Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learning to be at Home

The central message of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing and there is no way to avoid it. The great Canadian Rockies are on our western horizon, and nothing seems as changeless as these great snow covered peaks. But we learned during our violent floods this spring that even mountains change, sometimes in the space of a few days. Rivers change course, churning boulders and debris into a conveyor belt which first chews away your back garden, and then takes your house as well.

Over and over again these destructive forces rise from nature, transferring heat from ocean to wind, causing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods here and drought there. The balancing act of nature. And over and over you hear the same words in the aftermath of disaster, "It's only stuff. We'll adapt. We'll get through it." Though it is heartbreaking to see people who already live in brutal poverty stripped of everything. A young mother in Tacloban this past week, holding her baby, house blown to matchsticks cried, "What will we do?" She sobbed "We have no house, no job, no money, no food." In such a calamity what can be done?

I'm reading an excellent book called Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond. Richmond is trained as a Zen Buddhist priest but draws from a variety of spiritual fountains for this book, as all traditional cultures have something to teach us about aging and how we approach mortality.

He stresses that adaptability; how well we adjust to the inevitable decline of physical powers and the changes which come with it, illness, loss, determine to a great extent how happy we are and how well we age.

In disasters (at least in North America) usually the ones who say, "What are we going to do? Everything is gone! We have nothing!" are the older people. And no doubt it is much harder for older people. There's not as much energy or as much income to replace the destroyed home and possessions, not as much drive, and there's less emotional flexibility.

I've always seen myself as adaptable, but as you grow older I've realized it's something you really have to work on. You have to let go of things that used to be and accept the new reality. You aren't as capable at 70 as you were at 35 or even 50. You tend to get "set in your ways", or go down paths that are not healthy. You can easily become the "old grump" in the neighbourhood, cynical, negative, critical and just generally unpleasant.

I was very surprised when we moved in 2011 to find that I went into a depression which lasted for months. I wanted nothing more than to go back to our little beach house on the lake, with dearly loved friends a few feet away. We are more comfortable here, closer to shopping, to medical care, and to our son, but I still could hardly bear it and it's taken a good deal of work to overcome.

But working at regaining a more positive outlook is healthy and makes life more pleasant. ".. the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home." ~ Wendell Berry - The Unforeseen Wilderness

1 comment:

Linda P. said...

I feel that having been struck with an autoimmune illness at 60 gave me a head start on dealing with aging. I had to accustom myself to a sudden decline in mobility and energy, and that need quickly disabused me of the belief that I had earned enduring good health by exercise, good eating, and attempts to think good thoughts. I don't imagine that I'm through learning how to cope with illness or aging, though I feel more contented these days than I did before the diagnosis. Great post.