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Mary Pipher: Women Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age



Guest: Mary Pipher
Host: Alyssa Martin
Moderator: Preeta Bansal

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.

Alyssa: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!. My name is Alyssa Martin and I am really excited to be your host for our weekly, global Awakin Call -- welcome, and thank you for joining us! The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life -- speakers who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Mary Pipher. Thank you again for joining today's call! Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call -- today, in conversation with Mary Pipher. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that is co-created by all participants on the call, and we invite your active involvement in the conversation. In a few minutes, our moderator Preeta Bansal, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker and by the top of hour we'll roll into Q&A and circle of sharing -- where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now, so at any point, you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us ask@servicespace.org or submit a comment or question via the webcast form, if you are listening online via the webcast. We invite your active co-creation of this space through your shared reflections and direct engagement with our guest.
Our moderator today is Preeta Bansal. Preeta has spent her career at the highest levels of public service, law, the corporate world and Academia, including serving as a senior policy advisor in the Obama White House and as solicitor general of the state of New York, helping draft the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a federal Human Rights Commission chair and US diplomat, and being on the senior management team of the world's largest bank. And she's also been a partner in a major global law firm and teaches at Harvard and MIT. Now she's focusing on social change from the inside out, from small ripples rather than external mandates and reform, and from the heart as well as from the head. She is an active Service Space volunteer. She will now introduce our guest Mary Pipher and get the ball rolling on this conversation. Preeta, over to you.
Preeta: Thank you so much, Alyssa. It's really my pleasure to be here in conversation today in Lincoln, Nebraska with Mary Pipher. Mary is a remarkable person and I'm going to take just a minute, if I can, to introduce her because I think it's important to understand the body of her work, and to give context, because her work is so much her life. And to give context for our conversation. So Mary Pipher has been called by several national media outlets as one of America's best-known psychologists. 25 years ago, when her daughter was a teenager, she wrote the best-selling book "Reviving Ophelia" about the stresses and anxieties faced by teenage girls. Her groundbreaking investigation and her accessible down-to-earth writing about America's girl-poisoning culture in the 1994 book established her as one of the nation's foremost authorities on family issues.
She posed the provocative question -- why our American adolescent girls falling prey to depression, eating disorders and suicide attempts at an alarming rate? The answer hit a national nerve. "We live in a look-obsessed, sexist girl-poisoning culture.", she wrote, "and despite the advances of feminism, girls continue to struggle to find their true self." The book was grounded in her career as a clinical psychologist who had worked primarily with women and teenage girls and it established her as a voice in the national conversation about families. The book occupied a place on the New York Times bestseller list for three years and held the list's number one spot for a whopping 26 weeks. But it came with its own personal cost for Mary. The constant spotlight and the years of travel, talks and appearances didn't suit her grounded life or her personal disposition. The cumulative effect of all of this over the course of the next decade, led in the winter of 2002 to what she calls a polite breakdown. Polite because she continued to be functional and fully-productive and write other books, but a breakdown because in her words, "the books success catapulted me into a chaotic life, not unlike that of my childhood. As I traveled and spoke, I constantly felt in over my head and aware that I couldn't take as much care of others as they genuinely needed. I felt the loss of control. I was away from almost everything that calmed me down."
She has written what is now a total of ten books. Three of which have been New York Times bestsellers. When she was taking care of her aging and sick mother, she wrote the book 'Another country' about the issues faced by adult children caring for parents. In 2009, she tried to make sense of it all and wrote a personal memoir called "Seeking peace: chronicles of the worst Buddhist in the world" where she examined her own struggles with a notion that success isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Her latest book released earlier this year is about women in their 60s and 70s, who like her are transitioning from middle-aged to old age.
Mary is 71. Her new book is called 'Women Rowing North' and it examines the phenomenon that the happiest demographic in America is older women in this age range. Her new book is about new strategies for a new stage of life in which your body is changing. You may no longer be doing the things upon which you based your identity, such as raising your children or following your career, and you may be losing people you love. But despite the greater challenges at this life stage, you also have seven decades of acquiring coping and resilience skills. So with that, I want to welcome Mary. It's a pleasure to be here.
Mary: Thank you very much. I'm excited to be on this show.
Preeta: Thanks. So Mary, you've been incredibly notable. I think in your career because of your ability to capture and articulate something that's in the times and in the air. So can you talk a little bit about what moved you to write this latest book? What were you experiencing and seeing around you that led you to focus on this demographic of women?
Mary: Well, I always explore and study what I most need to learn. And it's so hard to write a book for me, that when I choose a topic, it's the topic that I'm struggling with at the deepest levels. So as I was aging and my friends were aging, I wanted to figure out what does a growth model look like for people my age? And how do we take a very challenging life stage and use the challenges of that life stage to catapult us into deeper spiritual lives and greater moral imagination? The other thing I noticed was that the cultural scripts around older people, older women were just so unlike my felt experience and my friend's experiences. And whenever there's that disconnect between the way the culture describes people and the reality of their lives, that's a real chance to unpack the culture and to encourage people to be resistance-fighters to definitions and roles that are unsuitable for them.
Preeta: Interesting. So what In the culture were you seeing in terms of the diminishment or the diminution of women?
Mary: Well, one of the really interesting things about how we define aging in America is it's almost entirely in terms of diminution. Older women are perceived generally as sexless, less attractive, less useful, in a way less interesting, and sometimes less pleasant. You see this in the kind of birthday cards older women buy for each other, because those are the only cards there. You see it in mother-in-law jokes. You see it in -- well, the most visible way I saw it was when I told my friends I was writing a book about older women. Invariably their reaction was either -- "Mary, you're not old. Or I'm not old."
And what they were really saying is I refuse to identify with the cultural scripts we have in this country about aging. And in fact what my experience was is my friends, many of them are telling me this is the happiest life stage. They're doing great deal of creative work. They're doing very interesting volunteer work. They're traveling, they're spending time with friends and family and grandchildren. We're a very gregarious generation. So I wanted to explore what is it actually that's making us so happy at this point in life? And what is the conversation the culture isn't having about this particular life stage?
Preeta: Yeah, how did you go about looking into that? What's your process? I mean your books are based partly your clinical psychologist background, partly on actual conversations with people and your own experiences. How did you go about finding out how older women were feeling?
