April 13, 2019
It must have been sometime during the 3rd organic coffee colonic, on the paradise-like island of Koh Pha Gnan in southern Thailand, that the idea of retirement hit me. Again.
It was my birthday, and I was three days into a nine-day detox retreat. My sister Susan reminded me, by text, of something our mother told us when we were kids: your birthday is not about celebrating your age, but rather your birth.
Birth, I mused, and the cycle of life was indeed worth celebrating every step of the way.
So why was the idea of retirement nagging me? Did it mean to cease being productive? True, it’s been about a year since I’ve done anything measurably productive. But then again, the last year hasn’t been without appreciable change.
Early this year, GV and I permanently moved out of NYC, our home for 17 years. We had our household goods packed into a small, 16-foot container awaiting our next destination as we split to Asia for a few months.
We traded cold and noisy NYC for equally crowded and hot Bangkok (as a base) where we scheduled several back-to-back getaways in hopes of perspective widening.
Following a couple of weeks choking on Bangkok’s not-so-pristine air, and a week on a relatively secluded Indonesian beach, we kicked-off our quasi-metaphysical journey by scheduling a 12-day silent meditation retreat at a southern Thailand monastery. We wanted to see if we could pinprick the murky world of enlightenment. One hundred and twenty-five other foreigners were doing the same thing at the same place and time. And it was damn hard. (The silence wasn’t hard, nor was it hard sleeping on a concrete slab with a wooden pillow. It wasn’t hard waking up daily at 4 am, and it wasn’t hard eating two vegetarian meals within five hours and fasting 19 hours per day. It wasn’t hard sleeping with giant spiders or the occasional snake. The hard part was indeed trying to meditate 11 hours daily. But I guess that was the point. Time slowed to a standstill as I cheered forward each day.)
After a one-week interlude back in Bangkok, doing everything we dreamed of doing while on the silent retreat, we headed to China for a two-week moving meditation course, located outside Guilin. In a small, but popular local village, we dove into the principles of Tai Chi and Qigong at a traditional Tai Chi school. My head spun, realizing how much of a time investment it would be to (pretend to) master even the basics.
The third two-week stint took us to this resort called The Sanctuary, in southern Thailand, an island accessible only by boat, where we were participating in a nine-day detox fast.
As I lay on the enema table in a blissful, tropical environment with a tube in my ass, the reminder to celebrate birth, and the gift of life, poked me in the abdomen, while the notion of retirement kept pestering me.
If retirement meant being non-productive, i.e., not working, then I wanted no part of it. There was evidence of plenty (westerners) who had retired to this island and many like it. Indeed, we were thinking of making our new home in a retirement mecca known as Palm Springs, CA. On the outside, retired life seemed like a luxury. But how could I do so little, for any longer than a blip of time?
Sure, retirement may be a relief if it means not having to slog eight hours a day to pay rent. But there’s got to be more of a productive purpose to our entire arc of life.
I felt profoundly grateful for these rich and rewarding retreats. I was, after all, celebrating birth, wasn’t I?
So as the coffee-filled tube was finishing its job, I vowed that I’d find a new purpose. Retirement, while a worthy and even enviably phase of life, didn’t seem to be calling my name. With that thought, I abruptly yanked out the hose, vowing to soldier into a new realm of productivity — anything except retirement.