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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
52 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 gone out the window. Suzuki Roshi, too, after he almost drowned at Tassajara, gave a talk that basically said, Now I really need to start practicing. So this is not easy. Even very, very strong practitioners like Suzuki Roshi and Ram Dass saw the part that they weren’t committed to. We have to be warriors to face this. ANNA DOUGLAS: The teachings of anicca, anatta, and dukkha are wisdom doors to a deeper practice, to really looking at the reality of aging and change and the suffering of trying to hold on to the past. Growing old is a place where the universal and the personal meet. People’s experiences of these truths become very vivid as they age, and they have the opportunity to, as you said, practice like warriors. SUSAN O’CONNELL: And if we can’t help people with this... ANNA DOUGLAS: What have we been doing?! SUSAN O’CONNELL: So it’s really important to figure out how to do this. And I think there is quite a bit of interest in it. ANNA DOUGLAS: One of the biggest things I believe we can offer is a place to have meaningful conversations about the aging process, which is not always available in the mainstream cul- ture. The sense of confusion and vulnerability, of loss, that people face is very real, and one way to address that is to sit silently on your meditation cushion. But it also helps to have a community in which to share your experiences and talk about the teachings of anicca, anatta, and dukkha. If you’ve had a healthy body all your life and that begins to disappear as you age, it is very challenging. You know, who am I, really, if I’m not this body? Then the teachings on emptiness of self become much more apparent, and so does the true meaning of liberation. significant proportion of our community is growing old. We then formed the Shambhala Working Group on Aging, and I was the first to chair that committee. You know when I first got involved in setting up the work- ing group, quite a few people came to me and said, “Why in the world would you want to remind us that we’re getting old?” So what we took from that was that people needed to have opportunities and encouragement to essentially awaken to where they actually were in life. It’s almost like what we used to call “consciousness raising” in the Sixties. Only now we’re saying, guess what, you’re aging, and you know what? If you think about your practice fundamentally, there’s abso- lutely nothing wrong with getting old. ANNA DOUGLAS: It’s not a medical emergency. DAVID WHITEHORN: It’s not at all! SUSAN O’CONNELL: It takes a lot of intention to turn toward the reality of our own aging, no matter who we are. It’s very scary. We’ve been trying to get our elders to fill out these forms to let us know what their plans are, and they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to turn toward it. People should know that it’s just as hard for a senior practitioner to deal with change as it is for anyone else. DAVID WHITEHORN: And yet despite being immersed in a culture that’s telling us to turn away from aging, there is a tremendous opportunity for older practitioners to actually get to a deeper level of practice as they experience this stage of their life. Just getting people to stop and think about that is important. SUSAN O’CONNELL: Right, remember what Ram Dass said after he had his stroke? He was lying on the gurney, being wheeled into the emergency room, and realized that his practice had PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):ROBERTTHOMAS;KATEROGERS;JADEBEALL DAVID WHITEHORN is a longtime practitioner in the Shambhala community and former chair of the Shambhala Working Group on Aging. He is a retired psychiatric nurse living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who helped develop a pioneering program for young people with psychosis. ANNA DOUGLAS is one of the founding teachers of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, and a member of its Teachers Council. She has been teaching in the Insight Meditation tradition for the past thirty years and is on the core faculty for Spirit Rock’s new Heavenly Messengers program. SUSAN O’CONNELL is president of San Francisco Zen Center and chair of its Senior Living Facility Development Committee. She began practicing Zen in 1987 and was ordained as a Zen priest in 1999. She has lived at all three of SFZC’s centers.