Mary: Well, first of all, I looked at all the research and it turns out a guy named Dilip Jeste at UC, San Diego has done all this research on demographics and happiness and it turns out looking at his research that older women just are the happiest people in the culture (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1bf6/6b6e51a229604a516ceaf17fe9ead4ecbbc0.pdf). And then I looked at some other writing about older women and one thing I realized very quickly is there's books for grieving people and then there's books that are sort of meditations on joy. But there's no book out there that connects the two. And actually what's really interesting about this life stage is how we're constantly oscillating back and forth between joy and sorrow, that at the same point we're losing some physical functioning we may be losing friends and people we love and facing the fact that certain aspects of life are much more challenging. We are also more likely to be experiencing bliss. We're likely to be experiencing more joy. And almost, the noetic qualities of life.
There's an enhanced savoring and partly Preeta, I think this comes from realizing the runway is short. We have good research by Laura Christensen that shows that the less long you perceive your life to be, the more greatly you appreciate and enjoy your life. Well, we're in a life stage where that's exactly what's happening. The runway is short and we know it. So I read, I did my own thinking about this and then I interviewed women from all over the country, including by the way a lot of women with low income, a lot of women who had very serious disabilities, urban women and I interviewed quite a few African-American women and Latino women.
Preeta: Interesting. And what about your experience? I know you've spent a lot of your lifetime writing, thinking about happiness, contentment. Are you happier at this life stage than you were earlier?
Mary: Yeah. Well first I should preface it by saying I've done a lot of time thinking about being happy. That doesn't mean I'm claiming I'm happier than those people. In fact, I don't have a sunny disposition by nature, and I come from a family background where there's a great deal of depression, some schizophrenia, some alcoholism. So it isn't as if I know what I know, because I have a sunny disposition. On the contrary, I know what I know because all my life I've struggled to understand what it is that makes us happy. And being a therapist is another way to learn what makes people happy. Because everyone I talk to my goal is to be a purveyor of hope and encouragement. And have them feel that as the result of seeing me, they have a more positive outlook. So I learned a lot, vicariously from being a therapist.
But essentially what I would say is a lot of different things make us happier in this life stage. One is we've had seven decades of developing life skills. I tell a story in the book about how when I was six years old I saw this advertisement for a chihuahua in a teacup. And I wanted the chihuahua for $1. I was supposedly able to send a dollar and get this chihuahua. Well, my mother didn't want me to do it. She said it's a hoax and and that's actually the first time I understood that grown-ups would deliberately lie to children to make money. I hadn't realized that before. But I still wanted it so bad. Then she gave me the dollar and said, okay go ahead and send it in. And I waited and waited for my chihuahua. I was going to name her Karma when she arrived in a teacup. And of course Karma never arrived. Well at 71, I'm not waiting for puppies in teacups anymore.
I know a lot of things. For example, I have a lot more skills than I used to have at emotional modulation. I know to begin and end my day with gratitude. I know how to build a good day that includes time alone, and time with people, and time being useful, and time being good to myself.
I've acquired the skill of saying no, when I don't want to do things. And generally being able to walk out of any room, I don't want to be in; which is a great gift I didn't have earlier. I've also acquired the skill of saying "yes". And by yes, I mean I've gained over the years some ability to listen to this voice deep inside me saying -- Mary, this is what you want to need. That's something I almost always overrode when I was younger. I had too many responsibilities, in my opinion, to do that. So those are some of the skills.
The other skills, very important that most people my age acquired is we mastered the knack of reasonable expectations. My aunt Grace said it the most beautiful -- she said, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.” And by this time, at 71, for example, I want my children to love me. I don't expect them to want advice from me or my opinions about their lives, but I'm very happy if they're enjoying my company and including me in their lives. I want to see my friends. I want time to exercise, and read. I want time to develop my spiritual life. And with that set of expectations, at least at the moment, I feel pretty happy.
Preeta: That's awesome! Well that last statement really segues into the question I had about when you talk about happiness and older women being happy and just happiness in general, what does that mean? And I don't mean that kind of in some abstract way. I mean that in the context of the subtitle of one of your books about being one of the worst Buddhists in the world. Is happiness a search for a kind of high or is it kind of a pursuit of equanimity and peace?
Mary: Yeah, well, it means a lot of different things. Of course it's a really complicated word -- jam-packed. Especially in America, where we're continually miseducated about the nature of happiness. So much of the work that we all do as individuals figuring out how to be happy comes from this need to define for ourselves what happiness means.
But first of all, I don't argue that anybody's happy all the time. In fact, if you were happy all the time, you’re probably psychotic. I argue that happiness and despair are as mixed in a day, as mixed in a life, as sea salt in water. My own experience is that I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears. And happiness is a matter of intention and attitude and attention.
So one of the things I do in the morning when I wake up every day is sit and drink a cup of coffee and look out at the sky for half an hour and set my intention for the day. And remind myself of all the ways I'm lucky. And a really good example of that is, I say in Women Rowing North, (https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/women-rowing-north-9781632869609/) “Happy people learn to thank the sun for rising. Happy people learn to wake up in the morning and be grateful for the gift of life.” So that's part of it.
The other thing is...one of the things I learned interviewing these resilient women for Women Rowing North, is with the right attitudes you can walk out of the funeral of your partner, your lifelong partner, and still have the capability of noticing the wild geese overhead and tasting the snow on your tongue. And having a moment of bliss in the midst of whatever sorrow is going on. I tell a story of a beautiful friend of mine, who's now gone. But just before she died, she came over and she couldn't walk very well, she had cancer that was affecting her bones, but we walked about three blocks down to the lake to a bench by my home and we were watching the sun go down through these tall bluegrass grasses. The sun was illuminating these grasses so that they were silver and gold. And my friend started to cry and she said, “Isn't this the most perfect moment, isn't this the most beautiful moment?” So one component of happiness is the ability to be present for beautiful moments and to orchestrate epiphanies for oneself, and to appreciate the noetic qualities of life.
Another definition of happiness from my point of view is the number of deep and meaningful relationships we are in. I'm pretty lucky I've lived in the same town since 1972. So, I've got a lot of friends that I'm going on 50 years of knowing and being in relationship. I have a lot of women friends. We had babies together and now our babies are in their 40s.
For me, another definition of happiness is having useful work and I've also been very lucky all my life. I've been able to work in jobs or projects that I felt were deeply meaningful. So there's a lot of elements. One of them is just being able to laugh, just being able to enjoy life. I tell a story in the book about a woman on her deathbed. This is my friend, Yolanda’s mother. Eve is the mother. She'd never taken a pill in her life. She didn't believe in over-the-counter medicine or in prescriptions. She was a tough old girl and as she was dying from a very painful cancer, her doctor offered her some morphine and she started to say no. And Yolanda said, “Please, Mom take it.” So, she agreed and said yes and the doctor gave her a shot of morphine and she made a joke. She said to her daughter, “I've made a terrible mistake with my life. I should have been taking drugs for decades!” So, she's joking around about how good it felt to be on morphine. Well, that's a knack that it turns out a surprising number, a lot of older women have -- that of making a joke or in finding a redemptive moment in the grimmest and saddest of times.

