Aging Well: Shedding Clutter, Finding Peace

A Photo by Jim Gambaro of the view from his and Marianne's Annex room

by Jim Gambaro

As our car turned into the entrance to the Kripalu property, I felt a familiar frisson of anticipation and, yes, a certain anxiety. A new experience has always held both for me, since in principle I've always been one who loved exploration and a comfortable chair in front of my television equally. My wife, Marianne, had been to Kripalu several times for R&R and other programs; I had not. 

For me, Kripalu had been one of her special places. Not an us experience, but rather a place for her to reconnect with a more profound—or at least quieter—sense of self. Turned out that joining her here was an anniversary gift to us both. (Here's her story of our visit.)

The Journey Begins

We were here together for the first time to be part of a weeklong program called Seven Steps to Healthy Aging. Since I turned 78 a few months ago, I joked that it might be a little late for me, but with our 46th wedding anniversary coming up and a strong desire for many more to come, I figured a week of healthy living couldn't hurt.

Marianne was my guide to Kripalu, literally and otherwise. Our room in the Annex mandated a somewhat circuitous route to get to the main building, which proved to be nice exercise for my brain's maze-solving circuitry. Negotiating the lessons to be learned here turned out to be much more direct and even more rewarding.

We met our faculty, Vandita Kate Marchesiello and Ken Nelson, on the evening of our arrival. Fourteen strangers joined us for our opening session. I was immediately struck by the relaxed, friendly, and pragmatic approach of the presenters to the business at hand, bringing a humane and often humorous sensibility to their introduction to the ancient yogic concepts. Even our first crack at learning each other's names became a fun and also mindful exercise.

With Marianne's encouragement, I had practiced gentle yoga some years earlier and appreciated the physical benefits of guided movement, but—being profoundly literal minded—I did not relate well to the yoga tradition's more esoteric (for me) concepts. Vandita and Ken were always able to connect the metaphysical to the real world, to relate the underlying centuries of symbolic thought to the immediate benefits for our daily activities. Great news for my comfort level!

A Tapestry of Impressions

My memories of the week are a pastiche, a tapestry of impressions: strangers becoming more like friends day by day; great quantities of interesting, well-prepared food; walks on the wooded trails and roadways bisecting the property; and, always, the voices of Vandita and Ken leading us through daily exercises in mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, gentle yoga postures, and—my personal favorites—Savasana, or Corpse pose, and yoga nidra, also known as “yogic sleep.”

One evening session, outside the regular program, really caught my attention: decluttering! Of course, it involved those overflowing shelves and closets we all have, but it also focused on clearing the clutter in our minds. Clearing out mental baggage seems more particularly useful the older we get. For example, I was going to do a lot more research on procrastination, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

I add here a paragraph straight out of my note-taking early in the week, after a walk outside the building: “In an era of artifice and artificiality—technical, social, political, recreational—it's good to be reminded that nature abides, and that nature and I are (and here I have hesitated for some time in the writing) still friends. At this time in my life, I would like to live without the stress so dominant in our daily lives—but without cutting myself off from others. Forty-six years married to a great woman does help! Also, three ‘interesting’ cats, and friends. Old photographer's saying: To get the best pictures, 'f/16 and be there.' Am still working on 'being there' with myself and with Marianne.”

Safe Space

Part of my incentive for coming to Kripalu, in addition to sharing a lovely (I hoped) experience with Marianne, was to explore the idea, the possibility, of deep relaxation in a deeply disturbed time politically. I found the structure and practice at Kripalu to be a wonderful aid in soothing the inner angst, and in reminding me that staying focused on the good in us is a useful way to manage our response to the banal twittering of modern life.

Most of all, I appreciate the generous sharing of themselves by Vandita and Ken and the 14 other souls who unwrapped themselves a lot or a little to enrich the experience for us all.

I'm happy to report that there remains a “safe space” in me that continues to stay calm and mindful of our better natures amid the continuing challenges of modern life. Who knows? Might start a trend.


Browse healthy aging programs at Kripalu.

Jim Gambaro retired from a career in human services in 2001, and since then has been pursuing his passion for fine art photography and enjoying life to the fullest with his wife, Marianne. More about the author: Jim Gambaro Photography

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