I could have titled this piece, “meditation benefits for baby boomers only or how to age gracefully and well,” it would have been a bit long, but accurate. I can remember Swami Rama, a great teacher, writer, humanitarian and founder of the Himalayan Institute, being asked what he thought was one of the greatest benefits of Yoga, to which he replied, ‘being able to tie my own shoes at ninety.’ ﾠA simple, yet, profound benefit, especially for those of us who find ourselves not quite as supple as we were even a few years ago.
Part of Yoga is about flexibility of the body, but it is equally about maintaining flexibility of the mind and this is where meditation, which is the essence of Yoga, comes in. Recent studies on meditation and stress have shown that the practice positively influences the very expression of our DNA and Telomeres activity (telomeres are caps at the end of our DNA strands and are biological markers of age). But, for all its physical and mental benefits, meditation, is ultimately, a spiritual experience, which by definition is personal and unique.
Lewis Richmond takes the spiritual, via the Buddhist approach, to aging well. I’ll let him tell you in his own words about his experience of being, “one individual face to face with his own aging.”
“Forty years ago, when my Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki was in his mid-sixties and the students around him were mostly in their 20s and 30s, someone asked him, “Why do we meditate?” He replied, “So you can enjoy your old age.” We all laughed and thought he was joking. Now that I am the age he was then, I realize he wasn’t joking at all….”
“…For the last several years I have been developing a contemplative approach to growing old and aging well. I have come to believe, as my teacher did, that spiritual practice can help us to age gracefully, and that the last part of life is a fruitful time for spiritual inquiry and practice. As part of my research, I logged on to Amazon, put in the search word “aging” and sorted by descending best-seller. Yes, there were a lot of best-selling books with the word “aging” in the title. But when I looked more closely I could see that most of the titles really weren’t about aging per se, but about postponing, disguising, or reversing aging. It was only when I set aside sales rank as my criterion that I found some good books with a spiritual approach to aging. Two of my favorites are The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, and Spirituality and Aging by gerontology professor Robert C. Atchley.
What other resources do we have for accepting aging with grace, about learning the lessons of wisdom that aging teaches, about investigating the deep questions of our human life? 2,500 years ago, the Buddha had a lot to say about the inevitability of loss and change. What could all of us aging folks learn from his teaching today?
The Buddha taught that “everything changes,” and many of today’s Buddhists repeat that teaching as a patent truism. But suppose we were to rephrase those words to say, “Everything we love and cherish is going to age, decline, and eventually disappear, including our own precious selves?” Suddenly this “truism” takes on a different coloration and urgency. It’s all going to go, the Buddha is saying, all of it — everything that matters to us. In fact that process is always happening; everything is aging, all the time. How is it that we didn’t notice?
When we are young, we don’t notice. In youth, life is full of opportunity, and when things go wrong there are do-overs and second chances. But on the downhill slope of life, we start to notice the worrisome finitude of time. We go to more funerals, we visit more hospitals, we view the daily news with more distance, and we start to feel an autumnal chill in the air. There are joys too, of course — grandchildren, time for travel (if we can afford it!), the pursuit of long-dreamed-of avocations and new beginnings, as well as the energizing impulse to “give back” to community and society.
There is also a fresh opportunity to look to the inner life, to revisit the deep questions that a busy career and family responsibilities might have long pushed into the background. A regular contemplative practice can indeed be a part of this journey, and Buddhism offers rich resources in this area. In my upcoming book Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser (Gotham Books, January 2012) I offer many such contemplative practices — from traditional meditations on breath, gratitude, and compassion, to more innovative reflections on time, worry, fear, and what I have ecumenically termed “the inner divine.” The last section of the book — “A Day Away” — is a guided personal retreat that uses these contemplative exercises as a way to reflect on aging in all its many dimensions. I use the term “elderhood” to refer to the totality of this effort.
Elderhood is the culminating stage of a life fully lived. When the time comes, we can (although we may not always ) assume the mantle of elderhood as a kind of birthright, and traditional cultures have all honored and supported elderhood, giving their elders specific roles and tasks to do. In today’s wired, youth-oriented world, elders don’t typically garner that same kind of respect. These days, each of us has to imagine and construct our own expression of elderhood, and find ways to bring it forward.”
Lewis continues with a poignant example of “elderhood” that occurred in the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan and the resulting damage to the nuclear reactors, in which elder Japanese volunteered to help clean them up.
The meditation benefits for baby boomers are that research has found that older people that practice meditation have improved behavioral and cognitive abilities live longer and are happier than those who don’t. ﾠClick here to visit the original source of this post