Preeta: I wonder if you can share briefly what -- you wrote a book when you were caring for your own mother, when she was aging? I wonder if you can share what your experience of aging is like, with what you perceive to be her generation’s experience of aging?

Mary: Well, one reason I wrote Women Rowing North is that I’m on the front edge of the baby boomers. We are the pig in the python in the biggest demographic bulge in American history. Our experience of aging is so different than our parents’ experience with the choices they had. In terms of, for example, when I was growing up, virtually nobody went to Europe. Maybe only the banker’s wife went to Europe, maybe one time in their life. My mother lived in a small town. She had virtually no access to culture, for example. Every now and then she'd come visit me and I'd be able to take her out to an Indian meal or really good Italian restaurant. I think those were some of the happiest moments of her life. Just have a really good meal.
The other thing about that generation is when they retired they didn't expect to live possibly 30 more years. So if we retire at 65, there's a good share of us boomers, who, for the most part have always been seekers and people who had a great investment in personal growth. We've got 30 more years to work with, in terms of the kind of choices we make. So, that's very different.
You know, the other thing though, I hate to say this, but when my mother was old, I was impatient with her. I'd think, Mom, why are you walking that way? Are you afraid to fall to the point you look like a 90 year old woman? And in fact, she was afraid to fall -- she had osteoporosis and was afraid to fall. She had broken some bones. And now I walk that way when I'm on ice and so I've grown more patient with older people sadly, when I became old. And that's one point I make in the book is at 71, I remember what it felt like to be a young mother. I remember what it felt like to be 14. But until I was 71, I didn't know what it would feel like to be 71.
The other thing about our baby boomer parents’ generation is they grew up when the way to be a healthy person was to keep a stiff upper lip, be stoic, don't complain, and accept authority. So, it was very frustrating to us boomers that our parents weren't more assertive with the medical profession that they wouldn't complain even when they were in pain and that they did not like to process their emotions. I had one friend who flew from New York City to San Francisco to be with her father on his deathbed as he was dying. He died six hours after she arrived. And when she walked in the room he said something like, “Well, what about those Dodgers?” And she was thinking, “Oh, for God's sake, did I fly all the way across the country to talk about sports?!”
Now, our generation is much more comfortable complaining. In fact, I just heard complaining called healing out loud. You ever heard that? I just thought it was a very funny way to talk about complaining. We're much more assertive. We are much more likely to question authority. For example, in terms of medical care, we are much more interested in alternative medicine. We also are a generation that really likes close relationships with our peers and to have deep emotional connections with other people. So we're going to have a very different way of moving into old age. We also have very high expectations for what our lives are going to be. I've had friends who have been joking around about what we want to do and one person said, “Well, let's find an assisted living facility that has really good wine and sushi. We don't want to go someplace and eat chicken fried steak.” And another friend of mine and this is his real plan. He plans to go to some dead little Nebraska town and buy it up and have all of us move there. Then just take turns being the banker or the owner of the restaurant. And so we have a little bit of jobs and we can all go to the city hall or the county hall and have potluck dinners a couple of times a week. So we have a lot of creative ideas for how we will spend the next life stage.

Preeta: I want to ask just a little bit about your upbringing. I think of you as very rooted. You're rooted in place. You're grounded to your community. You're grounded in family. You're talking in your memoir about having the same friends, cafes, and places you go to, for much of your entire life. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the role of rootedness and rootedness to physical place in your own happiness?

