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Losing a Little Part of Myself

A reflection on the transformations encountered through the process of aging

by Shastri Christine Heming

hand-141669__340It seems that everyday I lose a little part of me.  As if a transformation is occurring, completely out of my control.  This morning the liver spot on my left cheek deepened in color and expanded its territory.  Yesterday the bandits of fatigue stole my ability to pull even simple things together.  Last week the fun of walking down a country road with my daughter ended with me face down on the gravel shoulder.  I fall occasionally; my balance simply takes off to places unknown.

My friends who live along this county road are, one by one, selling out and moving into smaller, simpler quarters in town.  They are tired and ready to leave the maintenance of their beautiful landscapes to those younger and more capable.  Are these the reasons I grieve?

person-731423__340The challenges of aging are many and varied.  There are the external realities to address:  where to live and how to take care of oneself.  These are important.  But often they are the main focus.  The inner experience is seldom mentioned and not well understood by those who have yet to experience it.  I know; I was one of them.

When my mother was in her 90’s, I made the decision to attach bars and handrails in strategic places to make her safer in her home.  She protested, but I promised to do an attractive job of it.  She watched in frustration as I attached a handrail along the three stairs leading down to the back door.  As her frustration grew she blurted out, “You make me feel so old!”  Then I blurted out, “Mom, you are old.”  We laughed and cried together, but I really did not understand how she felt, that is, not until now.  With each bar and handrail, she was losing a little part of herself.

lake-1412216__340Growing old, becoming less capable in so many ways is one of the sufferings of existence.  Sickness, old age and death are common partners in this crime.  I haven’t yet found a graceful way out.  I have been told that one can “grow old gracefully,” but I wonder if this is just a cover-up or the wishful thinking of the young.  My mother lived to be 103.  Friends and family are quick to remind me of this whenever I mention growing old.  “You’ll live to be 100,” they say, not realizing it means another 30 years of dying.

Looking into the grief of sickness, old age and death, I find it is filled with the sadness of life itself – the predicament of samsara, our conditioned existence – and I long to be free.  Time is running out and I still struggle.  Practicing the dharma is my only hope and source of solace.  There I find peace and joy.  Everything else is futile.  At last I understand Milarepa’s teaching – everything, absolutely everything in samsara is futile.  I am looking for that fearless confidence that can stare the end in the face and have a good laugh.  It is all illusion after all, but as Lord Marpa himself was known to say, it is a grand illusion.

worldwide-63625__340This is not to deny love and compassion.  On the contrary, the more I recognize this futility, the more my grieving takes on the world – people, animals, the trees and greenery, the wounded planet.  We are all in this together.  To harm the earth is to harm me.  My neighbor’s pain is my pain.  That very fragile, elderly woman with her walker who is very slowly making her way through the farmer’s market is a version of myself.  How can I deny her loving-kindness?

I thought one day a community might begin to appreciate and venerate the elders among them.  But in our culture we gray-headed ones remain invisible.  In my case, the community is almost entirely gray.  It seems the old become segregated.  It is unnatural and a waste of much wisdom.

sunset-288531__340But the way out is the way in, and this I know to be true.  So I sit in this pool of tears that have no root, no cause, and no boundaries.  I am learning to become a good swimmer.

These are the ramblings of a seventy-one year old facing the realities of the first noble truth.  This truth is glaringly apparent each day as each day, I loose a little part of myself.


Christine Heming lives in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, with her husband Gregory Heming, an ecologist and municipal councillor.  She holds a Ph.D. in speech science and pathology, and for nine years was on the faculty of Dalhousie University, and later the staff of the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board. Now retired, she devotes her time to promoting the principles of Shambhala as a Shastri, or senior teacher.  Fostering genuine communication has been a major part of her life’s work.  She has a daughter, Carolyn, an artist and advocate for persons with special needs, who currently lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada.  She is also a proud grandmother.

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24 responses to “ Losing a Little Part of Myself ”
  1. Suzanne Trahey
    Sep 7, 2016

    thank you so much for this article Christine! It is beautiful

  2. Christine Heming
    Sep 5, 2016

    I am so deeply moved by all these comments. Thank you all for your kind words of appreciation and for sharing your own experience.

  3. Dear Christine,
    I truly responded to your article. It echoes so much of what I have been feeling. At 77-1/2 I have been furious at the constraints that aging, the weakening body has imposed, and in tune with my intense, angry, optimistic, and forever “warrioring” temperament, I do all I can to counter these restraints Your wise thoughts truly helped me to accept what is happening!!!
    In the last few weeks I’ve suffered more pain because of sciatica, muscle-nerve pains. I kept insisting it was spine related…echoing a much earlier injury, from which I healed myself 30 years ago despite a doctor saying I could apply for Disability….(I refused to). Finally x-rays confirmed this. now I have been doing yoga, ballet,strengthening, doing what I can because I want so much to continue walking and being active. Yet age is real! Death is real!! To learn to accept and flow with the world and let go…let go of fear…”because there is no obscuration of mind there is no fear… all the Buddhas of the three times ..fully awaken to complete enlightenment.”..”
    Yes, if only elders were more respected and valued.
    Money is also a constraint…I have had a lifelong poverty mentality; only now does the grip loosen just a little as I see how it is mind-produced. (But money in this world is also very real!!)
    The Shambhala Center, which is located a stone’s throw from my house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is an an enormous blessing. I meditate there alone many mornings, and am always grateful for its existence, for the work so many have performed to make it as beautiful as it is.
    With thanks for your wonderful article.
    Maria Espinosa
    [email protected]

  4. Jane Ferguson
    Sep 5, 2016

    Thank you Christine. It is enormously helpful to share our experiences.

