The Noble Task of Aging
When we LOL’s (Little Old Ladies) get together these days, we compare pains and humiliations and losses. Not an uplifting experience, but misery does love company. However, sometimes one of us finds some humor in our daily decay and once in a while, someone shares an experience of grace in the middle of disaster. And those who can, drive those that can’t to Doctors’ appointments and church and lunches out. And those that cook use that talent when one of us isn’t able. Some faithfully call to check on the house-bound and others send cards so they will know they aren’t forgotten. We share pain relieving stick-ons and advice we’ve learned from experience. Old age makes us a family, when we are loved by our children, but they can’t really understand from the inside out. To me that’s part of our Noble Task. In the following, Kathleen Dowling Singh writes about coming to grips with the losses and precariousness of old age.
A Noble Task
Known for her deep wisdom around death and dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh (1946–2017) also wrote about the awakening that can occur when we consciously address aging:
Opening deeply to the truth of our own aging is wise. Opening deeply to the truth of our own impermanence is wise. Although such opening may not come easily at first—we all know how the ego tends to resist vulnerability—it is important to do so if we wish to mindfully use the time remaining to us.
To live a life of an elder is to ripen into being that is more than simply elderly, more than just old. It involves ripening into clear-eyed acceptance of the way things actually exist. That ripening involves, for each of us, many difficult reckonings in the multifaceted, multidimensional understanding that everything that can be lost will be lost. . . .
Grey hair and sagginess notwithstanding, many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference.
We all have reservoirs of fear, some large and some small and subtle, around entering this new terrain of unknown and mystery: our last years. What will aging to do me? To my body? To my mind? . . . Will I matter to anyone? Will I be a burden? How will I die?
We do not know. We have no clue what these years will hold for us. We have no clue what will happen tomorrow. The “moment that changed everything” usually arrives unannounced.
The only person who can answer the questions posed by the often painful challenges of aging is the person we will be in the moment we confront those circumstances. The shaping of that person into someone with greater wisdom and equanimity can begin in this moment.
For Singh, when we choose to ripen, to awaken as we age, we offer a gift to the world and future generations:
If we are to claim the last years of life as years that hold the possibility of awakening into equanimity and lightness, into the very embodiment of grace, we need to bear witness to the ripening of that possibility. Not only would it be a blessing for each of us, it would be a blessing for a world starving for such witnessing. . . .
Mindful of impermanence, the breath-by-breath arising and abiding and falling of each moment, we can remain in remembrance of our longing to exist in wisdom and love and compassion. We can remain in our intention to ripen into the spiritual maturity that is our birthright to cultivate. There is no more noble way to spend these years than to become an elder, to bear witness to the world as placeholders for peace, love, wisdom, and fearlessness.