Mary: Yes. Well, when I was a girl, on one hand, I really felt “underprivileged”. I'll use that word in quotations because I was growing up in Beaver City, Nebraska, which is about as far from a cultural center as one could be. I did all sorts of things to try to feel connected to a bigger world. For example, I played the globe game where I'd spin a globe with my finger on it and wherever it stopped, I'd try to pretend that I was living there and invent the smells and sights and what people were doing. I just so badly wanted to live in a bigger world than the world I lived in. I also was very romantic about New York City. I just could see myself sitting in a fancy restaurant in New York City talking to a sophisticated person, drinking champagne, and just being a cultured person who knew a lot of people who read books like me.
I came from a difficult family. My parents were very good people, but they weren't around very much. My mother was wonderful when she was around, but she worked all the time. She was a small town doc. My dad was a very post-traumatic stress disorder vet(eran). He'd been a medic in the Philippines and done some of the hardest and most stressful work in World War Two. He also drank too much and it came from a history with a lot of psychiatric illness. So, he was a pretty unpredictable and sometimes quite angry person.
I was pretty much in charge of the children. I was the oldest of six kids and I was a responsible person what we call ‘parental child’. I was pretty happy with that. I felt useful. I thought it was a good role. Most of the time, I was with younger children. I became a storyteller, because I told lots of stories not only to my siblings, but to the neighborhood kids at night outside lying in the grass. I did a lot of reading. I loved going to the library and read all the books in the children's library before I was in 8th grade. I loved being outside. I was very connected to animals in Beaver Creek that ran through our town of Beaver City. I was very connected to trees and clouds.
One of my favorite things to do then -- and it's still my favorite thing to do -- is just lie down in the grass and look at the sky. And actually, I use that for grounding when I'm really upset. I remember when there was a school shooting of children, the first one. What was that, Preeta, do you remember the one in New York? There was a terrible school shooting where many elementary school children were killed and I went outside. It was a cold night. And I took a sleeping bag and a mat and just laid on the ground and looked at the stars until I could calm down.
So I like that, but one of the effects of spending so much time outdoors was I really grew up loving the Nebraska landscape, what we have in Nebraska. We don't have Rocky Mountains. We don't have the Pacific Ocean. But we have the sky, and the sky is our Rocky Mountains. And so I love the beautiful sky. I love the rivers of our state. They have beautiful names: the Dismal, the Niobrara. Those Rivers mean a lot to me, the Platte, particularly. I'm very happy in Nebraska.
When I first started traveling and working, people would say, "Oh, you're from Nebraska. Why don't you move?" or "Why are you there?" And I'd say a couple things. One was low population density. I like to live someplace where there aren't very many people and I have a lot of access to the outdoors. And the other one was that I'm a progressive and Nebraska needs progressives. There's plenty of progressives in the Bay Area. There's plenty of progressives in Boston. But in Nebraska, every single Progressive matters, and I'm in a group of people I've known for 40 years now. We call ourselves the "royalty of lost causes" but we've done a lot of work to keep our state as on track, as we can, around issues that are important to people and to the land.
Preeta: Wow, that's fantastic. There's so much richness in your background that I want to help people just get a flavor of. You talk about the beautiful landscape and your rootedness to the land. But you also said earlier in our conversation that you were not born naturally sunny. I've read that your mother was a doctor, your father was in the military, and both of them were away from home for much of your childhood. As a child, you suffered repeated absences of your parents and you said "which wired me for anxiety and depression" and had some incidences of moderate depression throughout your life.
There's so much in your background. You then went off and went to school in Kansas, I believe, and then Berkeley, and so it's this interesting back and forth between the girl rooted to the Prairie and yet someone who's longing for something more, or at least different experiences, and that sophisticated world you talk about. And then when you had this best-selling blockbuster Reviving Ophelia, getting you on Oprah and every best selling list, you were sought all over the world to speak, and you did that. And then you just were like, "Enough, enough. I need my routine. I need my life. I want to be back at home. I want it." So I'm wondering if you could just talk about where you are now, in that dance between being rooted to place and yet wanting to experience the world.
Mary: Well, I'm going to go back to the very beginning of that question, which is one effect of that early childhood deprivation of parents is anxiety. There's a lot of research that if you have -- I had a year without my mother when I was 6 -- and if you're separated from your mother who was my primary attachment figure, you are wired for anxiety. And if you know people whose mother died when they were young, almost for sure they're coping with anxiety. So that becomes a kind of a chronic issue that needs to be dealt with. I was probably born a little bit anxious to begin with and then that deprivation from parents added to that.
What ended up being my grounding device was being around people that loved me, that I could take care of and they could take care of me. So my siblings were really important to me because I kept very busy taking care of them. And when I wasn't taking care of children, I'd go find some animals to take care of. I'd walk around in the neighborhood after rain storms and pick up little birds or squirrels that have washed out of nests and take care of them. I like taking care of people and animals.
What happened was -- I was very lucky in my life. I've got a nose for news. I was at Berkeley in '69. I was in England when I was 21 for a year -- London. And then I came back and decided to be a doctor like my mother. What happened was I got pregnant and I wasn't married. I realized that I would not repeat the patterns my mother had had of being a doctor and having a child without a mother. So I decided not to do that. And eventually I ended up going to school and becoming a psychologist.
But Preeta, you're absolutely right. I like this combination of my life of a lot of stimulus and a lot of contact with ideas and interesting people and action. And I like being home when grounded and that's a hard combination to pull off. Nebraska is not in general where all the action is. Although one of the things I've learned over the years is wherever you are can be the center of the universe, and you can make it where the action is.
So for example, one thing we did in Nebraska in the last decade is we stopped the Keystone XL pipeline from coming to our state and arguably that was the most important environmental action in the world at that time in terms of dealing with the tar sands, and formulating protocol for fighting international oil companies and winning in a red state. We just did a lot of really creative and interesting work with that and the writing has given me a chance to meet a lot of people from all over the world. So has the traveling, although I'm done with it.
But what happened when I was traveling so much and had a year, for example, that I spent in more nice hotel rooms than my own room, is that grounding that was so critical to me disappeared. I didn't stay in close contact with my friends. I didn't stay in close contact with my home and my cats and my trees and my plants and the sky. I was spending a lot of time in Marriotts, and convention centers and airports. And that is exactly the kind of environment that I find really dysphoric. I like a lot of light, a lot of space, a lot of green, and all of the things that I counted on to hold my rather anxious personhood in place were missing.
And on the other hand, I was under pretty high stress conditions all the time. For example, one time I remember particularly I was in Canada on Mother's Day weekend and I did six national TV shows in one day in Toronto. So I'd get carted to different places where they put on different makeup and I'd be in front of a camera for 10 minutes answering questions and then scooted off to the next -- that's actually very hard work. It's much harder work than it sounds. And then the next day, Sunday, I had a couple interviews up there, but it was Mother's Day and my whole family was down here and I just remember feeling so lonesome. You know that Hank Williams song So Lonesome I Could Cry? I just felt that song in my bones that day.
