Senior Viewpoint: Navigating the New Give-and-Take, John Olesnavage

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We spend a lifetime learning how to be independent and self-sufficient. We are taught to rely on our own wits and resources to take care of ourselves and those we love. Forget Spiderman and Batman, MacGyver is the real American hero! Give him a stick of gum, a can of paint, or a roll of duct tape, and he can conquer any obstacle.

As we mature, we take pride in standing on “our own two feet.” Then time marches us along into the “golden years.” We may start losing our car keys and forget about that doctor’s appointment we needed to keep. A few short years later, we may find ourselves standing on the corner of Main St. and Vine, gripping our cane tightly, not sure we can make it across the street before the light changes. A man stops his car, gets out and stands there like a crossing guard until we safely make it across. Head down, resolute, we shuffle forward, not daring to look up at the light or the traffic. We nod at the man as we shuffle past him, and mumble thank you, but what we feel is diminished and somewhat ashamed. So much for being self-sufficient! We are more likely at the mercy of our own failing body. How do we reconcile or make lemonade out of this lemon?

We have a choice. We can resent growing old and in need of help, or we can see the strength and power in letting others help us. Let’s look at how that works.

It starts with understanding the co-creative nature of a helping relationship. Co-creative means that both parties are stretching beyond what is expected and giving of their time and talent. We know the gift/assistance we have received, but what do we, the receiver of this generosity, give back?

We give the gift of helping someone else feel needed, appreciated, and in a real way, powerful. That is why resenting their help diminishes not only their gift, but they themselves. Doing so is missing a life-affirming connection. Did you ever give someone a gift and see them never even take it out of the box? I did, and felt hurt for a long time.

When we give the gift of letting someone help us, we are also co-creating some new space. That space is quite magical. It has the power to transform a mundane act such as holding a door open into an act of affirmation, maybe even healing. We are receiving while we are also giving. This is “Co-creation 101.” It means letting go of pride, yes, but it also means bestowing some pride on someone else. It calls for some vulnerability, yes, but also a realization that something bigger than a door being opened is going on.

And, while we are making that giver-of help feel powerful and good, who has the greater power? It may well be the person gripping the cane, or, could we call it a wizard’s wand? Eat your heart out MacGyver! But, remember, that wand works best with a light touch. Too much power (or pride in what you can do for the other person) will also diminish the gift.

We are taught to be self-sufficient, but the real strength is in knowing how to form co-created relationships.

John Olesnavage, author of Ask* your Powerful Question, is a psychologist, educator, and author who follows his own Powerful Question “each-and-every-day.” John also wrote Our Boundary, a book describing his ground-breaking, boundary-based approach to counseling.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

The Gifts of Aging by Barb Dupras

The definition of aging is “the process of growing old or maturing.”  A synonym for aging is “obsolescence” (becoming obsolete).  Of course, no one wants to become obsolete.  We are constantly bombarded by the media with messages telling us we should not look old but instead try any product we can to regain our youthful appearance.  It’s as if aging is a terrible malady we should avoid at all costs.  Our youth-oriented culture has lost touch with the deep meanings that can collect around being old, as if it would be better to eliminate autumn and winter from the four seasons. “Let’s get rid of the hideous autumn foliage and withered leaves so everything can be green all the time.”  But then the world would miss out on the true spirit of elders.

This mysterious process called aging has been part of the greater rhythm of life since life began.  For me, one of the gifts of this later phase of life, as a result of all my life experiences, is the opportunity to be more inner-directed.  As we come closer to the realm of the spirit, we have the opportunity to look back at our life and glean the lessons that we may or may not have learned earlier. We can learn to be more conscious, as we are no longer so distracted with children, the roller-coaster ride of hormones, or the outer challenges inherent in making a living. And we have the wisdom to look at it all.  We may identify patterns in our life reoccurring time and again.  It’s as if the original situation, (which may have occurred in childhood or when we were younger), keeps repeating itself throughout our lives in a futile attempt to resolve itself.  Now we have the opportunity to identify unhealed issues and look to whatever means we are drawn to to heal or integrate them. I believe everything that happens in our lives is for our growth, and that we can come to a sense of peace about challenging experiences.  One book that really helped me with this is The Presence Process by Michael Brown.

As we grow older, many of us focus on the physical changes.  At sixty-two, I do notice the changes in my body.  More and more, my body seems to have a mind of its own!  It will no longer tolerate my pushing it to the limit and has announced to me in various ways that the pace is different now.  And I am more focused on maintaining my health.  I know that the “golden years” can be fraught with pain and disease.  But I invite you to take a different perspective about your body.  It has served you well for many, many years.  And the natural state of our bodies is one of perfect health.  No matter what state your body is in, it is always trying to rebalance or heal itself, (even if it means compromising other systems).  For example, one day my lower back was giving me great discomfort.  I sat and meditated for a while and totally relaxed.  When I got up, the pain was completely gone.  When you relax, your body has the opportunity to address the issues at hand.  There are probably some reading this who have severe health issues thinking, “Sure, you are younger and in good health – easy for you to say!”  But I do invite you to take some time every day to relax completely and think positive loving thoughts about your body.  Your body does respond to the thoughts you think about it. Experiment and see what happens!

A friend in her sixties shared with me that she feels more like herself than she has since she was a child. I also feel that way. She explained that she is not dealing with midlife responsibilities so now she can pursue her passions.

I remember my life loving adventures – camping, solo canoe camping, backpacking, etc.  Now I don’t feel the push to do those things.  It was almost like I needed to prove something to myself.  Now I feel peaceful and more grounded, with the opportunity to put things in a healthier perspective. A friend in her seventies said she did not start feeling old until her friends started dying.  Then she started thinking about her age and her body started giving her challenges.  She also said she no longer does things to mark them off her list; instead, she only does things she finds fun.

Historically, cultures have turned to the elders for answers to life’s deepest problems. Unfortunately, in this modern age the reins of power and leadership often go to individuals who have not yet gained the experience and wisdom necessary to make good decisions.  There is a new philanthropic effort acknowledging that we once again need to access the wisdom of the elders to solve problems.  “The Elders,” an international non-governmental organization of twelve elder public figures – peace activists, noted statesmen and human rights advocates, was brought together by Nelson Mandala in 2007.  Its goal is to use the “almost 1000 years of collective experience” to work on solutions for seemingly insurmountable world problems such as poverty, human rights abuses, environmental issues, peace, and climate change.  Some of the elders are: Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson. You can learn more about this organization at

With all the years that we seniors have lived, how wonderful it is that we can guide the next generation toward making good choices! There is groundedness and power in that.  This phase brings the opportunity to explore life in a whole new way.  Let’s embrace all the qualities in us that have served us well and share our innate wisdom. Let’s nourish our precious relationships And above all, let’s honor each other and be supportive of one another’s life journeys.  There are more opportunities for us to explore than ever before.  Let’s not waste time!

Barbara Dupras is a retired Senior Center Social Worker and practices Energy Medicine.  She loves gardening, hiking, and kayaking in the Chocolay River, on which she lives.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2012 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2012.