I was able to visit my friend Eileen again a couple of weeks ago (you may remember her from this article), and after four years I found her skinnier, frailer, and walking a lot more slowly. The other day a doctor exclaimed: “Are you still walking around on those feet?!” Eileen replied that indeed she was. “And you do know that you have two dislocated toes?!” Eileen knows it all too well. As well as hobbling around on broken toes due to advanced rheumatoid arthritis, Eileen is losing her previously reliable eyesight to macular degeneration, and wonders how and if she will drive for much longer, read, see… Despite all these curtailments, Eileen is still loving her daily meditations on Mahamudra, the clarity of the mind, and still delights in life – a delight that seems extra qualified these days by a deepening patience. We had a lot of fun that weekend. I told her of the interest her last article generated on this blog, and asked her to give us an update on the ageing process from the point of view of a meditator and Kadampa Buddhist; and she has sent this snapshot.
Going on 92
At the request of my friends, here I am again to update the subject of Ageing…
Over a year has passed since I wrote about coping with an ageing body, and now the disparity between that body and the mind, which I am happy to say remains much as it ever was, is more obvious every day.
I will give you an example that happened only in the last few days. My lovely daughter who is now 61 spoke to me on Skype – oh yes, I do keep up with modern technology! – to see where I would like to go for a trip this year. For the past few years we have treated ourselves to a short break in some exciting European city, Barcelona, Marrakesh, Warsaw… and so now she wanted to know “Where this year?!
I so much wanted to go with her but I also knew that it would be foolish to make this ageing body attempt the trip. So with a foot on each side of the fence, I replied: “Well, darling, where would YOU like to go?” Quick as a flash the answer came, “Let’s go to Prague!”
Now Prague is one of my favorite European cities. I have always loved the idea of visiting the river Vltava, about which the composer Smetana wrote such eloquent music – for although I have visited Prague many years ago, I have never been on that river.
So how to resolve this conflict? To go or not to go? That is the question!
Perhaps the salutary experience I had the next day was provided for me by the Buddhas to bring me to my senses.
A lovely new friend, a Buddhist monk, had taken me to a seaside town on the Yorkshire coast for some sea air. The day was beautiful and the sun warm, even though it is only February. We were strolling along the promenade, my arthritic feet doing reasonably well, and I suggested descending to the lower promenade to be closer to the sea. This involved negotiating a flight of 15 steep concrete steps, but off I set, with my teenage mind and my ancient body. Big mistake! All was fine until we reached the fifth step from the bottom, at which point my legs gave way and I fell head first, landing in a sprawling heap on the ground, to my poor friend’s horror.
Struggling to my feet I tested out my legs. They held my weight, no broken bones – just a large swathe of skin flapping off my lower calf. Dramatically bloody, I must admit, and not a pretty sight. That and a sprained wrist seemed to be all the damage. It could have been so much worse – a fractured skull, a broken hip.
Was this a timely warning to “Be my age!?” To use the time I have left in this life to better advantage? Not to give in to my attachment for beautiful cities, rivers, and above all music? Years ago I asked a well-known Buddhist teacher, “How do you know if you have attachment for something?” and he replied, “If you want it again.”
I took this to mean if I want something again because I think it makes me happy from its own side. It is a major part of our Buddhist endeavours to overcome the 3 poisons of anger, attachment, and ignorance – three snakes in a basket on our lap vying for supremacy and ready to bite any time. Is this an opportunity to deal with attachment? “But hang on…”, objects my unruly mind, “Would it not be an act of giving to go to Prague and make your daughter happy? Giving is, after all, one of the six perfections of a Bodhisattva!!” Prevaricating, my mind hops from one side of the fence to the other.
What to do? I am sitting here, looking out into my garden, and my little cat Silver jumps onto my knee. Two wood pigeons preen themselves in the cherry tree, and it is almost Spring. A wave of wondrous contentment envelops me. How foolish I am, wishing to be somewhere else. Isn’t this the teaching of Buddha, to dwell in contentment and rely on a happy mind? I see it now…
Dear daughter, don’t be disappointed. Go with a young friend, and later, when you visit me — and we’re sitting by my window with the clematis like a pink waterfall, the early roses scenting the air, and the little cat lying in the sun — you can tell me all about it.
Beautiful story and so meaningful…..wow…what a friend Luna…Eillen is just marvellous !
Thanks for sharing this Luna, and please tell your wise old friend that it’s beautiful.
what a lovely story with so much meaning! thank you for sharing this with us, it made my day very content:)
Years ago I asked a well-known Buddhist teacher, “How do you know if you have attachment for something?” and he replied, “If you want it again.” What a simple way to combat attachment. Thanks for sharing this Eileen. 5 months into 70!
Simply beautiful !!
May I follow in your footsteps eileen by accepting what is surrounding me and not clinging to the need for wider experiences to create happiness !!
Thank you Eileen. you truly have a Great Heart. Thank you for sharing your Wisdom. You, out of all of us, have nothing to fear, nothing to regret. Thank you for Giving ! Thank you to Luna Kadampa too; your articles always bring me to inner joy! Thank you too for giving!
Eileen, Your virtue of practicing contentment is a great teaching, and I rejoice for you! I am also happy to hear that you have such a patient mind for your meditation practice, and are continuing to expand in your awareness. You are an excellent example to follow.
This is my favorite post!
Thank you, Eileen. A very useful teaching. I used to have a great attachment for the wish to travel and to spend time in a particular place in the UK but had no time to do so. Now I have a lot of time but my desires have changed and become a little more virtue orientated. I am also more content than I ever have been in my whole life because I now understand (helped by a holiday from Hell when I was trying to cherish others!) that contentment is a wonderfully relaxed mind and one that appreciates good conditions and doesn’t fuss so much about ‘bad’ conditions.
I do so hope you enjoy the coming Spring, the flowering clematis and the cat enjoying the new warmth. How inspiring you are. Thank you again.
From 80 yr old
What a wonderful teaching on patience and non-attachment!
This is a beautiful story. I love the images – 3 snakes in a basket on our lap – so spot on! And the definition of how you can identify if you have attachment or not is very clear and practical. Great teaching!
Beautiful teaching on contentment
thank you , i will fone our mutual friend now