By now, I'm making very good decisions for the most part about what I do and don't do. It goes back to that business of the power of no and the power of yes. One of the great privileges of being 71 and having an adequate income is I'm not really doing things that don't at some level give me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. I'm not pushing myself to do things that make me uncomfortable. Now it turns out -- and Charles Eisenstein would say this too, parenthetically -- it turns out that you can have a very rich life of helping the planet and helping other people without being miserable. In fact, being miserable doesn't actually help anyone very much. So my writing I feel like is hopefully useful and helpful right now, and I'm very engaged in my local community, primarily in environmental action, but also I'm working more with intersectionality in this town and trying to have a coalition of groups working together to be ready for whatever happens next in this very frightening American culture.
Preeta: Great. Thank you. There's a lot in it that I want to unpack if we have time, but I want to turn for a moment to your memoir. You wrote this memoir at a time when you were experiencing great success externally, and you said it was a little hard to feel comfortable even writing from that state and trying to -- you said and I quote -- "Convincing people that great success isn't all that it's cracked up to be, is a hard sell." As a privileged person, because you were achieving all the success it's kind of hard, you said, to talk about these inner turmoils you have. But you also said -- "Misery spares no social class or culture. External conditions do not totally determine happiness." And then one thing I found fascinating was that you said that a strong foundation injures more under duress. And that with this incredible success, some of the cracks of your childhood started being exposed and/or rearing up their head, which led you to go down this path of personal excavation to write this memoir. So, tell us a little bit about the process of going back and re-examining your childhood?
Mary: I want to say one thing about this business of feeling a great deal of guilt, because I was successful and still unhappy and feeling like “Oh, I'm so successful, I should be happy.” That is a really crazy American story. And it also came out when I was writing and talking about Women rowing north, interviewers would say -- well, of course this book is for privileged people. And a strange assumption in America that has to do with buying the mis-education we all experience constantly is the idea that if you don't have money, if you're not a person of privilege, you somehow can't be happy, and can't be resilient and don't have the same emotional range that people who are more privileged have.
And in fact, it's been my experience writing Women rowing north, and throughout my lifetime, that many of the people I've met, who experienced the most joy and love-filled lives and capability for resilience and bliss were not privileged people. They had learned all of those qualities because of their struggles. The most grateful people I've ever met, were people with severe disabilities, that had to balance the difficulty of their lives, by cultivating this enormous sense of savouring and gratitude.
So, but going back to what happened to me, I did feel guilty about that. And when I actually had my breakdown and knew I was having a breakdown, it was when Jim and I were driving to a small college in Ohio and we'd flown on a couple of flights, through ice storms and technical problems on both flights. We got in, we rented a car, we were driving to an industrial zone up to this town I won't mention, but it was a not a very nice town. And at some point, we were really hungry. I'd been reading Fast food nation on the plane and we went into this little restaurant that had dead flies on the, sort of, as you walked in the room, on a kind, of a counter. And I knew we didn't want to eat there, but I was really, really, feeling the need for some protein. So I ordered chili and then when this chili arrived, it tasted like, I'll say, fecal matter, for the purpose of this presentation. And I remember thinking to myself, either I am eating fecal matter or I'm so messed up, I think I am, eating fecal matter. And whichever it is, I need to go home, I need to go home. I'm not in a good place and this is not how I want to live my life. And this happened to be, fortunately, last job of that year and we went home. I didn't have speeches over the winter, but I had a lot of stuff scheduled and we just cancelled it all out, everything, and I spent three months at home.
I gave myself permission not to go to any holiday parties. I didn't want to be in groups. I didn't really want to see the human race, very much, and quite a few things happened, that were wonderful, that winter. I started reading a lot of Buddhism.
First I'd been reading psychology and the more psychology I read, the more I felt messed up, the more I thought oh, I'm really depressed, I'm really anxious, I'm so nervous, I can hardly even eat pie, with a line I used in the book that Raymond Carver originated. And then, when I started reading Buddhism, I immediately started to calm down, because the whole essence of Buddhist teaching is -- we all suffer and we humans experience an enormous amount of pain and that through our ignorance, we’re unable to work with that pain skilfully. And that was just an enormously helpful concept to me.
The other thing I did is, read a lot of history, because that ,history for me, puts whatever is happening now against such a backdrop of time. It's a really wonderful way to have better perspective skills on whatever situation I'm in. Same thing with lying down under the beautiful sky, it puts my small life in a bigger container. I patted my cats a lot, I made a lot of vegetable soup, drank a lot of tea and at the end of that, I was ready to go forward again. And again, it was a very polite meltdown, I don't think hardly anybody knew about it. I, you know, wasn't in therapy or anything like that, but I sort of orchestrated my own treatment and I began meditating at that time.
Preeta: Yeah, I want to, I want to read just a little passage from your memoir, which I think is so beautiful about the transition that you made, as you started taking up the meditation and Buddhism and then and you talk about being more present, more comfortable just “being”, rather than constantly “doing” and you talked about in the context of your “polite meltdown”. You said: “My story has been a Cinderella story. Almost overnight, I went from scrubbing floors and peeling potatoes to dancing in the ballroom, with the handsome prince. I was the luckiest girl in the world, but alas, I didn't have the temperament to be a princess. I didn't like dressing up or being the centre of attention. I preferred the role of servant to that of the served. I was more content preparing the feast, darning the socks, or sitting among the birds, in the garden, as a scullery maid, I knew my place.”
Mary: Yeah, Yeah,
Preeta: I love that because you're in your memoir you also talk about, like, a hardy childhood where you did hard work.
Mary: Absolutely
Preeta: I mean you had hard jobs, physical jobs and then suddenly being in this place of traveling around, being in the “mind”,you know, just, and a feeling that you have to constantly be doing things and taking care of people and the people you were letting down, by not being able to be there, for every single person. Anyway, I just found that (to be) a very powerful passage.
I wonder if, I'm curious about your time in activism in Nebraska, which is so inspiring, I know, to so many people and you've had some incredible battles. And you talk about, you know, the hopelessness in some ways, of the causes, but you keep going.
And I'm curious what -- two questions and then you can kind of take them in the order you want. I know you've been very inspired by Joanna Macy and her work on spiritual activism, I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about that and what you're doing. And secondly, just generally in this red state and this red country, in this, in this era of divided, such divisiveness, you said, it's important for you to be a progressive in a place like this and to keep going. What allows you to keep going with hope and do you have hope?
Mary: Well, first of all, the main thing that allows me to keep going is the other people I work with, you know, Martin Luther King had that lovely phrase “beloved community” to refer to a group of people who loved each other because they shared such a deep commitment to common causes. The other thing is, I never work with people I don't deeply enjoy.
I've done some lobbying at the legislature and it's not much fun and I no longer do that, actually, because I no longer believe in the model that we Americans were taught, when I was in civics class in 1964. And that model was, we have some kind of responsive government, where we go first to our city council and then to our mayor and then to our legislator and them to our governor and then to federal authorities -- from my point of view, all these institutions that we were told would respond to the needs of ordinary people, are in a serious state of decay.
