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Aging and the Loss of Ambition

In the second stage of aging, middle old age, we often begin to lose the ambition and goal orientation that focused and drove so much of life. Ego - the "I" that runs the show (or at least tries to run the show), begins to lose its power, like an engine running out of gas. Of course short-term, practical objectives come and go - fixing the roof, revising the will, going to grandchildren's birthday parties, taking a vacation, but those great ambitions, those lofty quests that raised armies of energy, no longer propel our lives. Gradually the remaining elements of life - day to day chores, schedules and appointments, this and than, become like flotsam and jetsam gently rocked by the tide, a tide that will one day carry us out to sea and to another shore. Lacking much in the way of ego and motivation, we wonder what to do, how to live, what even matters. This is not depression; this is the personality's preparation for the next stage.

What to do with this new and unexpected state of affairs? Often these days I can't seem to get really motivated or excited about anything. Instead, the present becomes a time of reflection, contemplation, and wonderment; a time to enjoy little things like friendship, marriage, pets, coffee and a good nap; a time of simplicity and quiet; a time of helping when needed; a time of remembrance and summing up. I know that winter is gradually approaching, that the coals gradually grow dim inside, and so I settle in to appreciate the timeless mystery that is increasingly enfolding me. It is a new time, a surprising time, one I never expected, one the old elders never talked about. Apparently it is time to float on a divine tide.

As a writer, I wonder if I will ever write again. Big ideas come and go; none hold me. Small ideas, like this topic, fascinate me for a while if only because I sense a little more understanding of what is taking place in my evolution. The days blur together, the Earth turns, the sky moves from light to dark to light again, and I grow a little older every day. Perhaps this time of inertia is a natural rest period following the rush of three books on aging; perhaps it is simply the ending of this kind of productivity.

It's strange to lack motivation. I miss those powerful goals propelling me across time and space, through challenges and problems, always some new accomplishment on the horizon beckoning me onward. Now I just watch the horizon, noticing how the clouds meander or swell, how the rain comes to my little island, how the fragrant air smells like spring these days. With nothing to conquer, nothing to achieve, it is a smaller but more deeply rooted life. The "here-and-now" becomes more alive and beautiful and enough. So I wait, I trust, and watch. Still I wrestle with ambition's absence. Wistful, I fan the coals, but no great fire catches. So I sit by the coals instead, wrapped in a soft warm shawl, feeling my heartbeat, listening to my dog's breathing beside me, quiet. It is a fallow time, a time of deepening into something so much more than I am.

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