It’s a new world today, very beautiful. But for me, same old flu. After two days of rising wellness, I have returned to the fever and lassitude, which took me to bed last night before NBC had predicted results. Now, that’s pathetic.
Flu is a different story when you’re old. It can lead to stubborn pneumonia and other infections. Even so, I had thought that since the Mayo Clinic website said the flu lasted a minimum of five days, then I should get better after five days. Not to be. This is day eight, and I’ve had to cancel tonight’s meeting of my course on healing. (So this is not really the post-ironic age.)
I asked myself what I know about how to be happy with this kind of thing going on, keeping me from walking in the Whetstone Prairie during these last days of Indian Summer. What came to mind was the chant called “The Five Remembrances,” which some Buddhists say every day. The facts it presents are central realities. This is the translation Thich Nhat Hanh uses:
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.Today I thought about the first of these. There is no way to escape growing old. That’s certainly been my experience.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
Recently I came across a web ad for PerriconeMD cosmeceuticals that said the opposite: Aging is Optional. Not-aging costs $195 for the “package,” which the ad described as “A prescription for looking your best and living a healthy and independent life.” Ah, you get the whole thing with your face creams: beauty, health, independence. Everything you want.
Many readers have been through what Tom and I have, trying to care for elderly parents who do not want to admit to old age. Sometimes they are puzzled, bemused: an 85-year-old man telling how he couldn’t lift the extension ladder up to the house. How strange, he insists. I always used to be able to. Sometimes it is defiant, an 80-year-old woman insisting “I’m not going to go live with old people.” These are people of a generation that believed fiercely in the power of individual will.
Buddhists call this kind of thinking “ignorance” or “delusion,” by which we mean not understanding reality, and we consider it an innate human tendency. But aging is the universal reality we share with other carbon-based lifeforms: we are born, mature, age, and die—and that’s the optimal scenario. That’s what I used to say I wanted, to be active, vital, and healthy, and die all at once, say with a not-too-painful heart attack, after my ninetieth birthday party. I seem to have forgotten to sign up.
What if I really accept growing old? The whole thing, not just the parts I like, grandchild, birthday dinner, more self-confidence; hah, being retired, no alarm clock. If I accept who I am, I can discard my ideas of youth and age, put aside my desires—parasailing, Paris, being a young mother again—and just live within today’s reality.
This is the deeper side of “living in the moment.” It doesn’t just involve paying attention to what we’re doing. It goes beyond to seeing the present moment, the reality we’re in, living fully in that reality, not fighting, denying, hating it. There is lots to be experienced here, some of it enjoyable, some of it interesting, and much of it inevitable.