Facing ageing with strength

Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were. ~ Neil Young

Continuing from this article, how can we remain positive when we’re getting old and our body starts to go wrong? I have a few people in my life who have grown old so well that I intend to copy them as I age. One of them is Eileen.

A widow’s story

One of my dearest friends, Eileen, is now a 91-year old widow, physically frailer but still 39 inside. Eileen first met Geshe Kelsang in the late 1970s. In 1996, when she was a spry 70-something, Eileen came to Florida and ran around (pretty much literally) for years helping set up Buddhist centers, before returning to England to live in her cottage in the grounds of Madhyamaka Centre. Eileen Stead Madhyamaka Centre

I first met Eileen years earlier, when her husband was dying, and she has been no stranger to sickness, ageing, loss, and death. So I asked Eileen recently to tell me how she copes so well with it all, and this is what she wrote:

How does one deal with the sufferings of old age? I remember with a wry smile Geshe Kelsang’s description of an old person. He said they were bent over and walked like bird catchers. I thought at the time (20 years ago), “How amusing,” but wait – if you live long enough, you too will walk like a bird catcher. I am aware that recently I am walking with small unsteady careful steps. I make an effort to be sure I’m standing upright and attempt to stride out. I stumble a little, and my lovely Grandson grabs my arm, and says, “Careful Granny.”

Where did the girl go, the one who ran up and down the Lake District hills, and swam in freezing Scottish seas or the warm waters of Florida? I must not fall into the danger of nostalgia, longing for the things that are gone forever. I can remember them, though, with love and gratitude, and maybe when the sufferings of old age become more apparent they will help me. I know for sure that I have deep gratitude for all the wonderful experiences of this life, my husband, my friends, the music and flowers in the garden, and so much more. How could I not be grateful?!  

thank you for kindness

Widows – what do widows do? What do they feel? How do they react? Some, I know, have become very angry – “Why did you leave me?!” Some sink into depression, and some actually take their own lives. I’m sorry to say that these reactions are not helpful, and can only cause more bitterness in the mind. A far better way, I believe, is to acknowledge that all life in samsara has to adhere to the cycle of unending birth, death and rebirth, and nothing anyone can do will change that, so why give way to anger when the inevitable happens?  

We lose our friends too, particularly if we have a long life and they do not. To attend their funerals, and know that yet another good companion has disappeared from your life – that is hard too. These losses have to be met with patient acceptance. It is the only way. As long as we are in samsara we shall have to experience the conditions of samsara and have to deal with our ripening karma, unless we can purify the negativities in our mind. Just as anger can destroy our positive imprints, so compassion and love can purify the negative ones. That is a good thought, and we can work at it with great diligence. 

If through the teachings of Buddha we can become less self-centered, free from our self-grasping mind, and learn to trust in the spiritual path, a new contentment will pervade our lives and we can ride the waves of our suffering and will not drown. We can become a pure being, a Bodhisattva.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Facing ageing with strength”

  1. many ye ars since we met at atisha centre in darlington good to know you are back at madyamake centre i spelt it wrong never mind..great article….love liz .i was liz green went back to my maiden name wilkinson.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. The best thing that happened to me was meeting Geshe-la and Kadam Dharma 12 years ago. I am now 64 and look forward to going to Portugal.
    May she go right to the pure land 🙂

  3. I wish all us ordinary folk could have at least one iota of dear Eileen’s wisdom. Eileen, you are the truth of the Kadampa way, thank you so much for this inspiration!

    1. Dear Jon, I was glad to hear you found some inspiration from my experiences of Old Age. I met Geshe Kelsang nearly 25 years ago, and was fortunate to have the teachings on Patience from him. One of the 6 Perfections.
      With all best wishes, Eileen.

  4. good morning Eileen 😉 what was it like to meet Geshe-la? did you giggle at his zest for life and his peaceful glow?

    1. Dear Anonymous, Good afternoon. I first met Geshe-la about 25 years ago, He is always delightful n and very kind. A few years ago, he visited my cottage and blessed every room. Wasn’t that amazing? With best wishes. Eileen.

  5. Wow…love and compassion can purify our negative imprints! And yes I’m gonna surf those waves. So inspiring and so uplifting, thank you Eileen & Luna xxx

  6. What is it about our name that tells us so much about who we truly are, for age shall not weary it. Eileen, (*Light*), is giving us the brightness we all long for, of *body, *speech and *mind. How well *Dharma has moulded the *Pure Light of Bliss that is Eileen* _()_Thank you Eileen_()_Thank you Luna*******

    1. Hello Sissiecheryl, I hope that you are fortunate enough to receive the teachings on the six perfections from an extraordinary Guru Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

      With all good wishes. Eileen.

  7. Thank you for this beautiful post. I’m turning 60 this year and I find myself beginning to experience some physical limitations and occasionally I think, “I don’t have time left in this lifetime to practice as much as I would like”. And then I think how wonderful that this awareness of my life speeding past motivates me to practice more single-pointedly. I may yet have many years or I may die today. I’m blessed beyond measure because I have a Spiritual Guide and I have met Dharma.

    1. Dear Charlotte, So good to read your comment. Yes, we are very blessed to have met the Dharma, and especially the teachings on “Patient acceptance. ” which enable us to experience the Sufferings of Old age with a calm and peaceful mind. May you have many more years in which to Practise.
      With love and best wishes. Eileen.

  8. Thank you,Luna, and thank you,Eileen,for reminding me of patience acceptance and the power of the Dharma.Such wise words from two amazing practitioners. If we practise sincerely and diligently clearly we can ride those big waves…..much needed encouragement for me and everyone else.Ill contemplate this today and try and take it to heart and think of others who are being hit by the big waves with no protection.
    Excellent as always.Many thanks.

    1. Dear Venerable Lady,
      We have been so fortunate to meet the Dharma, and as you so wisely say, we must think of those who are not so lucky. We can meditate on “Taking and Giving”. By what you say, I’m sure you do that.
      With love and best wishes. Eileen.

  9. I have really enjoyed these articles on ageing. It is so easy to think these don’t apply to us when we are young. My mother died just before your arrival in Florida. I have often thought how different her life would have been if she had met you. Thank you for being you.

  10. what a beautiful smile you have and a zest for giving to others Eileen, I would say you are like a beautiful Dove spreadings your wings and your light, beautiful,

  11. Wonderful…I am getting older, having prostrate problems, getting a biopsy, going to emergency, and getting a bad flu from the hospital, and letting it all “knock me off the cushion”. I sure needed this. It was very inspiring…thank you

    1. Dear Bill, I hope the Hospital has sorted out your problems, and that the biopsy was O.K. Geshe Kelsang always urged us to “Keep a happy mind” but he did advise us to go along with medical advice. Good thoughts go to you.
      With best wishes. Eileen.

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