Launch of the Aging Hub
by Ann Cason
The Aging Hub (http://aging-hub.shambhala.org), a new project of the Shambhala Working Group on Aging, is due to launch today: December 17, 2016. It has been funded by the Shambhala Trust and by donations from the sangha. All of us on the Working Group on Aging and the Shambhala Trust hope that this hub will reflect the teachings without being too didactic. We hope that it will spark discussion, contemplation, and sanity as we ourselves age and care for loved ones or are cared for by those we love.
The goal of the Aging Hub is to provide information, education, and provoke discussion. It is also meant to collect stories from Shambhala Centers around the world, stories about the challenges of aging that we face, and how we are meeting those challenges. Perhaps over the next few years we will come to know the Warriorship of Aging, to know how it is to age in enlightened society.
In the late 1970s, Victoria Howard and I, who were leading Dana Home Care (a nonprofit that allowed older people to stay at home until they died), had a brochure designed with a picture of a chrysanthemum. The flower had delicate lines enfolded in leaves – an image of nurturance like wrapping a baby in a blanket. When we showed it to Trungpa Rinpoche, he said, “No. Like this.” He was sitting at his desk, but he spread his arms out wide, opening to and enfolding a space without beginning or end, a space so vast that all perfections and imperfections could dance within it with lightness. I remember the shock of his vision: the frail old people, who seemed to need such nurturance, could abide in such a warm, aware and spacious way rather than just creeping along until ready to fall into the grave.
Around the same time, on September 12, 1978, Rinpoche gave a talk to the vastly extended Dana Home Care staff, sitting on folding chairs in the basement of Dorje Dzong. He came in, sat down and simply told us, “Caring for old people is the work of warriors. Any questions?” A wonderful discussion took place. It was much like our present day salons in which situations and challenges present themselves; we discuss, listen, drop our desire for resolution, then go away uplifted. He gave us this amazing way to communicate about care. Not that there weren’t things to learn: how to enter a space or situation; how to wipe a bottom and then keep that secret while you serve tea in good china cups; how to take the blame to oneself while keeping a cheerful state of mind.
Now, as an aging person myself, I am finding that the years of working with sick and aging people leave me well prepared to understand the aging process, and well prepared to help our sangha look at the issues and challenges of aging. I also want to share the wisdom about aging that is coming to us from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. In his contemplative approach, the awareness of aging is not limited to what we are at old age, but is part of the whole lifestream. The Sakyong has created a weekend program called Rites of Passage for adults, a program he is encouraging us to do every ten years starting at age 20 and going to 108. These are powerful trainings for our life transitions. We can also look at the curriculum for the Way of Shambhala, teachings on how to live and age over our entire lifetimes from the point of view of Basic Goodness and the four dignities. These teachings on how to find contentment, joy, fearlessness, and wisdom can be taken over and over until realization occurs. In particular, these classes help us develop our contemplative and listening skills, as well as our ability to develop community.
Much of our current society’s work on aging and end-of-life has become a method or prescription for how to die like a saint and avoid being a sinner. We can go beyond the either/or limitations of that approach. What I like about the Sakyong’s nonjudgmental way is the emphasis on being human. We live and die as human beings, and one thing we have trouble with is moving from the doing into the being of our lives. We don’t know how to be; we don’t feel our basic human nature, and so we make up all kinds of stories about how good it could be to age and get old. So many concepts and judgments have stood in the way of trusting and appreciating what we feel. Our old minds wander and our sore bones crack. Looking to be good, we miss the enjoyment. And we sometimes miss the ways that we can help.
So, let’s spend time together on this new Aging Hub. Let’s talk. Let’s share. Let’s discover for ourselves what it is to age in enlightened society. And please, if you like what you see, share your thoughts, and perhaps make a donation to help us go on with our Spring 2017 edition of the Hub, which will be on Death and Dying.