I thought I’d write a blog post on Monday when I arrived home after the flight back from Prague.  Didn’t happen and the jet lag since has made focusing on a post impossible.  Funny, when I was in my twenties and flying back and forth between the US and Asia, jet lag was never a problem.  (And here I am writing at 5:00 a.m., having been awake for at least two hours.)

And it is not just the jet lag.  Although we had many wonderful experiences on this vacation, it was also challenging in some ways, as I alluded to in an earlier post.  As I thought about it, I realized that some of it is attributed to aging.

Twenty years ago, if Dave and I got lost trying to get from one place to another in Italy, we thought it was an adventure.  (I still remember the dirt road to Trequanda that led nowhere.)  We laughed and didn’t worry about where we were.  This trip, getting lost was a cause of tension.

We never stay in chain-like hotels when we travel, always preferring small B&Bs in out of the way places.  I now realize I’m at a point where when the temperature is 100 degrees, going down to barely 90 at night, I’d rather be in some place that is air-conditioned than sweat through the night being bitten by mosquitos (since most places lack screens).

I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that this trip made me acknowledge the (perhaps obvious) reality that you just can’t ignore the aging process.  As we age, we change in how we react to things.   Maybe the way we used to travel is not the way we can travel anymore.

That doesn’t mean I won’t do another Camino – I’m still figuring out when in 2016 I might do one.  But it does mean I can’t assume that I’ll deal with everything as well as I did on the last one.  And it means I may have to make some accommodations along the way.


Honoring Endings

Earlier this year, the Center for Action and Contemplation announced a new semi-annual publication of the Rohr Institute, Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy. The title of the publication is taken from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, where Julian describes one of her experiences as “a great oneing betwixr Christ and us.” Although I have not yet red the first edition of Oneing, I just finished reading the second edition, which focuses on the theme of “ripening.”

In his introduction to the issue, Richard Rohr explains that ripening was chosen a the theme ‘to move us beyond any exclusive concern with physical aging….We want to talk about notions of maturity, eldership, staging, sequencing, growth, and direction.” The issue contains eleven essays addressing varying aspects of the theme and offer much to reflect on.

Dr. Sally Severino’s contribution to the issue is a piece titled Reflections on the Spirituality of Aging. In it, she suggests that as one ages, growth toward union with God entails four tasks: honoring endings, making meanings, freeing fear/annulling anger, and giving one’s gift.

The first of those is often very difficult for us: “to know when something ends and to honor that empyting by letting go.” We have such a tendency to cling to the way things are (or were) and it is hard for us to accept changes, especially when they appear as losses. Losses of friends. Loss of a job. Loss of ability to do things we once could do. Loss of memory.

Severino gives examples of some of the endings she has honored. The “empty” nest, signaling the end of her active parenting. Honoring her children’s freedom to live their own lives, she began forming new and different relationships. Retirement, which she honored by beginning to write books and becoming a Felician Associate, broadening her relationships and encouraging her spiritual journey.

We all face endings of one sort or another. “Honoring endings, with all the sorrow that those ‘deaths’ bring, moves us into joyous freedom.”

What endings have you faced? And how have you honored them?

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.”