Aging Wisely: Insight from the Buddha

GoodTherapy | Aging Wisely: Insight from the Buddha

by Nicole Urdang, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, MS, NCC, DHM, in Buffalo, NY

Aging Wisely: Insight from the Buddha

I have an interpretation of the five remembrances I like to imagine. In it, the Buddha tells his monks about the five remembrances. 

He gathers them together early one morning and says, “Every day, before you get out of bed, I want you to remember these five things:

“I am of the nature to get sick and there is nothing I can do about it.

“I am of the nature to grow old and there is nothing I can do to change that. 

“I am of the nature to die and everything living eventually dies.

“Everyone I love everything I care about, including myself, is of the nature to change.

“All I have are the fruits of my labors.”(1)

The monks look at him incredulously and say, “Are you kidding? That’s really depressing. Why would we want to start our day like that?”

And the Buddha replies, “Because all of these things will happen. By acknowledging them every day and reminding yourself they are inevitable, you’re preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for life. You will not be surprised when difficulties appear. You still have to deal with them, but not with the additional pain of shock and anger that can come from denying reality.

“By understanding these are universal truths, you will not feel singled out for misery.”

Aging in the 21st Century 

We live in a culture of denial and distraction. We deny hunger, homelessness, and suffering; so, naturally, we deny our own aging bodies.

In the short run, this can feel beneficial, as it allows us to maintain the fiction that we are not moving towards an ultimate departure. But we are.

I think it’s far easier to adjust in little daily increments than to just suddenly be walloped with the realization that you have grown old. After all, you only have two choices: growing old or being dead.

Denial Doesn’t Work

Denial is hard to sustain forever. Eventually, the pigeons come home to roost. Then what? Then the shock is even greater.

It’s not easy growing old in a culture that decries it. The highest compliment someone can pay an older person is that they look young. 

3 Ways to Find Freedom Through Acceptance 

It’s not easy being human. It’s not easy growing older. The body does not get healthier as we age. There is a natural decline. This is life. Yes, it’s challenging. But denying it doesn’t make the challenges disappear. As a matter of fact, it’s a Sisyphean task to stem the tide of time. Ultimately, decrepitude and death win. Why not embrace the change? Why not give yourself all the cosmic permission slips that come with growing older? And what might they be — The joy of slowing down? The joy of caring less about what other people think of you? The joy of choosing what you want to do with your day? The joy of being rather than doing?

1. Be Present

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my tombstone to read she looked young until the day she died. What do you want to be remembered for

By allowing yourself to be fully present in whatever moment you’re experiencing, even if that’s aging naturally, you fully inhabit something new. This gives you the opportunity to create, explore, and celebrate an evolving version of yourself.

2. Be Aware

Of course, aging with awareness creates a huge shift in your self-perception on all levels: physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally, financially, even spiritually. Youth and middle age had their challenges and delights. Aging simply has different discoveries and joys. By allowing them to work their magic, you can open up space to become a different version of yourself. This is heavy lifting in a society that exalts youth and extroversion, but it can be done. 

3. Be Yourself

“Be You” is the appropriate T-shirt design for any age. Trying to be the you you were years ago is frustrating, even depressing, and doesn’t allow you to fully embrace the you you are becoming with each new experience, including aging.

Give yourself the biggest gift you can: Love yourself just as you are this minute. If that seems impossible, have compassion for yourself as you learn to not just accept, but embrace different life lessons and experiences. 

Did you know there are psychotherapists with special expertise in helping you navigate your elder years? To find one near you, search for a therapist near you and filter your results by Age Group of Client(s) > Elders or Common Specialties > All other issues > Aging and Geriatric Issues. 

Footnotes

1 Hahn, T. N. (2002). No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life. Riverhead Books (147).

© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, MS, NCC, DHM in Buffalo, NY

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 4 comments
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  • DL

    July 29th, 2021 at 1:02 PM

    As I have aged; I have found all the above practices to be valid and helpful.
    Practicing Mindfulness and being present in the moment is of value to anyone of any age. But, it is also helpful to people as they age because it requires mental self discipline. And exercising the mental muscles required to be present helps to deter age based deterioration of mental functioning.
    Likewise, practicing conscious self awareness requires the movement and exercise of mental muscles. Same benefit as we age.
    Sadly, the third idea of self acceptance is the hardest one to practice. Most people have spent much of their lives playing roles. And may not even know who they are entirely. And others may look back on their life and find choices that they prefer they would not have made. Regrets are a part of life. But, sometimes they run so deep, it is easier to deny that they exist than accept them as a part of a person’s experience.
    The Buddha had some good ideas about learning to accept one’s circumstances, but accepting oneself as is can require more of an effort.
    It is certainly possible. But, for most people may be to high a hill to climb. Of course there are some things that can be done to flatten the grade. Journaling, reaching out to people you may have wronged and seeking to make amends, even recording in some other format regrets if there is not any other option.

  • Nicole Urdang

    August 1st, 2021 at 10:31 AM

    Hi DL,
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my article.
    I appreciate your perspective and insights.
    Wishing you every goodness,
    Nicole

  • Stephanie

    August 11th, 2021 at 8:05 AM

    Nicole, I found your blog to be very inspiring and uplifting.
    Stephanie

  • Nicole Urdang

    August 11th, 2021 at 4:27 PM

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’m so glad my site inspired you!
    Please share it with anyone who might benefit.

    All the best,
    Nicole

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