Dear Still Water Friends,
Are you someone who is getting older? Then this dharma discussion is for you.
I ask because – personally – aging isn’t something I acknowledge very often. No, in my mind, my growing list of age-related frailties is temporary. My plans for next year include exercising more, dancing later, waking earlier, and being mentally sharper, thanks to a new diet of anti-oxidants, perhaps, or maybe a personal trainer. No longer will I spend half an hour taking care of my teeth, stretching my arthritic neck, and loosening up my tight hamstrings just in order to climb into bed.
But in the mornings when I sit, I hear the first of the five remembrances:
Knowing I will get old, I breathe in.
Knowing I can’t escape old age, I breathe out.
In The Blooming of a Lotus Thay writes:
In principle, we all know very well that we cannot avoid growing old, falling sick, dying, and being separated from those we love, but we do not want to give our attention to these things. We do not want to be in touch with the anxiety and the fear but prefer to let them sleep deep in our minds. That is why they are called latent tendencies (the word anusáya literally means “lying asleep along with”). But although they are lying asleep in our hearts, they still follow us and secretly influence our whole way of thinking, speaking, and acting.
Does fear of aging lie asleep in your heart? If so, does it influence the way you experience life?
And since aging is really all we have, can we embrace it?
I look forward to sitting and learning with you this Thursday.
Here are some other quotes on aging that you might enjoy:
When I was a young monk I was taught that the greatest sufferings were birth, sickness, old age, death, unfulfilled dreams, separation from loved ones, and contact with those we despise. But the real suffering of humankind lies in the way we look at reality. Look, and you will see that birth, old age, sickness, death, unfulfilled hopes, separation from loved ones, and contact with those we despise are also wonders in themselves. They are all precious aspects of existence. Without them, existence would not be possible. Most important is to know how to ride the waves of impermanence, smiling as one who knows he has never been born and will never die. – Thich Nhat Hanh from Fragrant Palm Leaves.
From the Buddhist point of view, we human beings live in a very peculiar fashion. We view impermanent things as permanent, though everything is changing all around us. The process of change is constant and eternal. As you read these words, your body is aging. But you pay no attention to that. The book in you hand is decaying. The print is fading and the pages are becoming brittle. The walls around you are aging. The molecules within those walls are vibrating at an enormous rate, and everything is shifting, going to pieces and dissolving slowly. You pay no attention to that, either. Then one day you look around you. Your body is wrinkled and squeaky and you hurt. The book is a yellowed, useless lump; the building is caving in. So you pine for lost youth and you cry when the possessions are gone. Where does this pain come from? It comes from your own inattention. You failed to look closely at life. You failed to observe the constantly shifting flow of the world as it went by. You set up a collection of mental constructions, ‘me’, ‘the book’, ‘the building’, and you assume that they would endure forever. They never do. But you can tune into the constantly ongoing change. You can learn to perceive your life as an ever flowing movement, a thing of great beauty like a dance or symphony. You can learn to take joy in the perpetual passing away of all phenomena. You can learn to live with the flow of existence rather than running perpetually against the grain. You can learn this. It is just a matter of time and training. – H. Gunaratana Mahathera, from Mindfulness In Plain English.