I get it, we older ones are no longer as energetic or slim, or good looking. Or into Instagram.
The other day I received an interesting catalog in the mail. My wife thought it was a medical scrubs catalog, but when I looked closer the company’s about us page was all about “adaptive clothing” for a clearly older demographic.
Opening to a random page I find a grinning couple sporting comfortable “adaptive” flannel nighties.
For the non-elder-attire-informed reader: adaptive clothing is apparel designed for people “who have difficulties dressing themselves due to age, disability or general lack of mobility.”
I had to sit with this for a few minutes to let this settle in. OK, I just turned 67; any inner turbulence caused from receiving this mail-order catalog is clearly my issue.
OK, let me own this.
Theravada Buddhists monks and nuns chant The Five Remembrances every morning, one of which is “I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.”
A few deep breaths…
Our culture is so crazy focused on youthfulness I confess I catch myself feeling left out.
A couple of weeks ago, the nurses I work with threw a fellow nurse a party celebrating her 28th birthday. Everyone was talking about it.
They did not invite me. They call me the old man. But the moniker comes with lots of respect, which, I confess, is very cool.
I get it, we older ones are no longer as energetic as we once were. Or slim, or good looking. Or into Instagram big time.
As the “older” poet and Zen teacher Norman Fischer writes:
All this focus on stopping aging implies somebody made a big mistake in the universe. It’s as if we should be getting younger instead of older.
The Jewish mystical traditions, as Fischer observes, have a direct and radical answer: just because we are born incomplete and need to bear a certain amount of suffering does not mean the universe is flawed.
Rather, bearing disappointment, hardship, and suffering with grace is profoundly healing. And necessary.
From the ancient teachers of Judaism as recorded in the Talmud:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, nor are you free to abandon it.
Let the media bombard me all they want with their longevity pitches; I am learning not to bite, thank you adaptive clothing catalog.
It’s just more false advertising, and the media is no dummy–it has our number! We bite on the false messages to avoid going through our fundamental discomfort, which the Buddha called dukkha.
We can call it in English stress, pain, despair, sorrow, disappointment.
The incredible power of our meditation practice is simple and direct– you experience dukkha with intimacy and grace. Then, it’s no longer dukkha.
(Substitute disappointment, stress, pain, sorrow for dukkha, if you like).
In our efforts to avoid distress, disappointment, boredom and fear we can get a little numb and withdrawn. And it’s really this that feels most awful.
Carl Jung observed:
People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.
If we just give up and feel the dukkha in our life moment by moment mindfully, with curiosity and equanimity. It may or may not go away, but that’s not the point.
It’s the ungraspable beauty of change, the indescribable peace of impermanence we learn to embody in our simple practice which is the most profound.
Instead of seeing adversity, disappointment, fear, anger, the whole cosmic nine yards as some Huge Existential Error, let’s hear Rumi’s response:
Pretend the universe is rigged in your favor.
This is a liberating secret our meditation reveals.
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