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