Aging With Wisdom

I recently read Lewis Richmond’s Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, sent to me for review by Gotham Books. The author is a Zen Buddhist priest and meditation teacher and, although the book reflects his Buddhist experience and training, he has written a book that can be beneficial for everyone, regardless of their faith.

There is a lot to chew on in the text of the chapters. The book provides a good discussion of differences between genders in the aging process, discusses factors that encourage lasting happiness and healthy aging (including one I have discussed often as important for all of us – gratitude), and addresses important contributors to unhappiness – including, importantly, the tendency to engage in comparisons between the life we imagine and the life we actually have. (I think there is much truth to Richmond’s observation that “at the root of every discouragement is a comparison: things should be different, things could be different, and because they are not, I am disappointed, I am discouraged.”) All of these discussions benefit greatly from the inclusion of stories of people Richmond has encountered

Each chapter ends with instructions for a contemplative reflection designed to help in the aging process. The contemplations, each of which is “designed to cultivate some strength or talent or wisdom toward an aspect of aging,” should be accessible to everyone, regardless of the level or extent of their prior experience of meditation and contemplation.

Although not central to the value of the book, for those who are interested, Richmond also provides a good introduction to some basic Buddhist teachings. Like the contemplations, these are presented in a very accessible way.

The last chapters of the book provide a roadmap for a “A Day Away.” As someone who does an annual 8-day silent retreat and leads many weekend or day retreats, I can’t second strongly enough Richmond’s encouragement to spend “a day by yourself in spiritual retreat…to deepen and consolidate” the teachings and suggestions he presents in his book. These chapters will hopefully make the prospect less daunting, even for those who have not taken any time for such retreat in the past.

At a time when people are living longer, and when what we term “old age” can be decades, how we use the gift of the extra time is an important question. As Richmond observes, “Aging is beyond our control, but how we age is up to us.”