Quite soon after your retirement, and curiously, even before it begins, you will notice some strange sensations in your body. These pop up in very predictable circumstances quite regularly. They are uncomfortable feelings which have deep roots. No doubt they are conditioned feelings which have evolved over many years during your work life.
Take the stance of a mindful meditator and notice them. Label them. These sensations will unlock some significant reasons why you have retired. The little voice that accompanies these feelings will say, “I don’t like…, I don’t want to…., or I can’t stand… “ At first, you might catch yourself in a celebratory mode, similar to how you feel when you wake up from a bad dream. Phew! I don’t have to do that anymore! But these little devils might become long-time residents of your psyche without some remediation. Now is the time to take a closer look at those aversions that are hounding you.
My Personal Aversions
After I retired, my list of aversions seemed to immediately include not wanting to sit at a computer, being indoors, or taking long car rides. No need to consult Jung on those three! I would tell everyone who would listen how much those activities drained my energy and were to be avoided.
Another in the same category would be my unfortunate ongoing aversion to time sensitive events. This dread could be as harmless as the fear of being late to an exercise class or as grand as the fear of arriving late and not being seated at a concert. No doubt this recurring distaste stemmed from the temporal management of my day in 26 years of teaching. A teacher’s life is ruled by lesson plans, children’s arrival and departure times, and various appointments during the school day. These days, I don’t want anyone telling me to be anywhere at a certain time. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way – there is always the dentist!
Further down the list of obvious aversions, I found myself opposed to any encounter with public education, including volunteer opportunities. I have not yet given into these aversions, even with all of the children, post-pandemic, who could use the services of a retired reading specialist.
Unpacking the Baggage
If I am honest with myself, my list of aversions is also much more inclusive of some rather subtle feelings which arise in social situations: I worry that I might say the wrong thing in conversation; I unconsciously compare myself with others, and I have a true disdain for flagrant expressions of ego, hierarchies, and hypocrisy. No need here to go into the details of how these aversions took up residency. I’m sure your work days included similar scenarios!
This is quite a sizable caravan of issues and behaviors which nudge me regularly, and not in a positive way. I don’t feel comfortable carrying around this inventory everywhere I go or don’t go! What is going on here?
The Buddhists describe three poisons that cause human suffering: ignorance, attachment (wanting something too much), and aversion. It is interesting that aversion is one of the big three and has been around for 2500 years. It is certainly normal to have certain aversions, such as to snakes and bugs, in order to avoid pain and bodily harm. Those are not the types of aversions Buddhism describes.
Aversions prevent one from truly enjoying the present moment. Rather than being available to see and experience all that is going on, there is a small internal vise restricting the experience. Besides being unavailable in the present, holding onto specific aversions prevents one from moving forward in this stage of life. Before I delved into this topic, I thought I had put most of the pain of my career behind me. Now I see that this is not quite true.
Sending the Aversions Packing!
The first step in eliminating these aversions, is labeling them and acknowledging the fact that they exist. An excellent example is when I tell everyone I know how much I hate road trips and sitting in front of a screen. Honestly, it allows me to flash my battle scars, on a regular basis! However, I’ve learned this is not a helpful behavior. By repeating this aversion over and over, I’m keeping it alive, instead of securely deleting it from my consciousness. Moving down the list of the more subtle aversions can be quite illuminating, as they are equally difficult to remove. I’ll be honest. I haven’t yet moved the needle on anger at having to be someplace on time.
Entering the “softer” aversions, there is much to be learned by changing one’s mindset. Having a little dread of being exposed in social situations could make me a recluse, and has done that to some extent! A healthier way of integrating this information, is to make me more careful in social situations, so I don’t experience new public embarrassments. Being aware that I compare myself with others, allows me to just label the situation when it arises, such as feeling jealous that I’m not a grandmother. It is not practical to avoid every grandmother my age so I won’t feel that feeling. I tend to flinch when I hear expressions of ego, often in younger folks, and I tell myself they are in a different stage of life - the striving stage, where such status matters.
Quite unexpectedly, after several years of retirement, I have a renewed interest in education. Although I’m not putting my name on a substitute teacher list or even tutoring adult ESL students, I might want to share some career insights through short pieces of writing online or in print. Having spent a lifetime in a particular career might provide others with some insight, and is helpful in putting past experiences into perspective. During the pandemic, I was able to help a literacy organization with a weekly food distribution, and was able to share some helpful teaching strategies and materials with some of the younger staff.
Aversion to aversions can be treated. The protocol involves reflection, labeling, and gently acknowledging their role in your evolution. As they arise, every analogous experience can be practice in letting them go.