After 18 years of service, I am retiring this fall.
I’ve been trying to think of this as the naturally occurring third ashrama or stage of life (usually between ages 48 and 72) referred to in India as Vanaprasta, or the Hermit Stage.
The Vanaprasta Ashrama follows the Grihastha Ashrama or Householder stage where devotion to one’s family has taken precedence. The Vanaprasta or Hermit Elder is encouraged to lead a life of contemplation, meditation and prayer alone or with their spouse, often removed from other family members. It is a time to evaluate and reflect on life and to discover who one truly is and what life is all about without the distractions of a busy life.
Although Vanaprastas are typically encouraged to move to a modest hut in the forest, that would only appeal to me for a couple of weeks. I will compromise with long hikes in the woods, returning afterwards to my comfy bed and warm cozy home in town.
After a life spent almost entirely as an extrovert, I have some serious concerns about this new quiet life of contemplation. However, I have studied the introverts that have enriched my life, and I think I can embrace at least some of the lifestyle choices usually associated with them: staying home and hanging out in PJs; having uninterrupted time to read and write; saying “no” to meetings and other unnecessary social events; and saying “yes” to making soup and growing a garden.
For so long I have identified myself by my work that I am curious about this opportunity to examine who I am when I am not doing what I’ve done for all these years. As a child I played “teacher” and “mother,” enlisting my siblings and cousins to be my students and kids. As a young adult I spent ten frustrating years longing for this job before finally realizing my dream. Although my yoga practice taught me long ago, on an intellectual level, that I am more than what I do, I don’t think I ever really wanted to feel myself as separate from the job I eventually stepped into almost two decades ago.
This September, when Cody and Devin are in college, I will rise early, not to make breakfast and pack lunches as I have for so long, but to meditate and do my yoga practice in a quiet house. Instead of doing loads of laundry, I’ll read a book for more than ten minutes at a time, or write the stories that have been yearning to get onto a page. I’ll plan my day around a hike with Rocky and my dogs instead of figuring out my boy’s busy schedules and who is going to use my car. Dinner won’t have to include teenaged boy’s must-haves like pasta and dessert and might just be a simple homemade vegetarian soup. In the spaciousness created by this inevitable retirement from my favorite full-time job as “Mom,” I will likely have more time to just be still.
It is said that the Vanaprasta Ashrama can be a harsh and cruel life for an elder, especially one used to a full, rich family life, and for that reason it is now virtually obsolete in India. (Did I mention that you are supposed to renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures during this stage?) The key for me will be to approach this stage with moderation rather than a complete abandonment of my former activities. Rocky is relieved about that!
And there are always the holidays to look forward to when the boys will arrive home with suitcases full of dirty clothes; go back to leaving food-crusted dishes in their rooms and stinky clothes on their bedroom floors just to show me how much I’m still needed. The house will be filled with their noise and laughter again and I will temporarily return to my former position, glad for the glimpse back at my old beloved life.
During this tenuous transition to the hermit stage, I’ve enlisted the help of my business partners, Suzy and Karen, to stop me from my overwhelming urge to rescue ten dogs or adopt a child as a way of holding onto my current Householder Stage. Of course, I’ll also still have my other favorite job teaching yoga that will keep me out of my pajamas a few days a week.
You didn’t think I could give up teaching yoga as well, did you?
When she’s not doing yoga, Jeni Martinez juggles a busy household with two 18 year old boys, Devin & Cody, a very drooly 90 lb chocolate lab named Rudy; a 7 lb yorkie-poo with dreadlocks named Tanner; her delightful husband, Rocky, whose passion for cooking delicious food has kept Jeni happy and well-fed for 30 years; and her mother, Mary, who in spite of advanced Alzheimer’s can still kick Jeni’s butt in Scrabble.