Aging Wisely: Insight from the Buddha

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

I have a interpretation of the five remembrances that I like to imagine. It tells the Buddha’s monks about 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 won’t be surprised by difficulties. They will still be there, but you must not ignore the pain of shock or anger that can arise from denying it.

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

The 21st Century of Aging 

We live in a culture that denial and distraction is common. We are unable to accept hunger, homelessness, or suffering. Naturally, we also deny our own. aging bodies.

This can be beneficial in the short-term, because it allows us to keep the fiction that we aren’t 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. You only have two choices. Growing older or being dead.

Denial Doesn’t Work

It is difficult to maintain denial for the rest of your life. The pigeons eventually return to their nest. What then? The shock is even worse.

It’s not easy growing old in a culture that decries it. An older person’s best compliment is their youthful appearance. 

Three Ways to Find Freedom through Acceptance 

It’s not easy being human. It’s not easy growing older. As we age, our bodies do not become healthier. There is a natural process of decline. This is part of 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. Decrepitude and death ultimately win. Let’s embrace the change! Give yourself all the cosmic permission slips associated with getting older. And what might they be — The joy of slowing down? The joy of not caring as much about what others think of you. The joy of deciding what you want to do with each 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 chance to create, explore and celebrate an evolving version.

2. Be aware

Aging with awareness can lead to a significant shift in your self-perception at all levels: emotionally, financially, relationally, vocationally and spiritually. There were many joys and challenges in youth and middle age. There are many joys and discoveries that come with aging. Allowing them to work their magic can help you become a different person. This is a difficult task in a society that exalts youth, extroversion, and it can be done. 

3. Be You

“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 greatest gift: Love yourself as you are right now. If this seems impossible, don’t be discouraged. Self-compassionAs you learn to accept and embrace the different lessons and experiences in your life, you will be able to live a more fulfilling life. 

Did you know that there are psychotherapists who specialize in helping seniors navigate their lives? To find one near you, search for a therapist near you and filter your results by Age Group of Client(s) > EldersOr Common Specialties > All other issues > Aging and Geriatric Issues. 

Footnotes

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




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

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