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Jun 23
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Sharing the Wisdom of Aging

photo credit: - luz - via photopin cc

photo credit: – luz – via photopin cc

COLUMN: Aging in Enlightened Society

article by Camille Yarbrough

Aging wasn’t really on my personal horizon until my mother died 6 years ago. The realization hit me suddenly that as her oldest child I would possibly be next to go. Based on my mother’s age I felt I had about 26 years left, maybe not all of it in good health since she had suffered a stroke 12 years earlier and used a walker for the rest of her life.

My first instinct was to develop a bucket list, and start on it immediately in case I was slated to die at the age my father did, which would give me only 10 more years. The urgency created an atmosphere of aggression around me which upset my husband and friends, and surprised me. I hadn’t acknowledged that I had such a profound fear of death. Then two years ago a dear friend my same age was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. And I knew then that I could die at any time.

Yet programs on the calendar at the Denver Shambhala Center for Wisdom of Aging (WoA), now in its third year, never caught my attention. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with me since I saw myself as healthy, relatively fit, only slightly forgetful, and interested in avoiding death, not dwelling on it. Never mind that along with about 70 other Denver sangha members I was well into the 50-and-over age group WoA is designed to serve.

The word “aging” brought to mind images that didn’t resemble how I felt or thought I looked. Not too long ago I was asked to lead the Wisdom of Aging group and was surprised that I looked to others like a candidate. This invitation turned out to be an auspicious coincidence. When I attended my first WoA program, featuring one of the Shambhala Online Aging Series videos produced by the Working Group on Aging, I noticed how the presenter was talking directly to me, and how most everyone in the room looked a lot like me and expressed concern about things that also concerned me.

Wisdom of Aging group

Wisdom of Aging group

Now, working with a committee to develop meaningful programs for the group, it feels very important to attract the interest of those similar people who simply don’t notice Wisdom of Aging on the calendar, so they can see that we are just like them, in varying stages of acceptance and denial of aging. A recent AARP article explained that “if you are like most people over 50 you think you are not like most people over 50.” In counterpoint, a previous Wisdom of Aging coordinator reminded me that these aging years are a time for turning inward toward spiritual matters, and there are quite a few in our sangha that are not like “most people” and gracefully accept the passage of time.

Recently, along with two other Denver Center members, I attended a talk on the subject of “Positive Aging” where a couple of quotes from the book “Life Reimagined” caught my attention: “Being stuck in fear and habit is the worst of all outcomes,” and, “Connecting with others helps us see ourselves as we really are and allows us to open to possibilities.”

It is exciting to know that enlightened aging is also being discussed outside of Shambhala. And connecting on aging within Shambhala through this column and the video series has given our WoA group new ideas, and has inspired some centers to start their own aging groups. So in the spirit of generating possibility we share here some of the plans and previous programs offered by our Wisdom of Aging group.

Our new Enlightened Aging series of teacher-led talks and discussions, beginning in July, is designed to celebrate aging and reflect on how we can make the most of it. The first talk in the series, by our shastri, will be “The Swift Passage of Time.” Four other talks are in the planning phase, including one around the Sakyong’s description of bravery as the act of creating possibility.

Wisdom of Aging group

Wisdom of Aging group

Our planning committee envisions other programs that offer insight into daily situations many of us face while caring for relatives with dementia, long-term illness and disability. We want to explore, possibly with Shambhala chaplains, how we as caregivers and loved ones can work with ourselves during the illness or death of those close to us. Occasionally one of us suffers an accident or illness and needs to be cared for. Fortunately, the Denver Center has a Community Care Team coordinator to assess need and arrange care teams on a temporary or long-term basis.

WoA book groups explore in depth relevant issues such as death and dying. We will begin our second book discussion group on this topic later this summer. Past programs have looked in some detail at necessary preparations for the end of life, using President Reoch’s 6/6/12 Shambhala Times article entitled “My Big Yellow File,” and Andrew Holacek’s audio talk “The Pure Lands.” A hospice therapist was invited to lead the group in completing a “Five Wishes” living will. End of Life directives and procedures for holding death services at the center are being developed.

Conscious aging, or eldering, which depends on the inner work we are doing through hearing, meditation and contemplation of the dharma, has been explored in several programs, including a couple of especially provocative discussions entitled “Conscious Listening – Who am I becoming?” and, “How can my aging bring out the best in me?” Other topics featured in past monthly meetings include looking at one’s personal cycles of life, and complementary alternative medicines used by participants.

We begin our aging programs with meditation and end with celebration in the form of potluck or catered lunch. One of our most delightful programs dealt with the Culture of Food, culminating in an eating awareness exercise.

After all, we have been advised to enjoy our lives. The Sakyong has written in his Contemplation on Aging for birthdays, “This is simply the nature of the human condition and I should celebrate it, for it is the basis of the path.” May we all embrace and share this truth.

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

Camille Yarbrough~~
Camille Yarbrough
lives at 10,200′ elevation in Leadville, Colorado. She leads the Wisdom of Aging group at the Denver Shambhala Center, and is a member of the Working Group on Aging.

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1 response to “ Sharing the Wisdom of Aging ”
  1. Thanks for creating a blue print for Wisdom of Aging groups and for such a lovely description.

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