And so we need new models for activism and my current model that I love is, based partly on Macy, but it's also based on the whole idea of distributed energy and making things work because we're working together to distribute energy, as a group. So for example, one of the ways I encourage people to be activists, is, if they decide they want to work on a project, find people who will add their power and energy to them, as they move forward toward a good goal. And the same with myself, when I see people in the community, doing things I think are important and good, I'll say to them, let me lend you my power, let me give you what I can give you, that will help you succeed at your goals. And that idea of how to be an activist, how to have power gives everyone an opportunity to make a difference.
If I go down and beat on the doors the Republican legislators in Nebraska, nothing will happen, but I’ll get discouraged. But I work in a model of change that makes it very easy to be hopeful because I'm always seeing people benefit and move forward from the actions I take. I think action is an antidote to despair and one of the reasons I'm hopeful is I keep acting and being engaged in action. My favorite person, my favorite activist in fact my nomination for hero of the world is Joanna Macy. I have tremendous love and respect for Joanna Macy. She's been my teacher. I've gone to many of her workshops. I've read all of her books. And now I'm doing Joanna Macy workshops, Work that reconnect workshops here in Nebraska at Spring Creek Prairie, and we've got one coming up in April.
So I'm very excited that I am now doing that kind of work. Preeta was at my last workshop. And one of the things we both felt during that workshop is this is where real change happens. It happens when people connect on a heart level and realize there's a path forward that involves acting with purpose, acting true love.
For example, one of the things I don't like about American politics and a lot of American activism right now is this tendency to demonize other people including Donald Trump because I think that when we demonize anyone we're reducing our own quality of humanity. And I also think it's counterproductive, because whenever we push, there's a push back. And I learned from all my years of therapy, that once you start an argument, you've already lost. That there's so much resistance to pushing, that as a therapist you never gain or make progress with pushing. You gain and make progress by listening and understanding and giving a person a total sense of feeling felt and then opening opportunities for them to move forward and grow.
Alyssa: Thank you very much, Mary. I would like to interject at this time to remind people that we’re in the Q&A portion and so I would like to invite everyone if they would like to ask a question or participate in the circle of sharing, to either press star six on your phone and that will move you into the queue. Or you can email us at ask@servicespace.org and provide any comments or questions.
I'd also like to note. I understand there were folks who wrote in and noted that there were maybe a few audio issues at points in the call and I just want to thank everyone for their patience, as we work through those and also remind everyone that transcripts and enhanced sound quality audio will be posted after the fact and so the conversation’s wisdom will be posted.
Thank you though for your patience. So I'll allow Preeta to ask one more question and then we'll go ahead and roll over to our Q&A. Oh, and I also wanted to note that if you are using the webcast form, you can also submit comments or questions via that medium as well. Thank you.
Preeta: Yeah. Thanks Alyssa. And yeah, you can ask questions at ask@servicespace.org -- you cut out for a second there.
But yeah, so Mary this is a incredible. You've had such a rich and incredible life and we're so grateful for your continued happiness and activism and work on behalf of the community. I want to ask, just before opening it up, ask you, you know, you've written about daughters, mothers. yourself our communities, and our environment. You were a single mother in your 20s. With the place that you're sitting in now, your place of relative contentment and you know greater wisdom from life experience, what would you tell your younger self or women in different life stages? Like especially starting a family and maybe middle-aged about about how to position themselves for contentment, in their later years?
Mary: Well, first of all, I'd like to help younger women be more contented now. And I have great deal of sympathy with millennials who are in such a rough economic Market with housing so high and college debts and so on. And jobs not opening up the way they should for younger people, because of my generation of people who stand around and are keeping those jobs at this point.
So I also have a lot of empathy for young parents who are dealing with children and jobs. But I guess one of the things I would most want to tell let's just say young women. That's where I have some authority to speak is that -- you're going to be okay, that things work out often times better than you think, and that all of the struggles you're having in earlier decades are building resilient skills in you.They will be extremely useful later on. And if you're resilient and coping pretty well with your life in your 20s, you will find yourself to be resilient and coping pretty well with your life in your 80s. And that becomes a part of a repertoire of ways in which you can relate to the world.
One of the things I think is very important for women is that they have strong relationships with women friends. Women friends for me are my emotional health insurance policy. And we may or may not have lifelong partners, we may or may not have children, we may or may not have satisfying work and we have in some ways no control over some of those things. But we do have the control to have wonderful women friends that can be with us on our journey and it's never too late to start that process of deep and important relationships with women friends.
Alyssa: Wonderful. Let's go ahead and move to the Q&A portion. But I wondered if I could just piggyback on that, on your response just now for a second, before we move into the Q&A portion. Just because as a sort of millennial, I don't know if I'm technically a millennial. I'm just curious because in my workplace, I feel like there's a bit of an unfortunate division across generational lines where people of generations tend to segregate a little bit. I don't feel like there is as much healthy relationships across generations maybe, as perhaps there could be. And so I was just curious as to your thoughts and how we can develop healthy relationships across different generations?
Mary: You know, I have no authority to speak to the workplace, Alyssa, because I'm not in it right now. But I do know that each generation has its own ways of loving, of working, its own kind of energy. And that one of the real problems we have in this culture is people are stratified by age. And four year olds all spend time together in one building, 20 year olds tend to spend a lot of time together in another set of buildings, and 80 year olds spend time together in another set and it greatly impoverishes and diminishes our culture that there isn't more integration. So I would think about that not only in the workplace but in neighborhoods etc.
One of the best things we can all do, to be activists in terms of integrating the generations, is just make sure that we're connected to people that are younger than us and older than us. And we're figuring out ways to have people interacting together across generations. Here's just a small example of that. There's a high school in Nebraska where mobility is not high. Most people stay in that town. Few people leave of course, so the high school band has two days a week when all the musicians who ever played in the high school band can show up in practice with the band. And what a good thing that is to have the 7 year olds coming in and sitting by the 14 year old saxophone player and talking and learning the same music together.
And there are starting to be, I think, things such as meditation circles where all the people in the workplace of all ages are joining together or potlucks or time when people can just have conversations and share some of their experiences. I'm very big on Circles where everyone says given a certain problem or situation, let's go around the room and everyone say what they think. I think that ends up being a very good learning experience for everyone involved in terms of point of view.
Alyssa: Thank you. That's it. Those are some wonderful stories. I would be fascinated to see those High School band practices involving everyone. Wonderful. Well, we've got some people lining up in the queue. So I'll go ahead and turn it over.
Carol: Hi, this is Carol and I am also 71. And so I don't really have a question. It's more an acknowledgement of gratitude. Especially for someone who like you appreciates that the runway is short. I must tell you I get a lot of "Oh, no, no, that's not true. You have plenty of time left. etc, etc." But I too have found that I appreciate the time that I have left and don't tend to suffer fools.
And so much of what you said today is kind of an acknowledgement that I'm on -- I've known I'm on the right track -- but it's also lovely to have someone else at the same age who appreciates the kind of freedom from saying yes and no. So just a gratitude and thank you, and I'm so grateful for finding out about you.

