Both of my living sisters, 86 and 88, are fading and because I'm an elder myself, 75 this year, I'm often helping out with my aging friends and family. Two of my sisters have already died. I've been the primary person responsible for three relatives that have passed, but I was younger then. The magnitude of what was happening didn't paralyze me. I go to funerals often and sometimes it takes a lot of mental discipline not to project and wonder how my own life will end. I've been writing about it a lot in my journals lately. Maybe some of this explains my fascination with all things Day of the Dead.
My sis Betty in Washington has been in and out of crisis for a month and her daughters live in California. Trying to stay on top of things on the phone and computer has become a full-time job for my nieces.
Another good friend was just hospitalized again two days ago. I wrote in my journal that night, "Do I have the courage to grow old?" (Like we have a choice one way or another?) The sentences that followed were that it is time again to seriously re-acquaint myself spiritually with aging and what lies ahead for me. One niece flies to Washington tomorrow to help out while Betty is moved to the assisted living wing of her retirement inn. The other niece and her husband fly up on Sunday. I was blessed to spend quality time with Betty in August and I am very grateful for that.
With a heavy heart yesterday, I Googled spirituality and aging and did come up immediately with four of my favorite writers on the subject: Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi From Age-ing to Sage-ing; Sister Joan Chittister's The Gift of Years; Angeles Arrien's Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom; Fr. Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. I own all these books and/or tapes and know their content well.
But, a new book came up: Lewis Richmond, Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser. I love synchronicity. I checked the Palos Verdes Library District catalog and the book was in and I am in the midst of reading it. It is very powerful stuff for me to re-orient myself to my own aging process. I don't retain information like I used to so I'm reading it very slowly with yellow stickies all over the place.
Lewis Richmond is a Buddhist teacher and the national bestselling author of several books and this new one presents a user’s guide to aging well and making every year fulfilling and transformative. I am in the second chapter now and very impressed. Following is what it says on the book jacket:
On the road that anyone fortunate enough to have lived this long must take, the first truth of aging is also the first truth of Buddhist teaching: Everything changes. In Aging as a Spiritual Practice, Buddhist priest and meditation teacher Lewis Richmond helps us understand how the transformation can bring new possibilities, fresh beginnings, a wealth of appreciation and a depth of gratitude that profoundly affects how our lives proceed.
Richmond offers an inner roadmap for aging, acknowledging the fear, anger, and sorrow many people experience when they must confront the indignities of their aging bodies and the unknowns associated with mortality, as well as explaining the four key stages of aging:
- Lightning Strikes (the moment we truly wake up to our aging)
- Coming to Terms (comparing ourselves now to how we once were)
- Adaptation (letting go of who we were and embracing who we are)
- Appreciation (acknowledging that “This is my life, I have no other”)
Regardless of whether you are enjoying growing old, hating it, or in denial, each chapter is filled with relatable anecdotes, includingRichmond’s own experience of illness, aging, and transformation. Guided meditations and contemplative reflections help us to see that while we can’t escape life’s essential problems, we can change our understanding about them and enjoy the process.
Incorporating illuminating facts from scientific researchers, doctors, and psychologists on aging’s various challenges and rewards;Richmondexplores the tandem of maintaining a healthy body and healthy relationships infused with an active spiritual life. Using this information, we can pay attention to our own experience of aging through the lens of our emotions, and adapt accordingly, inspiring opportunities for a joy that transcends age.
Admittedly, lightning struck at least a decade ago, but I am only now coming to terms and adaptation. I will admit that so far I have remained extremely grateful for my life.
So, prayers for my sis Betty, please, and may we all have peace and purpose as we age.