Aging With Wisdom
Homework: Bring awareness to your patterns of holding on (attachments) and letting go in your daily life and in your meditation practice, recognizing the connection to letting go involved in the dying process.
Gladdening the mind
Purposely brightening, gladdening the mind
Cultivating positive qualities seeds the mind as way to start meditation:
May I have compassion for myself/others, patience with practice, awaken cheerfulness, and/or allow the inner smile
Thannisssaro Bhikkhu: “Heightening the Mind”
Buddha concluded one of his most important talks with that phrase “Commitment to the heightened mind”
Lifting mind above its ordinary concerns. Anytime we meditate or remember mindfulness
Strengthening the observer:
Helpful image from Pali canon speaks of person meditating skillfully like someone sitting/standing and watching someone lying down
Put your attention a little above mind. Where’s the observer now?
3 ways to gladden the mind: neuroscientists discovered need to hold positive thought/intention for at least 30 seconds & feel it in body
1) Gratitude: simply recall something in yr. life for which you’re grateful. Let those feelings expand, aware of your heart
2) Serving: any act of kindness: reaching out, encounters during the day
3) Savoring: intention at start of day to savor this precious life; it’s about the small things
Important to work with difficult emotions but cultivate sense of well being – even quiet joy — beyond whatever is happening in the body
Hafiz: “I wish I could show you/When you are lonely or in darkness,
The astonishing light/Of your own Being!”
- One manageable commitment to your practice: get up earlier, sit for longer, stay with one focus for the week, etc. Visualize meditation hall and group as support/inspiration
- Chose an habitual pattern to work with: Maybe a tendency to rush. Maybe the tendency to lapse into an addictive behavior. Or maybe one time of day or place when you lose mindfulness.
Reflections from our meeting:
“You are tethered to the path of awakening simply because you long for happiness and freedom from suffering. Even when you feel engulfed by darkness and uncertainty, … you will never escape your natural inclination and longing for unconditional freedom. The contemporary Buddhist teacher Anam Thubten puts it this way: You are doomed for enlightenment.” (!)
1) Tectonic shift: physical changes, less energy, those surprising life lines, shift of pace, call to inner life, call of the soul, call to deepen our practice
Challenges of aging in this culture; Materialism, consumerism, quest for youth combined with fears about aging, death/dying lead to culture arrested in an adolescent dream.
2) Jung: called Old Age most valuable phase of life. Combination of values gathered in early stages, plus life experience, yield fruit of wisdom that falls into collective unconscious as well as to those whom our lives touch. We’re invited to explore this stage of life as an adventure.
3) Grace of diminishment: “When I was younger, I rejoiced in my expanding, growing life; but now in my later years, when I find my physical powers growing less, I thank God also for what I call the grace of diminishment.”
How do we find grace in adversity?
How we find meaning in suffering?
What is loss trying to teach me?
How to acknowledge our darkest feelings – anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, vulnerability — & discover teachings in losses.
4) Surrender to what is: “In the natural order of things”
Conscious aging: Total openness to realities of our aging, aging of family/friends, physical limitations.
Let “the unknown be the guide”
I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The astonishing light
Of your own Being!
- Bring awareness to emotional challenges, especially age-related ones
- Choose one area of practice to renew, enliven: both in sitting meditation and mindfulness throughout the day.
Notes from talk: Reflections on Practice, Inspiration and Wisdom Treasures
Key: to explore nature of mind. Tantric Buddhist text: “The mind is that which creates both imprisonment & liberation, confusion & awakening, so it is essential to know this king wh. generates all our experience.”
Explained term wisdom treasures; how they inspire practice.
- Know your refuges: vast subject; only a few observations
What will be your refuge when challenged?
Triple gem: mantra; phrase as with Hospice woman “Thy will be done”: breath; maybe ultimate refuge is pure awareness — state so steady, strong it transcends suffering
2. A joyful mind
5 qualities most linked to aging well: gratitude, generosity, patience, joy, and equanimity. Close to Brahma Viharas/4 Divine Abodes.
Metta, karuna, mudita, uppekha (Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity)
Qualities of mind/heart that we can cultivate.
Leonard: muscular distrophy an confined to a wheelchair for life.embodiment of joyful mind in spite of body’s limitations
“Turning the moment around” Noticing negative thinking/sinking mood and purposely interrupt it with a phrase like “May I have a joyful mind.”
3 phrases: “Where is happiness in this moment?” ”Happiness for no reason” “Always keep a joyful mind.”
3. Aging and the mystery of time:
Hob. “This stage of life is all about getting down to slowth.”
We start to live in different time zones from younger people.
Chronos (linear time) and kairos (vertical time)
Aging process seems to soften our attitudes toward time. Nat’l slowing
We experience timelessness, the eternal, in moments of absorption in meditation.
Invitation to look at our relationship to time.
When rushed? When time hangs heavy? Time running out?
Ego’s involvement with time. Cultural differences.
Merton: “Our busyness is pervasive form of contemporary violence.”
