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Diana M. Raab Headshot

The Joy of Learning

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For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading and writing. It might have had something to do with my mother having been an English major and taking me to the library every week of my childhood. I would proudly walk up to the counter with my glossy library card and place the large stack of books reaching up to my chin onto the counter to checkout. I did not always read all of the books; I chose my favorites, but it was always satisfying to have all of those stories right there at my fingertips. My passion for learning new and interesting things continues to be a part of who I am.

Many people wonder why I would return to school for my Ph.D. in Psychology at this stage of my life. The reason for my passion for learning is simple. I do not attend temple; I do not attend church, but I do frequently visit the remaining local independent bookstores and when I am unable to locate a particular book, I will cheat and buy it online. I have always loved learning new things, and actually most of us really do not change that much as we age, but our deeper interests might become even more apparent.

Like many baby boomers in transition, we have dumped the idea of traditional spiritual practice and have tried other ways to remain connected to our inner voice. I do this through writing and learning. The idea of learning as a spiritual practice was pointed out to me in a recent issue of Spirituality & Health (September/October 2012) in an article by Thomas Moore. "In my spiritual life," he says, "study is perhaps my most important practice." This statement really resonates with me. He further admits that studying does not seem to be a very sexy way to live a spiritual life, but like myself, when away from home, he yearns to get back to his desk.

The Census Bureau claims that baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964 (now age 44 to 62), make up 28 percent of the population and many are going back to school for both online and residency degrees in numerous fields, ranging from business to writing to psychology. We are the post World War II generation, and one of the first American generations to so obviously value and appreciate eduction. As a result of this we are changing society's attitude towards retirement. We are role models for future generations.

For my own studies, I am currently reading, The Emotional Life of Your Brain (Hudson Street Press, 2012) by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley. It is an easy and powerful read where the authors identify different emotional styles and strengths. Included in the book are a number of tests to help you determine your individual emotional style and how you react under different circumstances. The styles they reference include your resiliency, outlook on life, social intuition, self-awareness, sensitivity to context and your attention span. Chances are that most of us baby boomers know ourselves quite well. And many baby boomers, like myself, are interested in ongoing self-improvement to continusouly bring our knowledge and experience to the next level.

After determining your emotional style, which can affect your learning style, the authors suggest exercises and ideas to change an emotional style which may no longer be serving you. Through the assessment, I was reminded of my positive attitude on life (I am a two-time cancer survivor), my sense of intuition and resiliency.I also learned that sometimes I lack focus, and the authors offered these tips to increase attention span:

• Mindfulness meditation with eyes open
• Focus on a small visual object (i.e. a button, a coin)
• Focus the attention only on this one object and keep eyes fixed to it
• When the mind wanders, calmly bring attention back to the object

They suggest this be done every day for ten minutes, and it should be increased by ten minutes each month until 60 minutes is reached. This sounds daunting, but it is one more thing to add to my learning "to do list," and one more thing to look forward to. How wonderful that leaning and personal growth is possible -- and challenging--at any age.