Thoughts from the Mountains on Preparing for the Next Phase in Life
Spending three or four days a week in my self-imposed mountain retreat leaves a lot of room for thinking. For sure a lot of my time is taken up by the work I do during the day and the occasional visits from friends in the evening, but the fact remains that there is a lot of alone time, and alone time leads to more space for listening to your thoughts.
Of course I am very used to living alone, and enjoy it very much. So it is not about being alone in this furnished apartment with a view. It is about being alone in a place where I have almost zero things to do outside of my own personal sphere. There are very few friends here to see, no busy social agenda like my regular life in Beirut or Cairo, no constant pressure on my time. In addition, I am surrounded by sparse furniture that I don’t really like, and very few personal belongings, leading to a heightened sense of detachment. At the essense, despite the work and the interjections of occasional friends dropping by, when I’m here, it’s me myself and I, plus a balcony with a view. Lots of room for ideas to flow and for that inner voice to be heard. It puts me in almost the same mood, were it not for the frequent trips back to Beirut, that I was in on my 7-month self-discovery sabbatical in India and Nepal.
But the sabbatical in India was twelve years ago, at a time when the focus was on values and life perspectives and solidifying a conviction of how I wanted to live my life, of what was important and what was not. The time frame looking forward could not, in the most optimistic scenario, exceed the next twenty years, more than half of which have passed now. That trip has led to unconventional personal and career choices, and a life that I would consider intense and rich, lived to a large extent by my own rules within the general confines (unfortunately, and until further notice) of the law
One of comments and arguments I heard the most from friends and family (heard in the past tense because thankfully I hear it much less now that people have gotten tired of repeating it) is about deciding not to have children. “What will you do in your old age?” “Who will take care of you?” “Aren’t you afraid of being lonely?” And my answer would always be the same: I will not have children as an insurance policy! And more importantly, I have made a conscious decision to live a full, unburdened life now, at the accepted risk of being alone in old age. I would much rather say I have lived a full, free life, than say I have lived an OK average life, but hey, I have children around me now (or children who have immigrated to Canada!) It is certainly not conventional wisdom, and for sure I am not at all claiming this is the right thinking for most people, but it is the thinking that works best for me.
And yet, here I am in this partial retreat in the mountains, with all this quiet time to hear the inner voices, and this experience again of detachment and solitude, and one of the main ideas that keeps popping up is, what might my life be like in my old age? Will I be able to tolerate a similar existence of (probably forced) solitude, minus my current work projects and minus my current long list of friends and engagements? And even though, at almost 47 years old, one might say it is still early to think about that, it is starting to appear that this partial retreat is guiding me, like last time, to take a look at what the next phase might be like. It looks like it might be about active preparation.
When I left Boston in 2004 to have my sabbatical, I already had fragmented ideas of what was important to me, and some questions that needed answering. When I came up here, I had a few similar fragmented ideas of what I want next, and also some other questions. After about a month, these thoughts have started taking shape. I think I am starting to formulate what I would like my old age to be like, and how to go about preparing for it. Interestingly, I think these ideas apply to many different people, no matter if single, married, with or without children. No guarantees of course, and many problems not the least of which are health ones might appear, but at least, the beginning of a plan is starting to shape up. In my next post, I will outline its main components.