The Buddha talked about ageing as a motivating force, encouraging us to develop wisdom by practicing the Dhamma. Ajahn Chah often said that ageing was a suitable object for contemplation because it connects us to all of nature. From the minute we are born, even before we are born, we are growing older. No one, in the history of the world (outside of fiction), ever grew younger as time went by.
An old friend would ask, “How’s the enemy?” when she was inquiring what time it was. Is time our enemy? Or a wake-up call? Or is it exactly the thing we need to free ourselves from? In a sense, if we live in the (infinitely deep) present, we are living in a position outside of time.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about old age, sickness, and death – those three reliable reminders that we cannot live forever. Ageing especially is easy to observe every day, in ourselves and others. We tend to have a fraught relationship with ageing. This Roz Chast cartoon, recently published in the New Yorker magazine, made me laugh out loud:
When we think of dolls, we think of babies, or maybe Barbies, but not of elderly dolls. Dolls don’t age, so an elderly doll would be a pretty rare find. And yet, we see old people all around us, and maybe in the mirror, too. Are we at peace with this reality?
I’ve been reading a book called From Age-ing to Sage-ing by Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller, and have found a lot to think about and to share.
Whether you are young or old or somewhere in the middle, you are where you are. If you are lucky, you will experience youth, middle age, and old age. The thoughts and experiences in these three (approximately 30-year) segments of life tend to be quite different from each other. How we think, how we feel, what we want, what we believe our purpose to be – all of these are different at different times in our lives. We find ourselves in a wide range of situations, from dependency to independence and back again, over and over.
I’m going to give over several posts to this subject, so for now, please have a think about where you are in your life cycle. What’s important to you now? Is it different from what was important to you ten or twenty years ago? And what might be important to you later in life?