…a question that someone asked in one of the meditation workshops. She said she was noticing that as she grew older she tended to forget things; her mind is no longer so bright and clear. She asked, ‘How do you practise with this? I know that it’s not going to get any better; I can feel that my mind is going.’
After she had asked this question, there was an awesome hush in the room. I think quite a few of the people there were aware that they were no longer remembering things so well. Though they were from a wide range of ages, the fact of ageing was very real for all of them.
It’s clear that we can’t stop the ageing process, but how can we practise with it? Is there anything we can do to make it all less difficult for ourselves and others?
What was really striking was that shared realization of the inevitability of old age, sickness and death; this is something that all of us are facing right now in varying degrees – and we can’t do anything about it. Some people will completely lose their minds fairly early on. Others of us may grow into our seventies, eighties or nineties with a mind that is still quite bright, but certainly the body will change. How can Buddhist practice support a sense of well-being during this process?
It was a particularly interesting question because the theme I had chosen for the workshop was ‘Well-Being’: maintaining well-being. I have come to see that well-being is a necessary foundation for practice. It is said that you can’t teach people when they’re hungry; you have to feed them first. There has to be a reasonable degree of well-being to really contemplate dhamma, otherwise the bodily and mental stress become too much of a distraction.
Whenever I am asked a question, rather than thinking and struggling to find a suitable response, I tend to go quiet and see what arises. So when the person asked the question about ageing, I turned my attention inwards, listened and felt what was behind her question.
I realized that the only response I could give was to say, ‘Mindfulness’; that the way to prepare for and manage the process of growing old is to cultivate mindfulness – a quality of presence and a sense of ease and well-being.
…I encouraged her just to try to make a habit of mindfulness, a habit of presence, so that even when she forgot something or made a mistake, she could simply acknowledge that. Forgetfulness and mistakes needn’t be a big deal; and if people are very upset, just staying present can be the most helpful response to their concern or irritation.
One of the beauties of living in an international community is that we are in contact with people from many backgrounds, with different expectations, skills and gifts; so there are often misunderstandings. This gives us the chance to develop great patience, kindness and acceptance of one another.
This reflection by Ajahn Candasiri is from the book, The Body, (pdf) pp. 49-51, 53.