Aging as a Spiritual Practice
Getting older is the greatest teacher.
When asked why we meditate Suzuki Roshi answered, "So we can enjoy our old age." Join the author and Zen teacher Lewis Richmond for an exploration of how meditation and inquiry can bring ease to growing older. We will learn about the four stages of aging, how to work with fear, how to cultivate gratitude, our role as elders, and the sacred presence inherent when we rest in awareness. Aging is a reality of life. It can be challenging but it can also be something we enjoy.
Aging goes to the heart of the Buddha's teaching on impermanence. And the truth is that aging can happen suddenly. Sooner or later, the realization that we are growing older hits us like a bolt of lightning. It challenges our familiar way of seeing ourselves, our loved ones, and the wider world. Yet these deep shifts in our perspective perhaps provide our greatest opportunity for spiritual and psychological growth.
We also grow older gradually, one breath at a time, and through mindfulness we see that with every breath comes new chances. We can draw strength from a sense of presence, steady ourselves, and begin again. Our capacities to overcome fear, to weather storms, and to live in kindness and gratitude increase. We identify the resources we can offer others as part of our elderhood.
Aging as a Spiritual Practice confronts the realities of growing older with clear-sightedness and compassion. Lewis Richmond, a Zen teacher and ordained disciple of Suzuki Roshi, knows this terrain intimately. His experience and unique meditation practices will help you to meet life with wisdom, acceptance, and greater ease.
This is a 6-unit course. You are invited to study at your own pace and will retain access to the course for as long as you need. Each lesson will offer roughly 45-60 minutes of video teachings. There will also be prompts for reflection, optional quizzes, and a communal discussion board. As part of your training, Lewis will suggest at-home practices and contemplations and a program of guided meditations for you to explore from unit to unit.
Unit 1 | Aging is Reality
Aging is inescapably true. It goes to the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. Everything changes, everything ages. Aging is “natural” dharma. As we age, the truth of Buddha’s teaching is revealed in our own life, our body and emotions. We can learn from the reality of aging. If we live long enough, there comes a moment for all of us when lightning strikes—when the truth of aging first hits.
Our meditation practice for this unit is called, "every breath, new chances." Meditation is not so much about being calm, but being real. It means cultivating “Beginner’s Mind.” Every breath opens our eyes to a reality we can learn from, and this is a catalyst for deepening maturity and wisdom.
Unit 2 | Stages of Aging
Four stages frame the aging process, and it can help to know where you are in the process. We've explored the first: "lightning strikes." The next stages are coming to terms, adaptation, and appreciation. Sometimes the stages happen all at once, as happened when Lewis contracted cancer, and as may be happening for you.
Our guided meditation for this practice will be "vertical time," an original meditation on aging and time. We'll practice switching between the perception of conventional time, with all of its change and impermanence, and the eternal present.
Unit 3 | Buddhism's "Five Great Fears"
In Buddhism, "great fear" means a fear that induces severe anxiety or panic. Traditionally, these include fear of death, illness, insanity, loss of livelihood, and public speaking. The unit will focus on two fears we may have experienced at some point during the coronavirus pandemic—fear of death and loss of livelihood.
In this unit we will focus on the practice of “calm lake” meditation from the Tibetan tradition. It's a method we can use to identify and accept fear, and calm its turbulent waters.
Unit 4 | Gratitude
How can we invoke gratitude and sustain it in a world in crisis? Gratitude emerges naturally from seeing things as they are. Suzuki Roshi once said that “gratitude IS this moment” and that “evanescence is the reason we enjoy life.” If you neither dwell on the past nor the future, what do you feel right now? Gratitude is an antidote to depression and despair, and we can find it in the midst of crisis.
The gratitude walk now becomes the focus of our practice, in nature if possible. Your life may fall apart, but nature goes on. Flowers bloom, birds sing. This is a practice of seeing, feeling, remembering. Everything changes, sometimes for the better.
Unit 5 | Elderhood
Only those who have lived a whole life fully understand its purpose and where it leads. Elders are natural leaders who have earned their role by surviving. And a world in crisis requires leadership—at the top, in the middle, and in each community and social network. Your voice as an elder is a natural application of the Bodhisattva vow to liberate beings. Look within, find your unique strengths, and share them.
Our guided meditation will be "sending and receiving"—adapted from the tonglen practice of Tibetan Buddhism. On each breath, we receive the cries of the world and send forth blessings, to friends and family, to community, to all humanity.
Unit 6 | Resting in Awareness
The most profound practice in Buddhism is "resting in awareness"—simply being here without thinking or doing anything. All of the Buddha’s teachings emerge from this. "That you are here right now is the ultimate fact," said Suzuki Roshi. This truth can sustain us even in the midst of great suffering. Even in great pain, even at the moment of death, simply resting here is liberation.
The culmination of our practice will be resting in awareness in the shikantaza style of Zen meditation.
Sample: Learning from the Reality of Aging
5 hours of high-quality video
Be right there with Lewis as he brings the Buddha's teachings to life with real, modern-day stories about aging and elderhood.
Benefit from a program of guided meditations and inquiries designed to bring wisdom and ease into growing older.
Training takes place on and off the meditation seat. Lewis offers small tasks and inquiries that will integrate practice into your life.
- Resting in Awareness (18:30)
- Meditation: Resting in Awareness (20:50)
- Check Your Understanding
- Contemplation (2:56)
- End Summary (6:48)
- Further Reading
- Refer a Friend
- Awakening Here and Now with Haemin Sunim (1:27)
- Going Forth with Andrew Olendzki (10:19)
- Discover Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
Lewis Richmond is an ordained disciple of the Buddhist master, Suzuki Roshi, and a lineage holder in that tradition. He is the author of four books: the national bestseller Work as a Spiritual Practice; the award-winning Healing Lazarus (a memoir of his experience with and recovery from a rare neurological disease); the highly praised A Whole Life’s Work, a sequel and companion to his first book, and the award-winning Aging as a Spiritual Practice. His forthcoming book is Every Breath, New Chances: Aging with Honor and Dignity—A Guide for Men. Lewis is also a composer and his music features in the promotional video for this course.