  5. Denise Kilshaw
    Sep 4, 2016

    I’d also like to thank you for expressing the vulnerability of the years ahead, and feel a kinship with all that is expressed here.

  6. Laura Sackville
    Sep 4, 2016

    Echoing Dana’s comments on your insightful expression,Christine.
    I’ve treated (and apparently, in some cases, challenged) friends/family by sharing this. I’m so appreciative that you,we in the Shambhala community, as well as we in the larger community, have begun to speak our truths about aging and death. Precious indeed.

  7. WOW….We baby boomers sure need more articles like this. Most of my non-dharma friends do NOT want to talk so honestly about this “depressing” subject. Thank goodness for the Sangha Community where honesty and self reflection are absolutely necessary for practice. My mother is 94, in assisted living nearby, doesn’t get out of bed, watches tv 24/7. Her 20 years of “opiate” (vicodin) addiction drives me nuts. For the last 7 years I have been the dutiful daughter tending to her needs, babysitting my 2 granddaughters and keeping my massage business going. Last year I was stricken down with Shingles, 2 months of ongoing pain and sleepless nights. Now at 70, even the thought of helping anyone else sets me into a tailspin of despair…….just want to work in my garden, walk on the beach and knit…….like those grandmas one sees sitting on the park benches of Paris.

  8. Susan Ross
    Sep 4, 2016

    Thank you so much, Christine! – what a journey we’re sharing, eh? – each day “embodying” this clearly insubstantial “self” even as it goes, still cluttered with clinging – yet finding compassion and joy blossoming midst fear – practicing staying open in that genuine heart of sadness – and to glimpses of wisdom and vastness – so very very grateful for the blessings of our teachers, meeting the dharma, and all beings – may we all be liberated!

  9. Such a beautiful article – thank you Christine!

  10. Sue Lesser
    Sep 3, 2016

    Thank you for writing this piece. I resonate with your experience, and sometimes, actually more often than not,
    I appreciate slowing down, not being able to do some of the things I used to, and having to adapt to an aging body.
    It seems sweet to me. I love that we are all in this together.

  11. Lokken Liane
    Sep 3, 2016

    What a beautiful and rare expression of the dark time that aging can be.
    I work with seniors almost full-time, and the paramount focus on safety can be very depressing sometimes. I myself am approaching 60, and I know that part of the reason I got into this work is because I fear I won’t handle old age “gracefully!”
    Everything you said resonates with me as I watch so many who are not emotionally able to handle the looming reality of their deaths as they get closer.
    I can’t imagine even attempting this without the precious dharma. I wish there was a way through that could make it more bearable for others, especially those who feel they are swimming in hell-realms. Talking about it is a great start, and it’s certainly my aspiration to keep working with this population and this issue and see what happens.

  12. Sarah Trefethen Whitehorn
    Sep 3, 2016

    This is beautiful, Christine. Thank you for these genuine expressions of aging and all that comes with it!
    It is a lonely journey. These physical difficulties are popping up one after another, I keep thinking they will stop if only I can ‘fix’ this one, that one. If only I could feel really good, 100% again…

  13. phyllis segura
    Sep 3, 2016

    Losing self. Thanks for the reminder. Yes, it’s a bit of a surprise, all of it. But then again only the good die young. That’s probably sadder. As the physical changes I thought the other day that being born is probably harder. So many more changes and so much faster then. O achy bones, O old toes, O skin that shrivels, O tired eyes…you’ll move up those stairs if only by the force of your will. Now where did I put that pill? Old age: it’s good while it lasts. Some never make it there so enjoy while you can. Cheer up!

  14. Leonora Forslund
    Sep 2, 2016

    very nicely put, and exactly how I feel, too

  15. Bozica Costigliola
    Sep 2, 2016

    Thank you, Christine. Your beautiful words reflect my own experience at the moment with my dying father and my aging self.

  16. Susan McConnell
    Sep 2, 2016

    Thank you Christine. So well said. We keep thinking that somehow we’re not doing it “right” if we’re not aging “gracefully” and without complaint, that if we just worked a little harder at it, we’d fix samsara.

    Of course, I’m still trying. Wisdom is slow to arrive.

  17. Elizabeth Berlasso
    Sep 2, 2016

    Beautifully expressed, Christine. Every word resonates with me, too. Thank you.

  18. Jeremy Hayward
    Sep 2, 2016

    Thank you so much, Christine, for this lovely piece.
    And thank you, others, for your comments. It is so valuable to have these little connections with others. The hardest part about the sadness, especially for those of us living alone, is letting it turn on oneself so that it becomes self-pity and depression. Remembering that there are many many others going through the same thing—that the sadness of growing old, dying, is a natural part of human existence—feels incredibly important and helpful.

  19. Kim Lipscomb
    Sep 2, 2016

    Beautifully expressed. Straight to the truth, as always.

  20. Susan Jenkins
    Sep 2, 2016

    Wonderfully honest and recognizable. The tricks of samsara disguise its futility so well. Your bracing reminder is going to be printed and put on my practice table.

  21. Jan Watson
    Sep 1, 2016

    Yes – all is profoundly true and very current – for me. But the really sad thing is that it has taken us so many years, speeding along and thinking that we are practicing, to notice these ancient and fundamental truths. No wonder it takes lifetimes to get enlightened!! Thank you Christine. All is good :-) Jan

  22. Russell Rodgers
    Aug 31, 2016

    Thanks, Christine, beautifully put. I resonated with every word.

  23. Here’s another person with similar feelings. I’m told there is a German word which literally translated means “gate closing panic.” It means that opportunies become less and less available to you as you age.

  24. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing and your honest insights. I too feel the truth of impermanence.
    On the one hand so sad and on the other so precious. Maybe this is “The Genuine Heart of Sadness”?

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