'Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.'
Mary W. Shelley, English Novelist (1797-1851)
"Steady purpose" has become an interesting challenge for me in retirement. I have been wandering through areas of great joy, huge loss, ennui, family and personal medical events, and mostly have felt rudderless and buffetted. Without the ballast of a job, work for pay, work in a context that requires little but quick response and a ready will to resolve discrete problems, I have found myself circling in and out of projects, social events, volunteer opportunities, and all without much sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. I have many friends who are still un-retired, therefore doing "real" work out in the "real" world, who are mystified by my apparent bewilderment. And I have many friends who are retired who don't understand my angst, either. And obviously, I am the most confounded of all.
This last week I was going through another one of those medical things that just comes along sometimes for an aging body. For some years my opthamologist has been recommending a surgery that will help me see more clearly, and with less effort. No, not cataract surgery -- I've already had two of those. This surgery was more of a "necessary" cosmetic procedure. I needed my eyelids lifted so that my peripheral vision would be better. And, at the last consult, I was advised that doing a little work on the sagging areas under my eyes might be a good choice as well, "while we're at it." Eventually, that would become an issue that would need addressing, in any case.
But I felt so conflicted about doing something that fell under the heading of "plastic" surgery. I did not feel justified in doing something just for how I looked -- but then, it was clear, that this procedure would also help my vision. So I agreed.
The process is not without discomfort, and the recovery has been a little more complicated than I thought it might. But I never was in any real pain. My dear husband was nearly driven mad by having to deliver ice packs every half hour for the first day -- we didn't do enough preparation so that process had any simplicity. But we got through it, and he survived all the trips up and down the hall. I was able to take over on the second day, when the ice packs were only every two hours and I could get up and down. So he gladly returned to his work schedule.
By the second day the hardest thing was not being able to see clearly. All the drops and creams that had to be continually applied, made the world fogged, viscous, fuzzy. I could see somewhat better for a bit after the ice pack treatments, but it didn't last long. So I listened to my favorite old movies and jazz and some lovely lullabies, and just had to be still for much longer than I am used to or comfortable with.
My true joy and distraction is reading, and although I am now able to work on the computer, reading a book is still not a comfortable activity. And my eyes tire very easily, feeling scratchy and irritated. So I sit and listen.
Some of the listening has been to myself, something that I will avoid until absolutely compelled. Too many Greek-chorus voices, too many critical parents, too much self-criticism going on in there. You can see why I love the vast distraction of "work for purpose."
But I think I am beginning to understand a different way of seeing things from the inside out. I have decided that some of what was cut away in this surgery represents the heaviness of vision, the continual effort of trying to lift up my eyes by using the muscles in my forehead. I've been doing the same thing internally; lifting up heavy layers of old patterned thinking that have kept me from finding the light and the lightness of my inner life.
Strange as this exercise may be, and I do think it strange for me, I am finding this "intellectual eye" exercise very helpful. The images I have created inside my mind to help me clarify what truly gives me steady purpose, do not have to be those of doing, building, working. It may just be possible to find great tranquility by allowing the burdens to disappear, be excised, and joyfully discover what lies beneath. It may be that I will find myself there, underneath all the useless baggage, and that I can see a bit more clearly that actually, it is all good.