Old Dogs Do Learn New Tricks!

My dog Gracie is almost eight years old – 56, in dog years. She has been chasing frisbees her whole life, but it was just last week that she actually caught one on the fly. I could see her mind working that day, working out the mechanics, figuring out the potential trajectory of my throw, and as she was running, she looked over her left shoulder and saw the frisbee coming. She leaped into the air and caught it! It was a glorious moment for Gracie, one she wanted to repeat, again and again!

My friend Lorna, who is 72, in human years, brought herself to an orgasm – the first time in her life. Though her relationship with her partner Craig is still hot after 35 years, Lorna had never been able to pleasure herself to orgasm until this fateful day. It was a glorious moment for Lorna – one she wants to repeat again and again.

People think of me as an academic because of the many graduate degrees that are part of my history. Actually I’m a learner, definitely not an academic. Academia has been a path for learning, but really, life itself has been the greatest institution of higher learning available – that and YouTube.

Learning is a life changing phenomenon. Every time you learn something new a paradigm shift occurs and your reality is stirred, perhaps even shaken.

Learning is the inefable connection of ourselves with universal wisdom. You may think I’m going too far out there, however, it isn’t just the accumulation of knowledge that we seek. There is something else. When we learn something new, or even try to learn something new, we touch into the potential of reality every time. Yes, the potential of reality, as well as the reality of potential. How exciting is that?

I’ve witnessed revelations in people at all ends of the spectrum of aging; Carl, who is learning to walk without pain, after his hip surgery, and my grandson Andrew as he picked up a wooly catapillar for the very first time, both were struck with wonder, and delight shone on both of their faces.

From the beginning of our time on Earth, learning brings us understanding of who we are and what our function is in this world. We learn to assume many roles and identities. As we grow, quite often we attend to the accomplishment, while disconnected from the Being who is inside all of the learning, functioning, and developing.

In the midst of learning, we have an opportunity to experience ourselves within the moment of transcendence, when we take that leap of faith. I see this in my friend Marj, when in the midst of experimenting with her acrylic painting something unexpected happens, and audible sounds of delight spontaneously erupt. By experimenting and practicing different way of thinking, different way of seeing, and a different way of moving in the world, light bulbs go on, and we feel a little more connected to our selves. Deep, right?

So, those who immerse themselves in learning opportunities relish the experience of uncovering and experiencing the learner within the learning. It has taken focused dedication and discipline. Everyday, as the aging process becomes more self-evident, it requires constant vigilance and openness to learning who we are in this moment. What works now? What doesn’t work any longer?

Just like learning to play a musical instrument, or learning to ride a bike, it requires a constant presence to what is now. It’s letting go of habits, identities and patterns that worked in the past but now limit our capacity to thrive and enjoy life. Marj let go of some rigidity in her body that allowed a flow to happen on her canvas. Lorna let go of decades of patternings to allow her to release into what had been forbidden her whole life.

Learning something requires making mistakes. Making mistakes allow us to connect to our humanness and falability. Our failabity leads us to humility, no longer humiliation and embarrassment. As we mature we realize that the fear of making mistakes is highly over rated. Carl shared with me that because he feared making the wrong decision about getting his hip replaced he missed out on a lot of fun. He isn’t going to make that mistake again. “I want the fun!” he said, “And, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure I stay in this mindset.”

Throughout life we cultivate competencies. And the presumption is that as we age we lose those competencies. This quite often scares most of us into playing safe, and limiting opportunities to get hurt. We participate in activities – mental and physical, that assist us in ignoring and avoiding the reality that we don’t seem to have that resiliance we once had. Carl was headed in that direction and turned himself around. You go, Carl!

In our Tuesday morning discussion group – Aging – Who Me, one wise woman presented the idea that, perhaps there is a gift in learning to let go of what no longer works. Maybe through the practice of letting go we learn to look at ourselves and our lives differently. Maybe this aging process, especially within this phase which seems to demand so much of us in accepting what we cannot change, we learn to be curious about who is inside these bags of bones. Through curiosity we discover things about ourselves we never even knew existed, though has always been in there.

The process of aging requires learning something new every day, if only in service to figuring out how to get out of bed, how to hold your pee, how to work around arthritis, how to remember to take which pills at the correct time. My hope for us all is that we revel in the delight of every accomplishment – no matter how small. It’s the experience of reveling, not the accomplishment that is the gift. Every day, we old dogs are learning new tricks.

If you’d like to join Dr. Rosie in the AGING – Who Me in-person discussions at the Orcas Island Senior Center, they are meeting Tuesday “ June 6, from 10 – 11:30 a.m. Or, if you’d like to set up a coaching session, feel free to call her at 360-376-4323.

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