a timer of some kind. Tune your tv to a talking head .... try C-SPAN or Book TV or your educational channel; if the talking head is boring, so much the better. Set your timer for three minutes. Give the speaker on tv your total and undivided attention. Every time you realize that your attention has wandered away from the speaker, re-set your timer for three minutes and start over. When you can do the full three minutes with ease, begin practicing -- without the timer -- with real-world people.

Doing all of these things is best, certainly. But doing any one of them is a good start. The sooner the better.

Shameless self-promotion: I do think that reading my verbal self-defense books might also help. Even if you find them irritating.