Aging as a Spiritual Practice
My widowed grandmother lived with us when I was growing up. She had a tiny apartment in the attic, which we euphemistically called, "the third floor."
I remember walking up the narrow stairs to her room with her, probably hoping for one of those "After Eight" mints she kept in a drawer near the TV. I was 8 myself. She paused halfway up and gave an Oy. I asked her what was wrong.
"You know," she said, "as you get old, your joints hurt. Arthritis, it's called."
"But Granny," I said, twisting my arms and wrists to show her, "there is nothing in joints that could hurt!"
That was a long time ago.
To take ageing itself as a spiritual practice, let's first just not deny it. "I accept the universe!" cried Margaret Fuller. Emerson, hearing of this, remarked, "Egad, she'd better."
We deny ageing when we pretend there is no change in us, but also, subtly, when we complain of the negative changes of age.
Complaint can be a form of denial when it is a refusal to inhabit the changes as real and to some degree irreversible. We think we should somehow "stay young," or we say, "You're as young as you feel." Our effective national slogan may be closer to, "Forever Young," than to, "In God We Trust." And we have a crazy cosmetic industry to keep the denial going.
I'm in favor of self-care, beautification, exercise, and medicine. But these can be undertaken in a spirit of zest for life or in a spirit of lying against age. And the attempt to stay forever young misses the glories, the gains, the real thrills of ageing that emerge (maybe only) in the very face of loss.
A "spiritual" form of denial can show up in the quest for an eternal, ageless, timeless Self or Spirit. While there may be such an entity, our practice of incarnation does not involve a hasty flight to the heavens.
For the next few weeks, we'll be looking at ageing as a spiritual practice. It is about finding our way through the bodily human lifespan, going right along with the risky proposition that life has put to us.
"Yes!" cries Dickens's Scrooge after the spirits have had their good effect on him, "I will live with Time! I will live with Past, Present and Future!"
all blessings to all,