The Inner Work of Retirement: My Story.
Excerpted from "The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul," her book which was released this week. After 30 years as a psychotherapist, my attention was moving away from the work, and my heart was opening in other ways.
What was it moving toward? A new orientation to time—less structure, more flow. A new orientation to responsibility—less obligation, more choice. A new orientation to purpose—shifting my identity from role to soul.
But who am I, if I’m not Dr. Connie, a therapist, the shadow expert? What would it mean to let go of my role and my brand? Who am I if I am no longer the Doer?
First, I stopped accepting new clients. Next, I began discussing my departure with clients, exploring how to move toward completion.
A few months later, the opportunity came to give up my city office. I went for it—and let go into the unknown. I suspected that, with the gain of freedom, there also would be loss. I would feel less needed and less important for a while. And I might feel less purposeful and a bit disoriented, with the path ahead still hidden.
Perhaps hardest of all, I would lose the precious vehicle, the clinical relationship, in which to transmit all that I’ve learned from my own inner work, intellectual development, and spiritual growth to others. It will be a loss to give up the “brand” of shadow expert—and a gain to extend it into this whole new territory of late life.
So, for me, retirement from clinical practice was not simply stopping paid work. It meant retiring a spiritual path to my own deepening and widening awareness. It meant retiring the need to help; it meant retiring the need for answers; it meant retiring the need to be appreciated. It meant retiring from a life that’s known and facing an unknown, liminal time. And it meant retiring a practice of love that connected me to the depths of the human soul and to the journey of the human species. It has been a privilege.
I decided to mark it with intention, with a rite of passage, trusting that I was letting go, stepping into liminal space, and would emerge with the renewed vitality of an Elder.
One night I gathered a circle of friends and colleagues to ritualize my retirement from clinical practice. I lit candles and lowered the lights. I read for a few minutes from the opening to this chapter so that my observers would share my framework. Then I lifted each of four white cards, one at a time, that had my careers written on them: meditation teacher, journalist, book editor, therapist. And I lifted the five books that have been my gifts to the world.
I spoke for a bit about who might have been influenced by my work, including the known influences, such as my meditation students and therapy clients, and the unknown influences, such as readers of the books I wrote or the hundred books I edited, whom I would never meet.
I held up these symbols of my work, roles, and responsibilities and offered them to the world: "I bless and release you to find your way now." And, letting go in my heart, I set them down.
I asked each member of the group to offer a blessing. I stood for a moment, then crossed a threshold of silver tape on the floor, empty-handed, into open space.
When I wake up now, I breathe deeply and look around in wonder. I’m retiring the past. I’m retiring the future. I’m practicing presence. Just here. Aging breath by breath. Intending to live as a soul.
Connie Zweig, Ph.D., is author of "Meeting the Shadow," "Romancing the Shadow," "Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality," and the new book about shadow and spirituality in later life, "The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul" (Sept. 2021), available now.