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 we would say in Buddhism) karmic activity. It is a higher order awareness than our ordinary sensory perceptions; it seems to be a function of our higher, or more developed faculty of awareness.
“Aging” thoughts or feelings are a common experience of those of us who are growing older, and they typically sneak up on us when we are trying to do something we used to be able to do when we were younger, like touch our toes or remember a recipe. They often (though not always) have a somewhat unpleasant emotional tone of regret or frustration. An anxiety-ridden aging thought can occur around momentary memory lapses; this is a private fear that we often joke about with our friends.
Here are some common verbalizations of aging thoughts (you can fill in the blanks from your own experience):
“I guess I’m getting too old to…”
“I used to be able to…”
“I wish I could still…”
“I guess I’ll never…”
All these thoughts have two qualities in common: comparison and regret. So the first mission of Mindfulness of Aging is to bring these underlying processes into view. So when you find yourself saying “I used to be able to…” you can note to yourself, “I’m comparing again.” When you notice yourself thinking “I guess I’ll never…” you can note to yourself, “Another regret.”
Comparison and regret: two patterns that take us away from our present situation, and that cause us unnecessary suffering.
More on Mindfulness of Aging in the next post!