I said to one of my visiting friends the morning after my 50th birthday party, as I was carrying out some recycling: “after 50, chop wood and carry water.” It’s a take off on the Zen saying:
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water;
After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
I then added, “and it’s good.” The feeling I am having, as I’ve now reached 50, is one of deeply appreciating the place where my life has landed and who I’ve become to be able to land in this place.
I hosted the party on New Year’s Eve and it was an exquisitely wonderful experience for me, and hopefully for many of the guests as well. Although settling in now afterwards, I’m still floating from it. About 15 or so out of town guests came and a good number of local friends attended as well. I had worked hard in planning and preparing the evening with several friends lending some significant support in planning the dance music, helping with decorating, baking cakes, supplying an outdoor firepit for my back deck, etc. I don’t necessarily want to go into details about the party, but I will say that in some profound way, my soul feels like it has been emancipated. With all the striving that I have done in the first 5 decades of my life, some in obvious and some in not so obvious ways, the blowing out of the candles of that cake feels to me like a culminative (at 50 I can make up my own words) moment in my life. As if with that moment, with that act of blowing out the candles, my soul began to rest and stop its striving. I’m having a strong sense of having arrived somewhere rather than trying to get somewhere.
There is a song I love called “Driftless” by the singer/songwriter Greg Brown which begins with:
Those words feel deeply relevant to me in this place – I am feeling that I have done enough to be able to rest – I have learned enough on my journey thus far to speak from a place of capacity. It feels as I have earned my stripes, my 50 year human being scout badge.
The actual blowing out of those candles at the party was somehow magical as well. After a rousing 2nd version of “Happy Birthday,” I had come up with a personally meaningful wish before attempting to blow out the candles. As I looked at the mass of candles (50 candles can appear a little intimidating) I asked aloud, “do I have to blow them all out at once for the wish to come true?” I took a full in breath and when I released – poof – they were all out in an instant. It was a bit startling, almost like they were trick candles. It was as if they were saying, “there is no way that your wish isn’t coming true.” If that is so, it’s been a long time coming.
In planning for the party, it became very clear to me that I wanted to dance, to have the energy be truly one of celebration. I spent much time in the weeks leading up to the party culling through music, searching lists, sampling record cabinets full of music over the internet, and asking some friends for suggestions for music that makes them move. While most of the final playlist turned out to be somewhat obscure (I couldn’t handle a “Brickhouse,” “Celebration,” “1999” party), what all the music had in common was its ability to make my body want to dance. That was the ultimate litmus test of whether or not a song made the cut. Here’s a fave:
I learned something on the dance floor that night – there is a strong correlation between the amount of personal work people do to become truly free in their inner world, and their ability to celebrate and let loose in their outer world. The people at the party who I’ve known to be on the most sincere and personally challenging spiritual paths are most of the ones who shook loose all night. It was a beautiful reflection of the true freedom that is available in our outer worlds when we clear the cobwebs out of our inner ones.
Every human being, and it doesn’t matter how evolved they may be, has some form of rough edges in their lives and personalities that could benefit by being worn smooth. I still have many of those edges in my life, ways in which I still think and act which don’t necessarily reflect a true autonomous adult maturity. The beauty of that, from this stage of 50, is that these edges generally don’t rule me blindly. Those that I can’t see, I honestly from the bottom of my heart want to see, and those that I can see, I seek to grow my way through them to a place of more complete maturation. The effect which that stance seems to have on me is to take away much of the angst which had commonly been found in my younger years. It’s getting more and more difficult to get down on myself because I have truly come to identify with this intention of becoming as clear and complete a human being as I can.
Mostly though, as 50 continues to sink in, I feel a deep sense of relaxation, a feeling similar to having arrived at a pristine glacier-carved lake after a long slog up a mountain and just laying there resting in the warm sun. At the moment it feels like there is nothing really to do. In actuality there is plenty to do, but the doing feels rather effortless, so I think I’ll just lay here by this lake and enjoy the sun.