Chinese pictogram for “busy.” Two parts of word mean “heart killing”
Rabbi Heschel: “Blind to the marvel of the present moment we live with memories of moments missed, in anxiety about an emptiness that lies ahead. We are totally unprepared when the problem strikes us in (unimaginable) form…Time has ….ultimate significance; it is of more majesty and more evocative of awe than even a sky studded with stars.” (Written while he was dying)
Present moment is our ultimate refuge
Conclusion: 3 wisdom treasures: know your refuges, a joyful mind, and the mystery of time. Each inviting reflection as they relate to our aging.
1) Renew commitment to practice. 5-10 minutes better than none at all
2) Include the Five Remembrances (p. 119) Short version: Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?
Session #4: Suffering and Beyond Suffering
Friend’s question: “How are you going to write about the dark dimensions of aging? You obviously need to talk about pain, loneliness, and brokenness for they are also part of the elder years.”
Challenges of aging become the cutting edge of our practice: how do we deal with the dark emotions? New urgency to this life long challenge!
1) The Unbroken: poem page 42
What is the place that is unbreakable and whole? We access it in meditation and in fully aware moments throughout daily life.
2) Tulku Thondup (Healing Power of the Mind; Boundless Healing; Peaceful Death: Joyful Rebirth) “So problems remind us to practice. All of our practices, especially meditation, are a preparation for death.”
3) Dalai Lama story: In midst of talking about highest teachings, he interrupted himself. “But that’s not the way things are. We are just people groping in the dark.” And he broke down into tears.
Be aware of expectations of self: our ideals of how we should be can eclipse our humanness, our ragged edges, our messy feelings
4) Thich Nhat Hanh: “The art of happiness is knowing how to suffer well.” How do you suffer well? Awareness of present moment is the key: “We use mindfulness to cradle our pain” whatever form it takes. He calls it “the medicine of mindfness.”
“Cradling” involves acceptance, loving kindness toward self, compassion
Seems so simple but includes everything – a most basic practice
5 guidelines for dealing with challenging emotions:
1) Opening to feelings no matter how difficult: loss, grief, anxiety, fear, (last week: shame, embarrassment, guilt) anger, vulnerability, etc.
Principle: what we resist becomes more entrenched, repressed, locked in
2) Naming the feeling; part of the process of acceptance. Need acceptance in order to change.
3) Allowing the feeling to run its course including tears, sound, physical movement. “Compassionate Presence to Feelings” is a practice. Knowing where feelings are experienced in the body
4) Bring in skillful means: breath, mantra, body scan, cultivate opposite quality, etc.
5) Your refuge: what is your refuge? Teacher/benefactor, visualize a safe place, this moment of pure awareness
Session #5: Reflections on Passages: Dying into Life
Death: the ultimate koan
Share Sarah Doering’s dying and Clear Light training
1) What is your relationship to death/dying?
How much in your awareness? The Five Remembrances
Your earliest encounter with death? Been with someone as they were dying? Your fears? Your hopes?
Story: Joan Halifax and Hob at Plum Village: “How would you like to die?”
Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death.”
2) Meditation as preparation for dying/death:
Inbreath/outbreath an invaluable link: space between breaths – the mystery, “the true source.”
Every time we let go of an attachment, thought in meditation, or habit pattern, that is a step toward freedom. Our baby steps toward freedom.
Death is the ultimate freedom
3) Strongest attachment to physical body & sense of “I” (ego/mind)
Meditation reveals that any enduring self is an illusion
Our unconscious efforts to keep body/mind together; protecting the “I,” its security, continuity – all illusory.
TNH: “This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died….Since beginning- less time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source. Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”
No Death, No Fear
Dying: process of letting go of the small self in order to dissolve into the larger stream of being/consciousness.
4) Need to acknowledge that “death can be grim, harsh, cruel, a source of infinite grief but can become redemptive when seen as part of life rather than opposed to it. “If we experience life as a mystery, a surprise, a wonder, a gift, then the incomprehensibility of death can be seen as an extension or magnification of life.” Rabbi Heschel
Dying process may involve pain, obsessive suffering, anger, shame, judgments, hallucinations, visions, confusion, fear. Need to accept everything that happens no matter how difficult and understand that hardest challenges of our lives – “the low-tide experiences” — are where we learn.
Theologian Rudolph Otto describes death as “the mysterium tremendum,” an experience beyond ordinary sense of self whose nature is concealed, esoteric, extra-ordinary, unfamiliar. Creates awe, wonder.
5) Our death is part of our legacy. How we die is part of what we bequeath to our loved ones, family, caregivers, etc.
We become models for next generations or those around us.
Henri Nouwen’s sister’s death: “Her successes and accomplishments will probably soon be forgotten, but the fruits of her dying may remain for a long time….She has shown me, in a whole new way, what it means to become the parent of future generations.”
In Buddhism: death is greatest opportunity for awakening and freedom.
Exercise in triads:
1) What have been your experiences with death so far?
2) How would you like to die? Name your fears; identify any positive perspectives, aspirations: wonder, awe, curiosity, etc.
1) Try incorporating some form of 5 remembrances at beginning or end of meditation or during the day
2) Open to death awareness in your life: in the breath, dying things, dying of the light, etc.
** Bring your lunch if you’d like to stay after our meeting**
Aging with Wisdom will resume for six sessions on Fridays 10:30am-12 noon starting March 29th