I gave a keynote talk at a local wonderful day-long workshop on Aging. What a magnificent group of people doing such important work. I felt honored to be there. Here is a rough outline of what I said. I wanted to honor Mary Oliver, beloved poet who recently died. April is Poetry month and her poems invite us into full living and loving while we are here. She also reminds us to learn to let go. I love her work. I hope it inspired a few folks
.……FIRST THE BAD NEWS: THE FIVE REMEMBRANCES (Thich Nhat Hahn)
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
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.
NOW THE GOOD NEWS: Epigenetics reveals that the ways we think about aging can actually impact our DNA as well as many other aspects of our lives. Here are quotes to help us think about aging in an expanded way: “It’s an absurd gamble to imagine that at the time of death you will have the physical strength, the emotional stability and the mental clarity to do the work of a lifetime. Don’t wait. Practice now.” – The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski
J. HALIFAX: In being with dying, we arrive at a natural crucible of what it means to love and be loved. We can ask ourselves, knowing that death is inevitable, what is most precious today?
Jack Kornfield: DID I LOVE WELL? DID I LIVE FULLY? DID I LEARN TO LET GO?
DEAN ORNISH: EAT WELL, MOVE MORE, STRESS LESS, LOVE MORE
ADD LIFE TO YOUR YEARS NOT YEARS TO YOUR LIFE: don’t want to live longer if it means 3-5 years in a nursing home
We want to LIVE longer not live LONGER, increase healthspan over lifespan
When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver
(homage to Mary Oliver, beloved poet who just died: April is Poetry month)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE FULLY (Bold added for ? of living fully)
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Summer Day (LIVE FULLY)
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Blackwater Woods Mary Oliver (TO LOVE WELL; TO LET GO)
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
The Journey (LIVE FULLY)
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
I want to be ever a child
I want to feel an eternal friendship
for the raindrops, the flowers,
the insects, the snowflakes.
I want to be keenly interested in everything,
with mind and muscle ever alert,
forgetting my troubles in the next moment.
The stars and the sea, the ponds and the trees,
the birds and the animals, are my comrades.
Though my muscles may stiffen, though my skin may
wrinkle, may I never find myself yawning
~Toyohiko Kagawa ~
Nikki Kallio Because age is good for something, and that’s knowing that most things are silly and that there are no somedays. That all you really have is to be here now, and some years are more prone to remind you that it’s time to use the good china and the pretty linen and to wear that dress. You learn that you can’t avoid the dark, and in fact, it’s long past time to seek it out. You learn that sometimes pain is least painful when you crawl inside it, become it, to find the smallest origin of it and expand inside of it until it bursts. To look under the bed and say, hello, monster, come out and play. You begin to see the beauty in the whole, to understand that painters seek the right kind of light not for the light itself but for the play of light and dark. You begin to dust off that heavy trunk in the corner that carries the carefully folded and preserved statements and lessons passed along for the sake of safety or good intention or not such good intention, the collection of proclamations, yellowed and frayed but very carefully kept, the ways you still convince yourself you’re not enough just as you are. You begin to unfold them and see them as silliness, too. Maybe you actually find something in there that can be spun into silk. You invite the shadow on the other side of the mirror to laugh with you, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t but you see it for what it is. You cry for the ones who won’t be convinced but then you let it go. You see the falseness and have no patience for it and maybe now that you’ve unfolded some parchment from the trunk and it’s not so heavy anymore, you start to let your impatience show a little more. You stop hiding your crazy. You start seeing through the veil, you start seeing more clearly what is real, what is life, what is love.
SOOO to ask ourselves before we take an action: Is what I am about to do supporting my life or supporting my death?
Mindfulness of Aging Book list
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.
Bernhard, Toni. How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
Chittister, Joan. Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. Katonah, N.Y.: BlueBridge, 2010.
Fischer, Kathleen. Winter Grace: Spirituality and Aging. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 1998.
Grollman, Earl A. and Kenneth S. Kosik, M.D. Living After a Loved One Has Died. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995.
Gullette, Margaret Morganroth. Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Halifax, Joan. Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death. Boston: Shambhala, 2008.
Howell, Alice O. Dove and the Stone: Finding the Sacred in the Commonplace. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1998.
Levine, Stephen. Turning Toward the Mystery. HarperCollins, NY, NY, 2002
Levine, Stephen. Who Dies?
Luke, Helen. Old Age: Journey Into Simplicity. New York: Parabola Books, 1987.
McEwen, Christian. World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. Peterborough, N.H., Bauhan Publishing, 2011.
Moon, Susan. This is Getting Old. Boston: Shambhala, 2010.
Moore, Thomas. Ageless Soul; The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy. St. Martin’s Press, NY, NY, 2017
Morgan, Maud. Maud’s Journey: A Life from Art. Berkeley, CA: New Earth Publications, 1995.
Morrison, Mary C. Let Evening Come: Reflections on Aging. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
Ornish, Dean and Anne. Undo It, How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, New York, Penguin Random House, 2019
O’Donohue, John. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997.
Ostaseski, Frank. The Five Invitations. Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. Flatiron books, NY, NY, 2017
Pipher, Mary. Women Rowing North, NY, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019
Rilke. Translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy. Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
Ring, Kenneth. Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience. New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1984.
Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.
Rosenberg, Larry. Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.
Singh, Kathleen Dowling. Grace in Dying: How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1998.
_______. Grace in Aging: Awaken as You Grow Older. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2014.
Scott, Maxwelll, Florida. The Measure of Our Days: A Woman’s Vivid, Enduring Celebration of Life and Aging. Viking Penguin, NY, NY, 1968