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As I continue trying to age gracefully, my body doesn’t seem to want to gracefully age. So, I can’t help but wonder what I can do about the illnesses, aches, and pains I get as I grow older. How can I improve how I react to these inevitable realities? Plus, whose fault is it anyway… my body’s or mine?
One online geriatric expert suggested making a list of all our body has done and continues to do for us. That’s a healthy perspective consistent with our Buddhist attitude of appreciation that I don’t think I’ve embraced enough in the past.
Speaking of the past, my brother and I spent summers at our aunt and uncle’s motel in Daytona Beach, Florida. I fondly remember my grandfather’s long Ichabod Crane-like hands with their arthritic protrusions that hinted at chopping wood and crafting furniture in the snowy old country. I can imagine with some satisfaction how typing several Buddhist-themed and business books and hundreds of articles contributed to my own arthritic fingers.
I’m grateful that I survived those early turbulent years. That I encountered SGI Buddhism as a teenager (although, of course, it’s never too late to begin). Also, that I ended able to travel, do a variety of sports (that I wisely no longer engage in), overcame many different types of physical and mental ailments, and still play music and regularly exercise. Yes, my body is well-worn with the experience of carrying me into my seventies. It should be rightfully proud!
While my therapist periodically reminds me that I’m lovable and Ikeda Sensei that I’m a buddha as I am, which I can too easily forget, I now realize this applies to my physical self as well. I can’t expect my body to age with dignity if my reaction to health issues is fear and resentment. Getting older eventually brings a decrease in strength, coordination, reaction time, and sensory perception. At some level, this sucks. But it helps for me to understand that these changes are ordinary and don’t mean I’m aging poorly.
Advancing gracefully must, by necessity, involve acceptance and an adherence to our core values of compassion, hope, wisdom, and human revolution. After all, as poet Samuel Ullman said, “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
George Bernard Shaw said, “You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” I guess this means that while growing old is unavoidable (if we’re lucky), I don’t have to grow up. For instance, reading jokes on the web helps me laugh at myself. I like this one from comedian George Carlin: "So far, this is the oldest I've been." And here are a few of my favorite book titles: Aren’t You Glad You’re Old?, Senior Moments: Aging Disgracefully, How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t, and the one I most relate to, I Keep Repeating the Same Stories…and Repeating the Same Stories.
Of course, it’s not just about adding years to my life, it’s about adding life to my years. Buddhist scholar Daisaku Ikeda, asked, “Do we view old age as a period of decline ending in death, or as an ascent toward the attainment of our goals, toward bringing our life to a rewarding and satisfying conclusion? A subtle difference in our inner attitude can completely transform our experience of these years.” Clearly, my ability to repeatedly return to a higher more enlightened condition of life is critical to how gracefully I will age.
By writing this article, I definitely feel better about my relationship with the effects of aging and the inevitability of death. Moreover, I’ve concluded that a youthful spirit means to consistently chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, study, and maintain a hope-filled, open, flexible, and tolerant mind. This is something I’ll keep trying to improve. Along with remembering what the actor Maurice Chevalier intoned, “Old age is not so bad when you consider the alternative.”

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