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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 at least one other person. As we age, and after practicing for however many decades, we come to realize that the reality of practice is quite different from the kind of idealism that got us through the gate in the first place. It is really so much about acceptance of what is—not wishing for the bells and whistles of some other life. ANNA DOUGLAS: Isolation breeds fear, and that is not helpful, so as Susan said, it’s good to have support from someone who can impart to you a certain degree of confidence in your ability to be present with compassion and bravery. DAVID WHITEHORN: I agree—the key thing is to connect with other people. But also, people I’ve talked to sometimes feel that practice is going to take care of everything. Yes, practice forms the foundation, but you have to actually do some very ordinary stuff: If you’re running out of money, go to a social worker and find out what you’re due from the government; if you’re sick, go to the doctor. Sometimes people who have been dedicated practitioners for a long time seem to feel practice is going to solve everything. Doing those ordinary things is part of reaching out. The isolation is interesting because it reinforces the sense that you are a separate entity, which, as we know from prac- tice, is not true. Using the fact you are connected to other people is not a sign of weakness but a sign of turning toward reality. I want to mention as well how wonderful it is to be old. From a practitioner’s point of view, I see it as the fruition of my whole practice. All my practice applies to what I’m deal- ing with right now. It’s a tremendous opportunity. For years and years, I’ve been trying to get below the intellectual level of understanding, and now, bit by bit, you get a little more chance to do so. I just think we need a balanced view of this stage of life. ANNA DOUGLAS: I agree, David, and I’m also quite interested in the mystery of consciousness in old age, because the sense of being does seem to expand, and the veils between the worlds do become thinner. The culture has become obsessed with the bad news about cognitive decline as people age, but what about the beautiful qualities of heart and mind that dharma practitioners have been cultivating: calm and equanimity, love and joy, and the sparkling clarity of presence? These don’t disappear with age, but actually deepen. Also, old age brings the possibility of truly letting go, moving us from a doing orientation to an alive and effortless being, another one of the fruits of practice. DAVID WHITEHORN: There is another mystery I’ve enjoyed puz- zling over, which is that there is some kind of deep sense of identity or self that does not age at all, that seems to be completely independent of the aging process. I find that quite interesting. And wonderful, actually. ANNA DOUGLAS: Yes. SUSAN O’CONNELL: I had a dream last night about walking by a young man who completely ignored me because I was old, and then turning toward him and whispering in his ear something like, “You don’t understand that the part of me that has not changed is completely alive, and I’m telling you this now so that when you are my age, you will remember and be able to tell someone else.” Those of us who have reached this stage in our life know that there is something completely alive about our experience that transcends growing old. PHOTOS BARBARA WENGER Peter Rudnick and Wendy Johnson with son Jessie in 1978, and with Jessie and daughter Alisa in 2000