Mary: Thank you, Carol.

Alyssa: We have a question from our ask at servicespace.org from someone named Rebecca. Rebecca writes: "After 60 to 70 years of living and learning, how can we balance the unique position we now find ourselves in to make courageous life choices when the expectations of our children may collide with those choices and create great turbulence as a result?"

Mary: Well, that sounds like a question that in some ways comes from a very specific set of problems, which I could not possibly anticipate or help you with. But I will say this about being 71, and that is that our validation needs to come from within and our sense of direction needs to come from within.

This is a very ageist culture. And it's a sexist culture. And agism maybe a bigger problem for women than aging. Adult children can be difficult, there's no question about that. That's one thing that comes up quite a lot in discussions with friends, or in the interviews that I did. And the main thing I would say about that is -- at least for me, it's humbling to remember myself as a parent, or as a 35 year old or a 40 year old. And to remind myself that I was no pinnacle of rational behavior and constant good judgment either.

In terms of children making decisions for us, one of the things I found about that is that if I'm very respectful of the boundaries of my adult children, then I feel more comfortable saying to them, "I want you to be respectful of my boundaries and my right to be making decisions independently of your feedback." That doesn't necessarily help you. I'm pretty sure from your question you're struggling with how to deal with adult children. But I would acknowledge that adult children can be a struggle and I would also acknowledge that, at least from my point of view, they can be just a wonderful source of joy, support and pleasure.

One thing I've really enjoyed watching with both of my children is how they've grown and developed and taken up interests that I would never have predicted knowing them when they were younger. So I've really -- it's a good example of how attitude isn't everything, but it's almost everything.

And one of the things that's most important to me in dealing with my children is this sense of groundedness and internal validation and also a really strong set of intentions and focus, when I'm with my children. So that I'm noticing what I can endorse and support, so that one of my most frequent phrases to my adult children is, "I respect how you're handling this, that was a really good choice. It's wonderful to see you parenting your children so well." When I'm not feeling it's wonderful to see how they are parenting, I say nothing. I almost continually use positive reinforcement in my dealing with my children and then I expect that from them as well.

Alyssa: Well, we've had a series of really wonderful reflections on this conversation and on your story. I wanted to share one of those with you. We've got a reflection from Ruth Anne. Ruth Anne says, "I'm 75 now, retired and living a life of simplicity and challenges brought by late-life chronic illness. Every day is interesting and I learned more about what is truly important and what needs to be let go of. I'm curious and resourceful as I live one day at a time, trying to stay present as a future is unknown to me. And I do not have a bucket list that so many seniors seem to have. I relish the sun rise each morning. As I watch the light changing, as it moves across the bedroom wall and I hope that I will catch it in my spirit self and see possibilities rather than despair today. Aging and illness are our biggest challenges in life and we have to be our own best friends. That is what I know for sure.”

Mary: Well, that really is beautiful and it's also by the way, not atypical. That the wisdom and the capacities for joy, that this reflection demonstrates, are actually what I saw over and over and again writing this book. And when you think about it -- this beautiful sentiment just shared is not even part of our cultural dialogue on what old age is like and yet, it's actually so central to this life stage. So I really appreciate your sharing that.

One other thing I want to add about that is -- I really love this person sharing they don't have a bucket list. And I don't have a bucket list either, because essentially what I like to have as my life goal at this point is to live every day as best I can. And that means being as open to joy, as open to love, as ready for tragedy as I can possibly be. You know William Stafford the great Poet Laureate said in one of his poems, "Be ready for what God brings." And I think that's a beautiful way to look at the day whether you believe in a Christian God or not. This sense of waking up in the morning and being ready for whatever the universe brings to us is just a way to have a beautiful day. And of course, it's lovely to go to Ireland or to be on a beautiful beach or something like that. But actually the quality of life for almost all of us is primarily about how we live every single day of our lives.

Alyssa: We have a question from Thelma. And Thelma says, "I retired very late. My daughter became ill and we now live together. I'm struggling to enjoy life more with osteoarthritis, reduced space and unfocused dreams. Where do I start?”

Mary: Well, Thelma, I don't know you very well, so I can't give you very specific.. You know in my opinion, just for all callers coming up next, the answer to every question is -- it depends. It depends. But I will tell you that the sources of joy for older women are very specific and they have to do with taking the long view and enjoying thinking about the past. For example, when I have trouble falling asleep, I think about my grandmother's kitchen, and I remember every dish and every cabinet. And about the time I hit her cookie jar, I fall asleep. So memory can be a source of joy and just thinking about this long line of hominid ancestors that survived and had children that survived and took care of their children who survived that allow us to be alive today.

Another great source of joy for women is learning to turn loneliness into solitude and developing the creative passions or the joys and pursuits that allow us to make our time alone pleasant and joyful and interesting.

Another great gift of this life stage is simply finding ways to be useful. And I'll give you just a simple example of that, which is that when I'm lonely myself or in despair, I think who is there in the world that would perk up if I gave them a phone call? And I'll call somebody. It'll be my cousin Charlene or it'll be a wonderful woman I know, who's not very happy in the nursing home, who I have so much respect for. And even just picking up the phone and calling someone that might enjoy talking to me makes the day more useful.

The other thing is, whenever you're going out and about the world, you can set your intention to look for things. Like for example, I have one friend who looks for evidence of love in the universe when she walks around. Now these things sound like little simple assignments, but they actually have an enormous amount to do with how we feel as we move through our day, how we feel at the end of the day, and for that matter how we feel as we wake up the next morning to face the next day.

Alyssa: Well, we have gotten a question now that's turned away from people's maybe individualized experiences now to your experience. Specifically one of our web questioners is asking about how has your marriage evolved over the years?

Mary: Well, that's a funny question. And I don't talk actually much about my marriage. I respect the boundaries of privacy for my husband. But I will say this, there was a great psychologist named James Framo, who was in his 70s when I heard him talk. And he said, "I've been married seven times to the same woman." And that's very much what a long-term marriage feels like.

When I married Jim he was a good-looking rock and roll star and, he was 22 years old when I met him, and I thought he was sexy and I thought he was a cool musician and I thought he was funny and had cool friends. And by now we've been through the death of all of our parents together. We've been through a career as psychologists together. We've raised children, we've enjoyed grandchildren, we've had some travel and some fun, and we've had some great losses in our lives of people we loved. And experiences that we wanted to have beautiful that weren't so beautiful in the end because of things that happened.

So, I guess one of the things I would say is, my own experience of marriage is, by the time people have been married almost five decades, which is where Jim and I'll soon be, is, most couples are able to get along pretty well. It isn't that we don't still have differences and hot cognitions and so on but we've learned to kind of walk around that. We no longer rehash arguments that we rehashed 20 years when we were first married. And there's also often a sweetness and tenderness that comes into these long time relationships where you realize if nothing else, you're grateful someone put up with you for so long, knowing how difficult you are. I know how difficult I am and I'm extremely grateful somebody's been willing to live with me and put up with me all these years. And you have this beautiful shared memory bank of experience. And you also, if you're very lucky, you have this sense that this person will be with you the rest of your life.

