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Aging as a Spiritual Practice

Aging As a Spiritual Practice

A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older

by Lewis Richmond

In Aging as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond, Buddhist teacher and author writes: “Growing older and wiser, is not just a saying, it is an activity”. Through his sharp step-by-step guides for home practice, research and personal stories, Richmond helps us navigate aging. With gentle encouragement he guides us to dig deep and discover the possibilities. Uncover desired attitudes and actions for fulfillment.

The author describes spiritual practice as “paying close attention to the things that really matter” and adds: “Aging is not only an ideal time for the cultivation of the inner life, but it’s also itself a doorway to spiritual practice, regardless of spiritual faith”.

The forward of this book has a story about a Zen teacher whose last words were, “Thank you very much. I have no complaints”. This book offers methods and practices for getting to that place.

Read to Discover:

Approaches and Methods to Reframe Aging

Science of Healthy Aging

The Other Flexibility

Extraordinary Elderly

A Guide for a Personal Home Retreat


Four Stages of Aging

First Stage: Lightning Strikes

It happens in the first stage of aging, as Richmond calls it - lightning strikes, life changes for you. "It has a different coloration. It’s more precious. It’s more serious. When we are younger there’s more time to reflect on what matters and get it right. But at some point in your life, early or late, it hits you that you and everybody else that you care about and love are not going to be here eventually."

Second Stage: Coming to Terms

An example of this stage is find yourself in role reversal when you become a parent to your parent. There are many ways people come to a point when they let their “old you” go and the “new you” enter. Richmond offers practices for this purpose which we will discover in Part Two of this book review.

Third Stage: Adaptation

This is described as living comfortably within life. Richmond says the very things that imprison us can liberate us. "As our bodies age, they sometimes create a type of prison for us. The loss of abilities, strength and vigor can cause fear and depression. We are called upon to adapt simply through the aging process. This is where the practice of focusing on others can be most rewarding."

The Dalai Lama has a great advice for this - "If you want to be selfish – be wisely selfish – be generous and help others – it comes back to you again and again".

Service to others is a way to find purpose and meaning at any age and especially as we grow older. There's a reason for the high percentage of people age 60 plus who volunteer, it's a gift to both the giver and recipient.

Fourth Stage: Appreciation

“Being grateful is the treasure of aging. When something is fragile it is more precious. There are many things to be grateful. You appreciate the gift of life, which as Morrie said in Tuesdays with Morrie – “came to me at no charge”.“

Vertical vs. Horizontal Time

"When you live in vertical time, you are rooted in what’s going on right now as your primary reality, rather than, horizontal time where you think about the past - “I wish I would done this or said that,” or future “What’s going to happen in five years?” Vertical time is about what is happening in the present moment and living in it." It’s an ongoing practice but so worth it. Constant worry about the past and future, takes joy away from life at any age.

Science of Healthy Aging

Richmond writes that science has validated results, which indicate an ongoing practice of gratitude makes people happier. A large study in Stoneybrook in NY of 300,000 people concluded that people in their 50’s and 60’s were happier than 20’s and 30’s. There are three key ingredients were:

  • Generosity

  • Gratitude

  • Reframing perspective or seeing things from a different point of view. This is the other flexibility!

Stay tuned for part Two where we will explore some of the home practices.

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