Bob continues his reflection on aging and illness. See also Transforming aging and illness into the path.
Venerable Chodron recently shared with me that my practice now is to age with grace and with gratitude for all I have done and have been given—that is, to let go of my youth peacefully and fully and to make my life meaningful while discovering what it’s like to live in a body that is noticeably decreasing in energy.
Rejoicing in what I’ve done
Each of us has had a different life journey. What follows are some of the things I rejoice in about my journey. What do you rejoice in?
First, I have lost and kept off 240 pounds for 46 years and have been in recovery from alcohol and drug use for 31 years. I am also a Registered Dietetic Technician who has worked in the field of health education for 35 years and has taught “Freedom From Diets” at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon, for 26 years. I received the 1996 Award of Excellence in the Practice of Dietetic Technology from the American Dietetic Association and from the Oregon Dietetic Association.
I reach out to my community and world at many levels—physically, emotionally and spiritually—in a wide diversity of ways. All of these roles and goals start from “My Mission Statement,” developed from the ideas in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey.
Second, I rejoice that I was able to contribute to the wellbeing of so many people in my wellness profession. This includes:
- My work at Kaiser Permanente
- Outreach to my own neighborhood, the greater Portland-area community, Portland-area schools, and the country
- My own wellness business: light-hearted love – whole-person health
- Television shows
- Recovery (alcohol, drugs, and eating disorder) outreach
- Creative outreach
- Emotional healing outreach
- Physical and social fun
- Spiritual healing outreach
While compiling this list, it became apparent to me that I have been creating my personal and professional life according to compassionate and wise responses to my own personal and family suffering, as well as developing the resilience and perseverance needed to keep going despite struggles and setbacks. I wanted to share what I have learned with the world and help other people.
I have also created free holistic wellness websites that use mindfulness, meditation, and many Buddhist principles to help people plant seeds of wellbeing in their own lives: www.balancedweightmanagement.com and www.nutribob.wordpress.com . I share links from these sites in the upcoming discussions that expand on the Dharma teachings.
My dietetic training and my full participation in the dietetic community and the world at large have immeasurably enriched my life. Now I am learning that it is time to let go of my dietetic career and open up to a new and different world.
I met the Dharma in 1987 and became Venerable Chodron’s student in 1994. The Dharma saved my life! The Lam Rim teachings provided a perspective and a path for me to understand my life and my human journey and to learn how to be of service—not just in this precious human life, but in all of my future lives, until all beings obtain awakening.
These last two years have been the most difficult I have encountered in the recent 30 years. What happened? I had just retired from teaching—this was one adjustment. Then many of my friends became ill and my in-laws experienced a series of medical and emotional emergencies. I tried to support everyone as much as I could but got overwhelmed. My left knee became chronically painful and required knee-replacement surgery. My right foot got severe hammertoes and experienced pain, which required custom orthotics. Then my ears started to ring and I got dizzy. On top of that, my left foot started to shuffle, and I had walking difficulties which were diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease! Holy petunias! I had the “extended warranty” but my body was still falling apart! I learned that I actually may be mortal!
After contemplating my life situation and what life had taught me so far, I set my intention for my new journey.
I chose to set my motivation: May whatever symptoms that arise in my earth-suit be a teaching for me. May I use it to deepen my compassion and wisdom so that it may become a blessing to all beings in every realm. I remind myself that I am a caretaker of the earth-suit that my consciousness is associated with in this life. The body is not who I am.
To help me nurture joy I started a daily gratitude practice for what is in my life right now. What’s not wrong? I realized that life was asking me to slow down and feel the sacredness of each activity that makes up my everyday world: Was I alive today? What supports my life force? What parts of my body work well? Did I have a bed to sleep in? Did I sleep well? Did I have clothing and was able to wash and dry it? Was able to dress myself? Did I have transportation to get food and needed supplies? Did I have food to eat, refrigeration, and electricity? Could I fix the food? Eat it? Was I able to take part in some physical activity—hiking or walking, swimming, dancing, gardening or other favorite activities? Do I have close friends to support and to love and to share my life journey with? Do I have wonderful Dharma friends and a Dharma community? I am able to be generous with my time and resources with the world to bring joy and healing. Do most of my senses work well—hearing, seeing, tasting, touch, and smelling? Wow! I am very grateful and joyous.
I learned to be a voice for my medical needs: Be Your Own Medical Advocate. At first I noticed an increase of not just physical pain and limitation but emotional pain—I experienced increased fear, anxiety, confusion, and frustration—as a response to the changes in my life. I had never experienced these things before. I was 65 years old and had previously been healthy for many years. Now it became essential to explore specific Dharma teachings and to focus on them in order to increase my wisdom and insight. For example, I listen to, study, and contemplate trainings for peace, love, joy, contentment, wonder, and awakening as I do the following:
- Contemplate the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma practice
- Use a daily gratitude practice: Gratitude List
- Practice the four foundations of mindfulness and the four establishments of mindfulness as I practice deep mindfulness.
- Reflect on the five remembrances: The Five Daily Remembrances
- Meditate on tonglen (taking and giving) practices: Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
- Study Liberation from All Obstructions (Zen reflection)
- Transform the self-critical and fearful inner voice: Self-punishing Inner Voice
- Explore and do analytic meditations on: What is mind? What am I really? How do I best process all of my life experiences using the lens of the Dharma?
- Take time to study the Lam Rim teachings.
- Use the Telephone Meditation Practice: Telephone Meditation Group
- Practice: Relax, Observe, and Allow each day
- Reflect on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path
- Dedicate my illness and personal challenges for a meaningful life that benefits all beings: Dedication for a Meaningful Life
- Attend counseling and emotional healing groups as well as to 12-step recovery groups (AA and OA): 12-Step & Recovery Resources.
I have been exploring quite a Dharma and emotional healing curriculum! It has proved the value and truth of Buddha’s and Venerable Chodron’s teachings.
While undergoing all of these challenging life experiences for the last few years (I am now 68 years old), I didn’t compulsively overeat, drink alcohol, or take drugs. Nor did I lose my precepts or abandon the precious Dharma. I am sooo grateful that I turned to many teachers and teachings for help!
I also contemplate the kindness of the countless people who have blessed my life by their support during my recent illnesses and throughout my entire life.
And I remember to send out healing and love to the whole interconnected web of life on Earth each day: Globe Meditation Playbook.pdf
Daily, I set my intention that all sentient beings benefit from my practices!
With deep appreciation and gratitude,