One thing I wish I had written more about in "Women Rowing North" is what we're now calling elder orphans, and people who are not lucky enough as they age to have children nearby, or a life partner that they can count on. So my own experience not only of my own marriage but in my friends' marriages is they tend to be sweeter and happier and more peaceful than they were in earlier times.

Alyssa: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for providing that snapshot. And it's those, there's been just a number of reflections. I cannot read everyone's reflections but I wanted to share one more reflection, one other question that we have. Here is a reflection from David. David says, "In middle age, I learned that we are one. One with one another and with this planet. With further aging, I came to digest this understanding and it became not just the thought but a reality to abide in and live. I came to see that what we do to these so-called other and to our planet, we do to ourselves. I came to see that all that is living and not living, is God incarnate and is sacred. I'm now over 70 and I'm more compassionate, patient, open and grateful than ever. I've gotten wiser. This has been my spiritual growth and aging includes life's ups and downs, gains and losses, wins and defeats, and has definitely been catalytic for that growth.”

Mary: Well, that was a beautiful reflection. And one thing I am going to say to you is: I wrote this book about women because that's where I have the most authority. I taught psychology of women and sex roles and gender and most of my life work has been about women, most of my writing has been about women. But I've been surprised by the number of men that have written me that have found great relevance in this book. And what you're saying about reaching a sense where you feel a deep inner connection with all of life and the natural world and a sense of no separation. That's a sense that I think is quite common in people our age. I feel that same thing and I think many people feel that same thing and we're very fortunate.

You know, when I was a young mother with children and working full-time, I didn't have the opportunity to slow down for these extraordinarily wonderful moments of interconnection and deep peace. I just was too busy and I was too preoccupied with what would I make for school lunches? And how would I handle the conference call? And did I have time to get to a dentist? Etc, etc.

Alyssa: Hello. Oh, I think we may have lost our guest for a moment. Hopefully we can get, we'll work on getting her back.

Mary: We're back. I'm back, sorry, I'm back. So I was still speaking to David and saying that it's so wonderful to actually have the time to allow ourselves to be open to the universe. And once it's happened a few times, then it begins to happen more often. It's like hunting morel mushrooms in Nebraska. Once you start finding your first patch or two, then you can see morels everywhere in the spring.

Alyssa: Mmm. Well, I can see that in our reflections and our questions, spirituality and interconnection seems to be a recurring theme. And one question is about how you kind of negotiate some of that religious intersectionality. I understand that you embraced Buddhism and had a Methodist upbringing and are now in a very largely Christian Community in which you live. So can you speak to that and how that experience has played out for you?

Mary: Yeah, well, I was raised a Methodist. And one of the things I like about the Methodist, I liked it more and more. When I was young I had a -- at 13, I read Bertrand Russell’s "Why I'm not a Christian," I read Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield Visits Heaven." And I really was very disillusioned with the Methodist Church, and left it. And was really disillusioned with Christianity for a very long time, and I'm still not enamored of Christianity, as a religion or spiritual metaphor that I would care to use for myself.

But I did get something extraordinarily valuable from the Methodist, which was the belief that it is not just faith, it's good works that make a difference in the world. And my mother also said that. She was of course of Methodist, and she said, "Morality is action, morality is action." It is not fine thoughts or you know, wonderful words, it's action. And I like that. That's served me very well in my life.

Then I became Unitarian and I like the Unitarians because they were much more inclusive and demanded less of me in terms of endorsing specific beliefs. Now I would call myself a Buddhist. But you know, I also believe what Willa Cather said, which is "The prayers of all good people are good prayers." I don't really make the distinction anymore between Christians and Buddhists and Unitarians and Methodists.

When I look at people I try not to think in categories. I try to think about them in terms of their capacity for loving and understanding and connecting and savoring. And I try to connect on the deepest, most felt level of experience with other people. And when that happens, these differences like Republican or Democrat, Republican, excuse me, Christian or Buddhist, they drop away, they drop away.

Alyssa: Hmm. Thank you, and we've got a number of recent comments coming in from people who just want to express their gratitude for you. Dolores says, "Thank you so much. Listening to you has given me new hope. I appreciate everything you spoke of today. I feel empowered again."

Mary: Thank you, Dolores.

Alyssa: And Mish from Brooklyn says, "Thank you for encouraging the youngsters listening in on this call about the joys that are part of aging. I am also 71 and more happy and at peace now than in earlier stages of my life.”

Mary: Thank you for that comment, Mish. I'm so happy to hear this for you. That's wonderful good news.

Alyssa: I think what we'll do is, we will conclude with one final question for you and then we will wrap up with a collective minute of silence and expression of gratitude. One final question for you. How can we as the larger Service Space community support your work?

Mary: Well, thank you. I think the main way we can support each other is share ideas and take those ideas and make our own use of them. Wherever we are. You know Margaret Mead had a lovely saying, she said, "The ideal culture has a place for every human gift." And I really believe that. The way to be an activist, the way to be a writer, the way to be a person in the world, is to do our best. To take everything we know and filter it until we feel like we have the essence of the best wisdom we have, and then act on that wisdom with all of our own gifts.

Alyssa: Thank you. Thank you both, Preeta. And thank you, Mary Pipher, for this wonderful conversation. There was so much wisdom that came through throughout. You know, I especially, you know, loved hearing both about the sort of your rootedness in Nebraska and the stories that stem from that, and the activism and groundedness that you found in Nebraska as well as your encounters with people. And I loved listening to how happiness is not sort of this discrete concept, there's a lot to unpack there. And one thing that was really interesting is to hear about how with old age, we can, you know, there's both, deep happiness and joy as well as despair. And it's not what we see from our cultural scripts. And so I really appreciate both of you for this conversation and for all of our participants and listeners and the invisible work that went on behind the scenes, very grateful for that.

Preeta: Thank you, Alyssa.

Alyssa: Thanks.

Preeta: Thank you, Mary.

Alyssa: I would like to invite everyone to hold a collective of minute of silence to conclude this conversation.

Alyssa: Thank you again, Mary and Preeta.

Mary: Thank you.

Alyssa: And thanks everyone.

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