The aging brain can learn and grow. This new conventional wisdom—based on the latest neurophysiological research—replaces the old conventional wisdom (which was that the brain has only a fixed number a cells set at birth and that older people cannot learn with the flexibility of younger people).
So much for conventional wisdom of any kind. Once, during an illness, one of my doctors gave me a 500 page book on “Psychopharmocology”—a technical text on the effects of drugs on the brain. I read it as best I could—it was quite technical—and returned it to my doctor.
“Interesting!” I said, “what … Read More
“There is nothing so relaxed as the shoulders of a very wealthy person when the talk turns to money.” Jon Carroll, columnist for the San Francisco chronicle, once said this, and he is probably mostly right. For the rest of us—and even for the wealthy, actually–money is an issue and cause for anxiety. For those of us who are older, and whose future ability to make money is declining, it may be even more so. “Fear of loss of livelihood” is one of the Five Great Fears… Read More
We are all so fragile. We are, first of all, so fragile physically. When we are born, we can’t even feed ourselves or survive without continuous attention. And throughout our lives there are so many things that can go wrong, but mostly do not. It is actually amazing that the incredible intricacy of body and mind … Read More
I often say, paraphrasing my own teacher, that the purpose of Buddhist meditation is not to be calm, but to be real. Being real doesn’t exclude being calm, if that is what is happening. But being real is not some particular state of mind; it is the mind in accord with the actuality of things—“real thinking”, as Suzuki Roshi would say.
I think the notion that we are “supposed” to be calm is a common misunderstanding, and a cause for discouragement, among meditators. “I’ve been meditating for X years, and I still can’t calm my mind!” This may be a … Read More
So what do we do with our aging thoughts? How can we transform them from exercises in comparison and regret into more wholesome insights that nourish us? (If you are tuning in to this blog for the first time, read the last post, “Mindfulness of Aging part I”.)
There are three parts to transforming mindfulness: clarity, insight, and re-centering.
Clarity means to know what is actually going on. In practice it means to drill down beneath the superficial thought that our mindfulness has made us aware of (such as the thought, “I guess I’ll never go to Africa…”) to the … Read More
In this post I’d like to explore the practice of “Mindfulness of Aging.” Mindfulness is one of the basic practices in Buddhism, but the precise reasons why it is effective (particularly in chronic pain management) are not yet well understood. Mindfulness is sometimes characterized in Buddhist texts as “bare noting,” and is often coupled with a word or phrase, such as, “Now I have a long breath.”
Mindfulness, in common parlance, is “noticing what is going on,” particularly about an internal mental, emotional or physical state. It is basic awareness, or wakefulness, as opposed to unconscious, or automatic, or (as … Read More
A woman in her fifties recently told me about a dream she had had. In the dream she was at a party and saw a tall, attractive man in his early thirties standing alone with a drink in his hand. The woman went over to talk to the man; in the dream she was young again and single, and this situation meant a possible romantic opportunity. With a winning smile, she tried to engage the man in conversation, only to find that his gaze had alighted elsewhere, and with a curt nod and a polite smile, the man excused himself … Read More
I remember a remarkable episode of the old Bill Cosby show, in which Dr. Huxtable and his wife surprise Dr. Huxtable’s father on his birthday with the gift of an all-expenses trip for two to Paris. His father is touched, grateful, and a trifle embarrassed.
“We can’t go,” he says sheepishly to his son. “Why not?” Dr. Huxtable says. “You’ve always wanted to go to Europe.”
“Well,” the father says, “I’m used to getting up in the morning, getting the New York Times from the front porch, and sitting… Read More
As readers may be discovering, I like cinema moments as teaching tools. The one I am thinking of today is in The Untouchables, starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. In one tense scene, federal agents, together with a grizzled veteran Chicago cop (played by Sean Connery) are waiting in an isolated cabin for a convoy of Al Capone’s bootlegger henchmen to cross the Canadian border. The two federal agents are nervously checking and rechecking their weapons. Sean Connery watches them… Read More
In my experience as a Buddhist teacher and spiritual guide, for many people the first time the deep truth of aging hits is when our parents become ill and die. This tends to happen when people are in their 40s, when they themselves still feel young, still remember college and their first jobs, still are energetic, active, and fully productive. I remember one woman in her early forties whose parent died suddenly. I could see her face change as she grieved and processed her loss; it was as though she was aging before my eyes. … Read More