Islan Senior: Benefits of Buddhist Wisdom

By Peggy Sue McRae, Journal contributer

My lifelong interest in Buddhism began when as a teenager in the 1960s I started reading Alan Watts. Watts, an Englishman, was a popular writer and speaker who introduced many Westerners to the philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism. This was pretty cool stuff for a young hippie. The concept that had the most profound impact on me was the value of bringing my awareness into the present moment. The past is gone, retreating into the mists of memory. The future is not here yet. It is but the stuff of dreams. What is real is this ever-changing present moment.

Most of my anxieties involve either mental fixation and worry about possible future events or a mulling over of a past event that I wish had gone better. It has been helpful for me throughout my life to remember to take a deep breath and bring myself back into the present moment.

In 2005 I took refuge and became a Buddhist during a retreat at the small Tibetan Buddhist retreat center near the top of Mt. Dallas. Lama Jetsun Kushok Rinpoche snipped off a little piece of my hair, gave me the Tibetan name, Yeshe Wangmo and I repeated, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga” 3 times. I have fond memories of that very special place. The center has since closed. As the Buddha taught, change is inevitable and all things will pass.

When a recent email from Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine, presented me with an opportunity to take an online course called Aging as a Spiritual Practice I signed right up. The first lesson comes as an acknowledgement, Aging is Reality. At 72 there is no denying aging is what’s happening. I like the way Leonard Cohen described turning 70, “You know, 70 is indisputably not youth. I don’t say it’s extreme old age but it is the foothills of old age.” And so here we are, in the foothills of old age. This is reality.

When a student asked Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, “Why do we meditate?” his answer was unexpected. He said, “We meditate so that we can enjoy our old age”. Lewis Richmond, author and teacher of Aging as a Spiritual Practice said, “In order to actually embrace and enjoy the stage of being an older person, of coming toward the end of life, you need to have a grounding and basis in what reality is.”

Accepting reality may not always be easy but the alternative is to cloud our perception with distractions and denial. Opening our minds to the vitality and honesty of being in the present moment is a useful skill for navigating our way through the foothills of our aging process.

Tricycle Online Courses: