Friday, February 22, 2013

The Problem of Aging

Escaping the frame
I was struck by this thought yesterday, and rushed to put it in a box on this blog:
 Being old is not necessarily a problem.  
It wasn't actually that striking, more like interesting in a quiet way.  So I've been thinking about problems in general and aging in particular.

Aging, being old, is a fact, a condition created by a series of experiences, of changes.  Problems themselves do not exist in reality.  The word problem is abstract, a concept in my head tied up with a judgement that it is difficult and I don't like it.  These thoughts made me remember Joan Halifax's story about when Issan was dying, and she was crying at his bedside.  He said to her, "That isn't necessary, you know."  He was a Zen master (so is she), so I thought seriously about that.  Not necessary to be sorry your friend is dying?  How about yourself - does your death have to be a problem?  Is sickness necessarily a problem?  Is pain?

Using the word problem is a way of framing a large issue.  You could say the real problem is not aging, but that we resist its reality instead of  flowing with it.  It's like "difficult emotions" in that way.
Framing a couple of issues

It's funny how we welcome risk and surprise when we pay for it.  People go to theme parks, travel uncomfortably on planes and go more uncomfortably through airports, which have become fun houses, delays popping up like monsters in the corner.  We deliberately meet fear on roller coasters, we pay to be thrown around on those teacup rides. But when life throws us around, we hate it.

These thoughts must be growing out of my current interest in softening to difficult feelings (discussed a little in the previous post).  My own "difficult" feelings arise when I don't like what's happening.  Depression. Pain.  People who don't do what they said they would (had to throw in something trivial). 

I couldn't explain why, but this is making me visualize making a not-too complicated mandala.  Reds for desire.  Some black strokes for judgement.  Here and there beautiful greens, restful lavender......What would be at its center?  Maybe a nice peaceful white, or a blue sky with puffy high clouds passing over.  Maybe some glitter.  


  1. Escape the frame - exactly! Look at ALL the great benefits of ageing ... all the things that you have experienced and what they have done for you .... you are so much better for them :)

  2. In today's dharma talk, or more specifically the Q&A after, someone was asking about time and growing old. And what the teacher talked about was sort of related to the idea of time accumulating and passing and so we think of 'growing' old and yet if we think of each moment without time you can't really be old because there's no past or future to compare it to. It's just things changing. Over and over and over. And I really like that; it seems to take some fear out of it all for me. But ask me again when I'm old :-)

    1. I do seem to talk often about being old, in speech with friends, too. I suppose it's saying, Here's how I am now, and it's not like I was, and I can't do the things you do, or I don't do those things anymore. After decades of being physically pretty steady, one changes so much that it's hard to keep up with it - we both need hearing exams right now, e.g. The cataract in my left eye has slowly grown so that eye is a bit blurry now. And as for afraid of falling! It's me trying to get used to it. But not a word of all that is Zen. ;)