Chop Wood, Carry Water: Staying Healthy In Retirement
March 13, 2012
There’s a Zen proverb that says:
Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.
After Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.
It’s occurred to me that for best health, we might just as easily replace “Enlightenment” with “retirement”.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear my patients, friends and family say things like, “We should move into a single story house when we retire so we don’t have to worry about stairs,” or “I’m not going to walk outside in the winter in case I fall.” On the surface, these statements seem sensible. But are they?
In the book Healthy at 100, John Robbins talks about the “long lived” ones around the world–the groups of people who not only live the longest, but also live the healthiest for the longest. What do they have in common? They remain vigorously active, socially relevant and engaged in day-to-day work and life well into their old age.
Of course, “staying active” isn’t exactly breaking news. The real secret of these cultures, I think, is that they continue to live in circumstances that demand they stay active and engaged. The live on the sides of mountains, don’t (or can’t) retire, and work, walk and live in tight communities until they very end. They live in a world that doesn’t let them retire, withdraw, eat crap, watch tv and do nothing.
Is it possible we need to follow that lead? To retire to seven-story homes, not one-story ones? Or to not retire at all? Maybe we need to create circumstances that force us to stay active and engaged, as opposed to ones that give us the option of letting ourselves deteriorate.
Maybe retirement shouldn’t be about having to do less. Maybe it should be about having to do more.
Chop wood, carry water. It might be that simple.