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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 51 B UDDHADHARMA: The idea for this discussion came in part from a few emails I got within days of each other from people who described themselves as older Buddhists. They were saying, somewhat desperately, that we really needed to be talking about the challenges facing the growing number of aging practitioners. The three of you were invited to partici- pate in this forum because your communities are doing more than most to address the needs of older practitioners. How did each of you first become involved in this? SUSAN O’CONNELL: I’ve lived in the San Francisco Zen Center community for seventeen years, and I got interested in the situation for seniors here almost the minute I arrived, when I noticed we hadn’t planned for the extra rooms we would need to house the older teachers when they left their staff positions and became eligible for our Elder Monk program. BUDDHADHARMA: What is the Elder Monk program? SUSAN O’CONNELL: We made a promise to people who devoted their life to being part of the residential staff at Zen Center for twenty years or more that when they turned seventy they could apply for what we call our Elder Monk program, which basically guarantees room and board for life. So I’ve been the main driver of this issue in the organization, envisioning some of the ideas we’re working with for both our residential community and the wider community that SFZC serves. And I’m sixty-six, so this is personal. ANNA DOUGLAS: I’ve been a teacher at Spirit Rock since its founding. I’m seventy-three, and through my own experience of aging I realized that not much was being done at Spirit Rock to address the needs of this new generation of older people who are going to live longer and healthier lives. That’s why I got involved in teaching classes and daylong programs aimed at older practitioners—such as Compassion as We Age, The Three Wisdom Doors of Aging, and Awakening in an Aging Body. This May, I’ll be co-leading the first retreat at Spirit Rock for people fifty-five and over called Aging as a Spiritual Opportunity. DAVID WHITEHORN: Well, I’m seventy-one, so I guess that makes me the middle child here. I got into this issue about five years ago because the leadership of Shambhala recognized that we didn’t have any systematic plan for the fact that a very PHOTOS BARBARA WENGER Lane Olson and Steve Stücky, 1980 and 2005 We’re embarking on a new venture, which is how do we grow old together? How do we serve each other? How do we awaken through this experience? These are new questions for our Western dharma communities. —Anna Douglas