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The Grief Men Feel in Retirement

One of the great problems men experience entering the "golden years" is whether to work or not - not just at a paid job, but in pursuit of constructive enterprise. Encouraged by well-meaning family, men take on volunteer work, remodel homes, or build furniture in their garage. It all seems creative and meaningful, and for many it may be, but for others, these new activities hide the fear of no longer performing.

Men compete in the world of work for four to six decades. They compete with each other and with their own expectations. By the time the reach retirement years, many have become burned out workhorses. Let out of the pasture, however, and they don't know how to stop working, and if they try, they feel restless, guilty, and depressed. They feel the best years are behind them now. They have lost their connection to true self and soul; they have lost touch with the gifts, dreams and longing for liberation that awaken in these years. With little support from self, society, or even family, they take on new projects all the while sensing a deep but unverbalized self-betrayal. And much of this betrayal is spiritual.

As the Hindu model of the stages of life described eons ago, the task of aging men is to move beyond the roles and goals of the middle years toward a deeper experience of the divine mystery. In the Hindu model, men are called to be "forest dwellers" living simply in the divine mystery, or later, "renunciates" who take up begging bowls and surrender everything they have in their dissolution. In our modern world, this developmental stage need not involve a literal departure from home and hearth to live in the cold and rainy woods, but it does call for time alone to sink into quiet reflection, life review, spiritual contemplation, and release of their soul-numbing compulsivity. Because western culture does not understand this mystical call, it encourages men instead to continue their heroic drive toward more and greater conquests - in recreation, service, hobbies and productivity. It's always up and more when the soul's longing in the world is for down and less. His interest is no longer about heroic achievement, it's about releasing identity, time and story into the oneness of Being in preparation for experiences of unity.

Because very few men know of this "road less traveled," they feel no other choice but to push onward. What their family sees, however, are subtle signs of sadness and despair - symptoms of a deep-seated feeling of self-abandonment. How can you help your husband or father in his struggle? The first step is to overcome the belief that he simply needs more hobbies or projects to feel better. Instead, encourage him to explore and value his feelings through reading, poetry, artistic expression, journaling or men's groups. Every man needs to know that this final journey of the soul is valid, important and meaningful. Every man needs to find that inner voice of individuation before it is too late. The objective now is not competition, it is listening to the voice of soul. He will be grateful and you will meet a man with much more depth than you realized.
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