Sunday, January 03, 2010

Yours Sincerely, Wasting Away

The song closes with these words;

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,

Stating point of view

Indicate precisely what you mean to say

Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form

Mine for evermore

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I'm sixty-four?

In 1966, I was 20 years old, so the lyrics of "When I'm 64" seemed whimsical. Sixty-four was as far away as Andromeda. Without knowing it, I was on a journey.

Today I'm waving to you from Andromeda, because at 7:05 CST this morning I turned 64. And, though my body frequently feels 104 (primarily during the first five minutes of the day) in my head I'm still unable to believe 64 is now me.

Am I different at 64 than I was at 20? Yes and, of course, no. I feel the last ten years have been the ones of most rapid personal growth, but I can remember thinking that of every decade.

This decade I embraced Buddhist philosophy. Technically Buddhism is not a religion. It has nothing to say about the existence (or non-existence) of a God. The Buddha is not considered divine and Buddhism does not involve worship of a deity.

Given that I was taught in church that illness and disability are signs of God's displeasure, and my mother (my religious parent) was ashamed of me and my disability, I felt both deep-seated guilt and anger at the injustice of being labeled "bad" for reasons entirely outside my control.

Since beginning my study of Buddhism I've recognized that I still live with a cauldron of simmering rage. Not in the context of raging at friends and family, but at injustice, at the sneering power of bureaucracy, at politicians and political forces which deliberately keep people all over the world in desperate poverty, anger at those who foster an "us against them" mentality for their own personal, political and economic power.

Anger and rage can easily consume a day and leave me miserable, but Buddhism has given me the tools to deal with these feelings. Here's how Buddhism has helped me:

It has allowed me to accept the Popeye mantra, "I am what I am". Where I once had to deny my anger, I can now look at it and say; Well, that's part of who I am. Taking away my anger could very well take away my motivation to try and make things better.

It's taught me to be gentle with myself. I've quit trying to "appear" perfect. I could never be perfect, but I put a lot of energy into trying to look as if I were.

It's taught me to be less demanding. By looking at myself honestly I can see I'm no different than anyone else. So I can understand others' anger, frustration, inaction, self-absorption better. I can even understand the traits I hate most, because if I look into myself with steady and uncompromising honesty, I see those traits in me.

It's taught me that I have everything I need to have a satisfying life, right here, right now. Resentments and self-pity are like millstones hung around your neck. Once you realize they are only there because you got up and tied them on, you also realize you can lay them aside and go on without them.

And my favorite, Let life teach you. As long as you struggle and fight against your personal demons you not only fail to learn, you create more anxiety, more resistance, for yourself. Instead of looking your demon (in my case anger) in the face and asking, "What are you trying to teach me?" you throw sticks, scream, kick, and battle it.

I love a quote from writer Pema Chodron; "Life's work is to wake up, to let the things that [come into your life] wake you up, rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to be open, curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will... the same old demons will come up again and again until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warm-hearted companions on the path."

I'm lucky in that I've never seen age as a demon on the path. The time I have left will be spent conversing with the demon of anger, learning what it has to teach me about myself, and gradually becoming friends with both it and myself.

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