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Surprised to be Aging

Aging groupand Appreciating Meditation
COLUMN: Aging in Enlightened Society

article and photos by John David Smith

Ann Cason, who has has been bringing people together to talk about aging for many years, invited people for a potluck and discussion hosted by Dr Jenny Sasser in Ann’s backyard on August 30. The only problem was that it looked like it was going to rain and Dr. Sasser couldn’t make it because of food poisoning the night before. Thinking on her feet, Ann found a different place to meet and led the discussion, starting with a quote from from Chogyam Trungpa’s Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving Kindness.

Slogan 16. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.
“In this slogan, the word join has the feeling of putting together butter and bread. You put together or join situations with meditation, or with shamatha-vipashyana. The idea is that whatever comes up is not a sudden threat or an encouragement or any of that bullshit. Instead it simply goes along with one’s discipline, one’s awareness of compassion.”

“Obviously, there might be a problem when you first hear the good news or the bad news. At that point you go, “Aaah!” [Vidyadhara gasps.] That aaah! is some sort of ultimate bodhichitta. But after that, you need to cultivate relative bodhichitta, in order to make the whole thing pragmatic. Therefore, you practice the sending and taking of whatever is necessary. The important point is that when you take, you take the worst; and when you give, you give the best. So don’t take any credit–unless you have been blamed. ‘I have been blamed for stealing all the shoes, and I take the credit!’” ( pp 67-69)

aging group 2The “unexpected” theme seemed very apropos for the day and the conversation turned on working with the unexpectedness of aging. We all know that it happens, of course. But somehow it is a bit surprising nevertheless. Someone pointed out that our bodies change faster after we are 65 than at any point since puberty. And working with fixed concepts when our bodies, minds, and capabilities are changing rapidly is a challenge. Of course, solidifying a variety of storylines about ourselves is pretty easy and adding storylines about aging makes it all the more challenging.

Staying open and noticing what’s actually happening is what meditation is all about, but it’s very easy for us to think, “meditation is one thing, but life — my life, at this moment — is another!” One important resource for joining the unexpected with meditation is ceremony. Ann had a video inviting people to a Shambhala ceremony about aging, introduced by the Sakyong:

“Every ten to twenty years, we can participate in a ceremony that awakens us to the fact that we are progressing through life. These rites of passage act as a reminder. If we are not occasionally reminded to stop and look around, it is difficult to tell what direction we have taken in life. Therefore, the rites of passage are not only a public ceremony marking our journey through life, but also a time of self-reflection and orientation.”

Maybe aging is a great resource and opportunity on the path of awakening. When we are young it is easier to pass up opportunities or give things away because we believe that in the future there will be more; when we are old it may be more challenging because we can think, “What if there is no more?”

Everyone who was there seemed to agree that it would be good if there were more conversations like that one!

~~
Thanks to Ann Cason, Ann Helm, Bill Kimbro, David Parker, Jan Rogerson, Rayna Jacobsen, Timaree Bierle-Dodds, and Willa Schneberg who all helped pulling together ideas and quotes for this article!

NOTE: The video in this article advertises the annual Shambhala Adult Rites of Passage weekend retreat being offered in Halifax, for the second year. The retreat is also being offered for a second year in Boulder in October and in San Francisco for the first time in December. For general information about the retreat, contact Heidi Mecklenberg at: [email protected]

Read an article about last year’s Rites of Passage in Halifax.

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