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Bodhisattva's Age Too

Fundamental to Buddhist teachings is the teaching of “impermanence.” In short, “Aging is inevitable and unavoidable, everything changes, including your body.”

Over the years I’ve watched other people become old; my parents, relatives and friends. My Father had to undergo major heart surgery at 86 years of age, while my Mother’s dementia progresses, and the occasional news of high school classmates passing suddenly or getting cancer. It has not been until recently that I have become more consciously aware of my own aging body and since my own heart attack in 2012, it feels as if I went to sleep and woke up in a different body. Yet all the while, even with the occasional forgetfulness and delay in being able to complete a sentence, my mind and my heart remain younger than my body feels and really is.

Fundamental to Buddhist teachings is the teaching of “impermanence.” In short, “Aging is inevitable and unavoidable, everything changes, including your body.” So what’s a “Bodhisattva” to do? If one is truly a Bodhisattva he or she has been doing it since they stepped into “the stream”. While in his mid-60s, the late great Suzuki Roshi was asked, “Why do we meditate?” He replied, “So you can enjoy your old age.” Forty-some years later, research has proven that persons who live spiritually in the world, on average live seven years longer than those who do not. More importantly, they age “gracefully.”

One of the components for “aging gracefully” is “self-confidence,” a by-product of a lifetime of devotion to living a more contemplative life, to meditating regularly. In Zen “self confidence” is the result of learning to “let go,” to “go with the flow,” and to live with “equanimity”. Aging is not oppositional to life but rather an integral part of life. To age gracefully is dependent upon ones “willingness” to embrace life as it really is, not the way we expect it to be. Life, as it really is, is impermanence. Aging… is Life.

When we are willing to embrace life as it really is we find that what comes with our willingness is an “unwillingness” to have or engage in so much of the drama our culture applies to aging. We can learn to relax into it, experience the peace which comes from the absence of all the drama we’ve known in our lives including “our stories” about the way it was, or should or could be. We can just simply “sit,” “breathe in, breathe out,” and finally “smell the flowers”. We learn to appreciate this moment, now, ourselves, our life, and other’s lives also. We will achieve what so many around us wish they can and they will want to be with us, regardless of our age.

In the end, aging gracefully is to answer the call to take that trip on the most important and most interesting journey of your life, the “journey within.” Then we might realize the real meaning of the saying, “The journey is the destination,” and always has been.

Seijaku Roshi is the founder of The Center for Spirituality and Contemplation, and spiritual director of the Pine Wind Zen Community, at 863 McKendimen Rd., Shamong, NJ 08088. He is a Zen-Buddhist Monk, parent, author, life coach and Abbot. Learn more at PineWind.org.  

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