My upcoming book MEN AGING WELL springs from two premises: first, that men and women experience aging differently, and second, that to understand men’s aging we need to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” Men aging today—those fifty and over—were raised at a time when boys were socialized according to traditional gender roles. There were certain catch phrases—taunts even—that boys heard constantly. I certainly did.
“Boys don’t cry.”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
One of the salient dramas in today’s society is a questioning and re-envisioning of gender roles, at the same time that … Read More
In connection with my upcoming book MEN AGING WELL I have created a contemplative inquiry which I call Every Breath, New Chances as a way for men (or women) to move beneath the surface of thinking about aging to the “subterranean river” of emotion and intuition where the deeper changes and transformations of growing older actually happen. The name of the inquiry, “Every Breath, New Chances” points out that while we may imagine that our waking self is a fixed, static entity, in reality we are changing all the time. Every breath is a chance to re-invent ourselves anew. This … Read More
My previous book on aging, AGING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE, was published 6 years ago and approached aging as the spiritual culmination of our whole life’s journey. The book addressed aging from a Buddhist point of view, and each of its chapters concluded with a “contemplative exercise” drawn from my experience as a Buddhist meditation teacher. Some of these exercises are available on MY WEBSITE as audio or video teachings, and in these blogs I will sometimes refer to them.
EVERY BREATH, NEW CHANCES, my new book on aging, is focused on men’s aging issues. Its approach is … Read More
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
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
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