Aging for Beginners
“Aging for Beginners becomes a crafted weaving of authentic understanding, an act of love.”
Ezra Bayda has been practicing meditation since 1970. In 1998, he was authorized to teach Zen by Zen master Charlotte Joko Beck, and now lives, writes, and teaches at the Zen Center of San Diego. His books are known for their relaxed tone and helpful sharing. Among the best are Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life, Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment, and Saying Yes to Life: Even the Hard Parts. His wife Elizabeth Hamilton, who assists Bayda in this book, is a meditation instructor and the author of Untrain Your Parrot.
As Bayda points out, with over 15% of the U.S. population now over 65, many are now writing about the journey into aging as a meaningful part of life. A contrast to Stephen Jenkinson’s Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (North Atlantic Books 2018), which begins with 20 pages of staring into the abyss of age, Bayda acknowledges the limits while moving through to concrete methods of persevering and thriving with aging. His book divisions are: Dealing with the Terrain, Working with Difficulties, and finally Renewal. Seen more as a ripening and freeing time in one’s life age is seen as a “natural monastery,” a time for opening inward and outward.
Included in his book are several guided meditations, not of Buddhism, but on mindfulness meditation, on recognizing and befriending oneself. Bayda never gets involved with Buddhist lineage or strict Zen practices. He shares his own life experiences and offers some gentle yet direct guidance on dealing with the struggles of age. He freely quotes from others such as the Thomas Merton, and the Dalai Lama here: “He [Man] lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never lived.” From Albert Camus, he pulls this poetic understanding: “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.”
Key concepts are presented with careful explanation and example, such as intention and attention (both are essential if put into action). He points out the necessity of distinguishing between our expectations and aspirations. And he squarely treats the reality of pain, health, and death with understanding. He ends on a theme of connectedness and compassion:
“When we are able to cultivate the experience of connectedness, we can tap into one aspect of what is considered deep wisdom: that ‘all is one.’ As we take this understanding into the heart, particularly as we can feel into the suffering that all of us share, we can tap into the other aspect of deepest wisdom: that ‘all is love.’ Again, returning to the words often purported to be from the Buddha: ‘In the end this is what matters most. How well did we love?’”
And so, Aging for Beginners becomes a crafted weaving of authentic understanding, an act of love.