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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
56 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 seniors, both residential and nonresidential, and have them mentor the younger people coming to the center. We live in a culture where one’s worth and one’s work are synonymous, so when elders are no longer the leaders in the community or don’t have a job that gives them a voice in decision-making, they’re lost. It’s really hard. We need to encourage mentoring as an actual position that makes a contribution. If we can fig- ure that out in our own community, we can help other people let go of their work and still feel useful in the wider world. ANNA DOUGLAS: Yes, there’s a unique opportunity in our culture for dharma centers to be intergenerational and to know older people as elders with value in the community, rather than as a burden. DAVID WHITEHORN: Shambhala is increasingly focused not only on people’s individual practice but also on the transformation of the culture and society we live in. So my sense of the next thing we need to do is to open our boundaries and take what we’ve learned from our practice and understanding of con- templative care out into the world. By sharing what we know and learning from other people, the boundaries between spiri- tual communities and the wider community dissolve. Working with the generation that’s aging now is opportune because I think boomers in general, even if they have never sat on a cushion and done any meditation, are much more open than previous generations to a contemplative view. And, of course, it will make more and more sense to them as old age, sickness, and death become more of a reality. The Zen Hospice activity of bringing contemplative care into the hospice movement is a really wonderful example of exactly this sort of thing. BUDDHADHARMA: What advice do you have for other communities that aren’t as far along as yours in terms of considering and addressing the needs of older practitioners? Where can they begin? SUSAN O’CONNELL: I think all initiatives take a champion. Anna and I have made a commitment to looking for solutions, David has been actively engaged in holding this issue, and for each of us there’s also a personal interest in wanting to study this more deeply. So someone in every community has to be supported to come forward and advance the right response for that community. ANNA DOUGLAS: It does take a champion, but it could start out rather simply. If one person has an interest in forming a group for people fifty-five and over, they could invite them to sit together and create a safe space for deep inquiry into the expe- riences of aging. That’s something any dharma center could do. There is so much more to discover than the stereotypical experiences and bad jokes about aging. Wisdom naturally arises when people speak and listen deeply to each other and recognize the universal aspects of their experience. BUDDHADHARMA: What advice do you have for elderly practi- tioners who are perhaps experiencing less than ideal circum- stances and will not have the benefit of a Zen-inspired senior living community or some of the wonderful programs you’ve talked about? How can they work with their situation? SUSAN O’CONNELL: I don’t know how anyone can do it without a community—even a community of just one other person. Find the right people—people who really want to witness and be witnessed and feel connected—because the isolation is real, particularly if you’ve lost a partner and friends and dogs and your housing. Our connection needs to be made physical, in PHOTOS (L-R) UNKNOWN, DAMIAN LIDGARD Shari and Robert Vogler, 1978 and 2013