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
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
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
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
I’ve put the phrase “Spiritual Practice” in my blog title, but it may not be clear to many readers what that means. A spiritual practice is something you do with the body, with speech or with thought that evokes or develops the spiritual in us. The most common spiritual practice in the West is prayer. Other familiar spiritual practices are singing hymns, reciting a mantra (or saying a rosary), bowing, and meditation.
I borrowed the phrase “Aging as a Spiritual Practice” from the title of my first book, Work as a Spiritual Practice. In that book I adapted many … Read More