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Nov 22
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Aging in Enlightened Society

Introducing a NEW MONTHLY COLUMN in the Shambhala Times:
AGING IN ENLIGHTENED SOCIETY

We are all getting older. Moment by moment, day by day, year by year, decade by decade we experience the unfolding of the aging process. This column, initiated by the Shambhala Working Group on Aging, asks the question: “What does it mean to experience aging in the context of an enlightened society?” By enlightened society we mean a society and culture that appreciates and supports the basic goodness of each individual and of the social system itself. We are honored to inaugurate this monthly column with brief comments by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on the topic of aging. His remarks were made at the recent Dignity program in Halifax, a gathering of the leadership of Shambhala, in response to a question from Andrea Sherman, Co-Chair of the Shambhala Working Group on Aging.

Click on the file below to listen to this exchange; following is a transcript of the exchange.

Question: Thank you for your teachings, and I was really taken with the concept of worthiness and growing older and the sense of worthiness about being an older person, and I wondered if you might comment on what your vision is for growing older in an enlightened society. (Laughter)

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche: Okay. I think the spectrum of human life needs to be appreciated. That is what we are creating — a whole culture where that is happening. I joke that I don’t necessarily like the word “retirement” because it has a quality that one is disengaged. Obviously, at a livelihood level there are reasons that people retire at a certain age and so forth, but you can’t really retire from life. Our perspective is that we continue to grow, and that as we get older it is actually more and more important how we handle our mind, and how we regard who we are and what we are doing. There is a quality of knowing that this is a journey that might take many lifetimes, and that we are in this life now, engaged in this amazing experience. Right now we are trying to create a culture where at every level we can reflect, re-engage, and try to understand what we can do.

In this light, I want to introduce some rites of passage ceremonies and rituals that we would all engage in. We would gather and look at our lives — at what’s happened, where we are, and where we want to go — in order to deal with inspiration, regrets, and aspiration. The essential element in being alive is to keep our life force strong, and not to diminish it. If we do that, we grow as a person, and we are valued as we go along. In the current cultural climate there is this kind of “commodity” feeling where we’ve done our thing, and now we feel left out or whatever it may be. What we are trying to do is to create another situation. For example, at our programs a diverse age group comes together and even socializes. This is rare. It is society.

The other aspect of aging is respect and mentoring. We want to create a culture where wisdom is passed down. That is something that we are dealing with right now in leadership. I would encourage everybody here that as soon as you come into your position, you should immediately be mentoring somebody else. It’s not a matter of how long you think are going to be in the job, but a sense that mentoring is good for you—you are able to think and reflect what you are doing. Also, it is practical in terms of whoever might succeed you, so there is a quality of growing, and then immediately supporting. And if we are doing that, there’s a sense of life moving forward that way. Okay?

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Contributions to the monthly column, “Aging in an Enlightened Society” are welcome. Please contact Andrea Sherman at: [email protected]

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3 responses to “ Aging in Enlightened Society ”
  1. Arthur Ramsay
    Nov 22, 2011
    Reply

    Thank-you very much Doctor Mipham, I feel much better already! Just spot on! On the spot! Spot on in space!
    I suppose this is the eternal youthfulness oft referred to. Mind always fresh as a result.
    Look forward to more of these tablets of sanity Doc, other Docs, Dharma Nurses, mental physios (that’s enough medical metaphors, Ed.)

  2. Ellen Berger
    Nov 24, 2011
    Reply

    I am dealing with the problems of aging (as well as other problems) and I can feel my life force somewhat diminished, which is frightening. I think it’s wonderful we now have a column on aging, instead of just columns on how to handle other people who are aging!

    If we are serious about dealing with sangha aging, I would like to point out two things:
    1) I don’t think we need to make aging into a joke, and be all embarassed and laughing at it. We can gently take it seriously.

    2) If there are going to be rites of passage for aging, we have got to be realistic about what aging people often need, such as accessibility, a comfortable environment, shorter programs, less emphasis on food because of restricted diets, etcetera. Of course everybody needs something else, but we should at least think about it. How about visits to one’s home for rites of passage?

    Again, let’s keep this column going. The mind does difficult things as you age, have less contact with people, and develop more health problems. Kikisoso until death, and, hopefully, beyond!!

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

  3. Diane de Ford
    Nov 26, 2011
    Reply

    Thank you for this question, and the inspiring answer! I am experiencing myself that “retirement” can be a big shift into working more fully in the community, and having the time and energy to “be” in my community and engage in different ways. This does feel like another stage or passage on the path and I appreciate that there will be ongoing discussions…Thank you


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