The last post on aging parents garnered more comments than any other in the history of this blog, so clearly this is a topic that touches many people. The experiences people have range from the touching and poignant (“Do you know who I am, Mom?” “Yes, you’re my baby”) to the heartbreaking (the father whose dying words were obscenities). As I said in my last comment to the previous post, “These posts explore the pain that is at the very center of what love is, and what life is.”
The cultural context for our Western way of dealing (or not … Read More
Loneliness often increases as we grow older. Certainly when those we know begin to pass away (which may start when we are in our 50s) there is a kind of loneliness that comes and cannot easily be assuaged. Their loss is permanent.
I have a thumbnail summary of Buddhism that I have mentioned here before and that goes like this: “Everything is connected, nothing lasts, and we are not alone.” … 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
The “thought of enlightenment,” or bodhicitta, is a key doctrine of Great Vehicle Buddhism.
Basically it refers that moment in your life when your perspective widens to embrace the big picture, and to ask the big questions. Why am I here? Why is anything here? What is life all about? Why is there evil in the world? Why do people suffer? Is it possible to change the world? And then follows the earthshaking realization that it might be possible to find answers. And we begin our spiritual search, which in Buddhism is called bodhicitta in the Zen tradition is … Read More
I believe there is a Yoga of Aging. The word “yoga” has come to mean the various classes and workshops that people go to for stretches, postures, and the associated benefits to health and energy. Since it was first introduced here early in the 20th century, yoga has grown tremendously and is now an integral part of the cultural landscape. But the word originally included the entirety of spiritual practices developed in ancient India; the physical yogas so popular today are only one of them.
Meditation is another yoga. The word itself is related to the English word “yoke” … Read More
In the excellent book The Pursuit of Happiness by David G. Myers, Myers quotes fellow happiness researcher Richard Kammann as follows: “Objective life circumstances have a negligible role to play in a theory of happiness.”
This astonishing statement, made by a scientist familiar with all the studies done about happiness, is well worth pondering as it relates to aging—an “objective life circumstance” if there ever was one. It is also helpful in reflecting on whether Buddhism has, or is, a theory of happiness. More on this in a moment.
But first I might as well take this opportunity to explain … Read More
A reader from Israel writes, ‘It is hard not to notice that most of the material one can find about aging is all about illnesses and sickness. However, I am trying to find more of the positive angles of old age.” I think he is right, and that is one of the reasons I started the blog. There is indeed a voluminous literature about illness, the dying process, death, and grieving.
Certainly part of the reason is that these aspects of aging are the most difficult to cope with, and are the most trying and frightening. But if my 50 … Read More