Monday, February 1, 2010


Dear George,

This month is the one-year anniversary of my retirement. It’s gone by much too quickly. I told our department secretary Linda that my aim this year was to slow down the passage of time, and she said I would be the world’s richest person if I could accomplish that. I’d say my main feeling so far is one of mild depression. For years now I’ve asked retired colleagues about their states of mind. The gamut has run from manic elation (“I’m having an unbelievable time”) to deep angst (“I’m at a total loss about what to do”). When acquaintances ask me, I usually say, “It’s o.k., though I liked working better.” Walking home the other day, I mentally rated my retirement year on a scale from +10 (successful, positive) to -10 (failing, negative). I decided upon a +1 (i.e., not much to be excited about, nor to be miserable about). My new daily life seems sort of routine and humdrum so far. I’ve enjoyed working on my blog; going to the fitness center seems worthwhile; and I like having more time with the sheepdogs. The days run into one another though, and, aside from a couple of visits with Baby V and her parents, a lot of my daily life has been pretty solitary and humdrum. Mild depression comes into play when I start reflecting on huge losses, e.g., productive work, friendly social contacts, a monthly paycheck, recognition from others, being involved in a larger collective enterprise, reasons for being, etc.

The other day I consulted the I Ching about my dilemma, asking it what I might do to make the coming year better. Katja and I first ran across the I Ching as college students at Antioch. My brother-in-law David was our most knowledgeable source since he had consulted the I Ching regularly for some time, and he advised us to purchase the Wilhelm/Baynes translation. We still have our original copy, though it’s looking a little tattered. The I Ching (or Book of Changes) is an ancient Chinese compilation of wisdom and prophecy central to Confucianism. The basis of its philosophy is that nothing is static and that human tasks are to adjust to the ebbs and flows of change. Scholars believe that the origins of the I Ching date back to the time of the ruler Fu Hsi about 5000 years ago in ancient China. Thus, the I Ching is one of the world’s oldest surviving books. Reading the I Ching involves casting three coins to build a series of 6 solid and/or broken lines called a “hexagram”. Each line is either Yin (the feminine force) or Yang (the masculine force). Six throws of the coins determine a specific hexagram, which is then looked up in the I Ching for a passage which describes the meaning of that hexagram and each of its lines.

Having posed the question, “How can I make the coming year better?”, my resulting hexagram was labeled Kên (Keeping Still, Mountain). According to the I Ching’s text, this hexagram addresses the problem of achieving a quiet heart. The I Ching describes rest as a state of polarity that always includes movement as its complement. Thus, “true quiet means keeping still when the time has come to keep still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward.” The I Ching observes that when movement comes to a standstill, “the ego, with its restlessness, disappears as it were.” When an individual has thus become calm, “he may turn to the outside world…he has that true peace of mind which is needed for understanding the great laws of the universe and for acting in harmony with them…”

Interpreting the I Ching is challenging. My initial reaction is that I’ve been a long way from “keeping still” and that the attainment of such inner peace is key to my doing better with retirement. My work mode has always been one of stress and striving, focused on external goals and making demands upon myself. I’ve always found it difficult to shift into a vacation frame of mind, and that nervous, goal-directed state of mind has followed me into retirement. Following the I Ching’s reflections, I conclude that it’s time for me to come to terms with being retired, to slow down and relinquish “the restlessness of the ego.” If and when that happens, I’ll hopefully be able to then “turn to the outside world” in fulfilling ways.

There is this minor problem that I can’t remember ever achieving a moment of inner peace. However, I’m sure the I Ching knows what’s it’s talking about, and so I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll consult the book of wisdom again in the future, and I’ll let you know how things seem to be going.



G-Mail Comments:

-Phyllis SS (2-6): Dave, Loved this one especially because it is what I am also thinking about through a different venue -- daily meditation. Whenever I reach that state of "joy" I seem to want to avoid it - it feels too intense and maybe different.... P

-JML (2-1): hey dad, you need to be a hardcore saints fan and then you won't have to search for things like fulfillment and meaning and productivity because you'll simply be content to listen to talk radio and all the cable sports shows. that's my advice and you have 6 days to follow up. WHO DAT!. love, J

-Ami G (2-1): Just a +1? Yikes! Never even one moment of inner peace? Really? You have to fix this! Can you try to re-invent yourself with only internal goals and pleasures? It's time for you to start painting or collaging or sculpting again. Maybe you could then get lost in a project. I'm getting worried about you.


  1. Hi, Dave,

    You don't know me, but I'm a friend of Linda's (as well as Jayme, Kiersta, and Justin). Linda sent me the link to your blog last Friday (she wanted me to read the vampire post), and I just wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your posts in the days since. You are an excellent writer. I've gone back and read many of your older entries, and I plan to keep reading in the future. So, I just wanted you to know that you have a new fan.

    Amy Rosenberg

  2. Hi Amy,
    Thanks for your message and the positive feedback. As relatively new blogger, I find it strange to send items out to the ether-world and not really know where they go. One of the most pleasing things is when they find their way to a new reader.