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Cosmic Health Care

Boulder 2013 rainbowCOLUMN: Aging in Shambhala
by David Whitehorn

“Even though we are all prone to being born, growing up, aging, sickness, and death, we can approach life’s vicissitudes from the reference point of goodness, whether we are healthy or ill. In this way, basic goodness becomes our cosmic health care.”
~ Sakyong Mipham in The Shambhala Principle (2013), p191

Lately I have been contemplating the idea that old age is, for me, the best stage of life. This is not so much in comparison with other stages of life, all of which, looking back from my current age of 71 (72 in November), have been quite rich and rewarding. Instead, old age, a term I am increasingly comfortable with using to describe where I am in the arc of life, seems to be best because it is some kind of fruition of the entire life experience. As well, it is the stage that I am currently living, and what could be better than being alive and, to varying degrees, aware in the present moment.

Old age seems to be a unique opportunity to bring together all of the experiences of a lifetime into an integrated view, and, to some extent, a synchronized manifestation. For me, the life-long desire to contribute to creating a better world, instilled by my parents at an early age, seems to be finding fertile ground in the Shambhala vision of enlightened society.

Of particular delight is the sense that enlightened society can and does happen on the spot, in the present moment on this planet, right where I live, and is not a utopian fantasy for the future. Hence, the relative shortness of my remaining life is irrelevant in terms of living in, and appreciating, enlightened society. The sense of laying down the foundations for an even more visible societal transformation, to the benefit of future generations, no longer seems to be an unreachable dream, but a current reality.

Lest you, dear reader, roll your eyes at this point and write me off as out of touch with reality, let me reassure you that, first of all, my body is slowly but definitely falling apart, secondly, my personal and professional life is filled with challenges or all kinds, and finally, my mind wanders incessantly into concept and day dream. That is to say, I am a very ordinary human being. What seems so powerful about the Shambhala vision is how inclusive it is, meaning that I can relax with who I actually am, rather than trying to create some ideal somebody to be.

Cosmic Health Care
Rainbow over the arm Oct 2012The vast inclusiveness of the Shambhala vision brings me to the idea of Cosmic Health Care. The contradictions and fragmentation of the current health care systems are well known. Many people have suggested that we need an entirely new way to think about, and organize, health care. So perhaps it is time to introduce a new view for health care – the concept of Cosmic Health Care.

As Sakyong Mipham indicates in the quote from his new book, basic goodness is the foundation for Cosmic Health Care. Perhaps because I worked in the formal health care system for many years, it is intriguing to contemplate how the idea that we, as human beings, are all basically good, and that the social systems we have created are also basically good, can provide a view that can transform the way we organize and operate health care systems.

The beginning of that contemplation could examine a number of related open-ended questions. What does health care look like when it is based on unconditional basic goodness? How does health care operate if we recognize and appreciate the inherent purity of all situations and conditions, those that we call illness, as well as those we call health? What if the health care system had, as its primary goal, to protect the access of every person involved to the experience of their own basic goodness?

It might be useful here to contemplate those kinds of questions in the context of the inevitable final experience of old age: death. The bottom line, as they say, is that we are all going to die. My own experience is that with increasing age that fact becomes more believable (although what the experience of dying will be remains quite mysterious).

As mentioned earlier, logically, it seems to me, if death is the inevitable destination at the end of this lifetime, then it could be considered as the fruition. Yet in western society we seem to view death as a defeat and as the ultimate failure. Based on that materialistic logic, health care is intended to maximize the function of our body (including the brain) for as long as possible.

However, increasingly there seems to be recognition that longer life is not necessarily better life. The growth of the hospice movement, for example, attests to an appreciation of the importance of quality of life in the final stages of the life cycle.

The view of cosmic health care suggests a health care system that respects each person as basically good regardless of their stage of life, or degree of illness. This means further that all conditions and situations, including illness, are considered to be basically good. As well, to manifest that view a health care system will need to acknowledge and appreciate the basic goodness of all the people working in that system, and the basic goodness of the system itself.

In this regard, a recent video produced by the Cleveland Clinic represents one way of beginning to see everyone involved in a health care system as human beings, worthy of respect and concern.

Many thanks to Judy Lief for pointing out this video to us.

As with enlightened society as a whole, it seems to me that cosmic health care is not a distant fantasy, but an immediate reality that can, and at times is, recognized and acknowledged in the moment of nowness.

As aging Shambhalians, I think we will benefit from engaging in contemplation and open conversation about these issues. May cosmic health care inform the view, practice and action of old age as fruition.

To read more articles in this Column, please click here.

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3 responses to “ Cosmic Health Care ”
  1. Vivi Spicer
    Aug 2, 2013

    Dear David,

    I am with you in view, but how to you account for the fact that health care in the USA is a for profit business? There is no health care in the USA, just a for profit business called health care.

    Washington, DC, sangha

  2. Christina Müller
    Jul 31, 2013

    Beautiful article, beautiful video

    Thank you so much

  3. Thank you, David–being 71+ myself, I can really appreciate your thoughts here!

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