Past 50, and in the third phase of our life, we have a tendency to seek the familiar, to seek comfort, and live out our days with measured excitement. Organized travel tours, cruise ships to explore unknown places, temperature-controlled homes to keep our bodies comfortable, and gym memberships with machines to keep our bodies from deteriorating. Lucky 50-plussers have the means, the health, and the mental fortitude to explore new careers, try alternative ways of living, or engage in activities to ward off boredom. Others struggle with health and finances to get from one day to the next. All 50-plussers share living with the unknown. How do YOU want to live with the unknown in the years ahead? Do you seek the familiar? Do you seek security in a way it cuts you off from the unknown? Or do you find the unknown adventurous?
Delight in the New
In a dialogue with fellow Greek philosopher Meno, Plato asks, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” This question has been puzzling me. It seems impossible to look for something, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Last week, I went out on a solo skiing trip. A long day in nature, on a trail I hadn’t skied on in many years; snow conditions, I couldn’t predict. That’s many unknowns, you could say. Snow conditions can change terrain to make the familiar unrecognizable. Snow conditions can make an easy glide into a constant struggle, or even dangerous. Yet, each season, I set out on the trail to find what is unknown to me. Last week, after following the track on a forested road, I stood at the edge of a frozen, snowy lake, and decided to ski the lake. Wind gusts had blown powder snow away in places, and an icy, crusty surface made the going more difficult. In contrast, the silky snowy stretches became more of a delight. The skies opened up and gave me an unexpected light show as the sun glittered on the ice. I skied for hours in an unknown, surprising, white world. It was exhilarating. Nature was offering me the gift of newness. I felt like a child who rides a bike for the first time and experiences a mixture of excitement and just-less-than-frightening newness.
The Unknown, Big and Small
When I go out beyond the ordinary well-trodden trails, be it winter or summer, I see things and have experiences unknown to me. These experiences and things color the familiar in new tones. I’m too old to go diving into a snowbank, as I might have done as a child. I won’t climb a steep talus-covered trail to the mountain top on my own. At this point in my life, I avoid the dangerous. But I’m not too old to push the edges of the familiar. I still set out on a long hike into the wilderness away from towns and civilization. I ski away from the groomed trail. Each time I do, I find the unknown.
Dealing with the unknown builds resilience. Do you know the mind-bending trick of wearing your watch on the other wrist? Or, since people don’t wear watches much anymore, walking up the stairs with your non-dominant leg?
To build resilience while living in my comfortable home, I experiment with my life style. I experiment with new routines. I might try a different eating pattern, or set up a daily meditation routine and stick to it; or walk in a new neighborhood. I may do a re-model of my kitchen using innovative technology that forces me to learn to use a new apparatus.
Before the pandemic, I had created a neighborhood support group. I wanted to defy the tendency to isolate behind the walls of my home and look at neighbors through the windows. In this Covid-19 pandemic, the group has become an on-line support group and breaks through the isolation I might otherwise have felt.
I walk to do my errands and use my car sparingly. I will run into a friend I haven’t seen in a while. I may run into a neighbor who offers to water my plants while I’m away. These unknown encounters and unexpected events create aliveness in me; a spark, however small. Every time I run into the unknown, my heart skips a beat in excitement. I feel the joy of being alive and the pleasure of finding something new. I hope I will never get too old to do so.
What do you do to find the unknown in your life?
Dami Roelse was born in Holland and moved to the USA in 1973, after traveling around the world. After a career as a Mental Health therapist, and raising 3 children in a loving marriage, Dami lost her husband, as she entered her 3rd phase of life. Dami wasn’t ready to live with loss and unhappiness. She took a walk in the Himalayas to find herself again and discovered new ways to be happy and find meaning in life. At age 65 on the brink of retirement, she started section hiking the 2650 mile long Pacific Crest trail and hopes to finish this summer (2021). She coaches and encourages women 50+ to open their horizons by walking, hiking, and backpacking. She is the author of 2 books: “Walking Gone Wild, how to lose your age on the trail” and “Fly Free, a memoir of love, loss and walking the path”. You can find out more about Dami at: