Growing Older

When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are often disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old someday.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with youth anymore.

 

When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick someday.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with health anymore.

When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be dead someday.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore.

- Buddha

“Sit, be still, and listen, because you’re drunk

and we’re at the edge of the roof.”

-Rumi

GROWING OLDER

 

It always seemed to me that nature does not care about us as individuals. When we were young, our bodies flushed with hormones and the world with newness; everything was exciting, sexy and attractive. We could and did push our limits pretty far, eating and drinking almost anything we wanted and we would still be more or less OK the next day. But now, it seems that things have changed. 

 

Getting older gives me the perspective to write this- I was pretty much intoxicated as a youth. Intoxicated with idealism, romance, sex, entertainment, girls, adventure, yoga, God and the seeking for all of it.

 

But, now, after the party has gone on all night, in these early morning hours of my later years, things look different. The girls look tired and even plain, their make-up is smeared and smudged. They are no longer intoxicated and no longer innocent, smooth and entertaining. They have expectations that have not been met and are not be able to be fulfilled. The girls have turned to women.There has been romance, passion, and arguments and all of this has happened to us men as well. We adventured until our ship hit some rocks and began to leak. We pursued the objects of our desire; we got to the top of the ladder and realized it was against the wrong wall. What we thought was so important, we hardly even think about and holes have been ripped in the once swelling sails of our idealism, all the while our body inevitably weathered and aged.

 

 

I paid rent for many years in the city, but now, I have left that house and business and wandered out into a desert. Even though it seemed to be about God and other ideals, when I look back at the ‘party’ of my youth, even my ‘religious pursuits’ seem to have been reaction to passion and the desires of sex and pleasure, in other words, all about myself. Now that I have sobered up some, I see I was drunk on hormones, nature’s way of getting man and woman to procreate and that there was not that much real love about much of it; it was eros. I had on rose-colored glasses and was stupidly amazed as the world seemed rosy.

 

What I thought was passionate aliveness, my attraction to the form, voice, and nature of woman has changed to just an older man out in the desert, looking at the distant lights of all the young drunks still partying before the sad inevitable dawn. I feel the heat of the sun of aging and the chill of the less restful nights where everything will be lost and I know that those who went before me, passed this same way out into the desert before they died.

 

I must discipline myself if I am to survive out here in this desert. Nature has changed her investment plan as far as this body is concerned, I am past the prime of my youth. I am no longer the best breeder; I am more sober. Life demands other fruits from my orchard. I cannot even indulge myself very much without feeling uncomfortable, I have become intimate with consequences previously unknown.

 

I still see the same temptations, I recognize the same attractions - the seeds of everything I was once attracted to still persist, but it is all in a different light, a light as different as a fall afternoon when the light is fading, from that of a spring or summer morning full of promise. 

 

The Hawaiian vacationed, lush tropical rainforest of bright colored flowers floating in a deep green abundant forest of jungle, and a warm perfectly blued ocean to swim in and a white sandy beach to layout on and watch the astounding colors of sunset while soft night air sings. 

 

Now I see another road, leading out onto a dry desert beach that stretches out to the horizon. The desert is littered with the bodies of dreams and dreamers. No one who went this way ever survived; no one ever came back.

 

Like many who wake up after being intoxicated, they are embarrassed and that is true of me as well. I am embarrassed that I did not really believe (to the point of changing my actions) that we must pass into the desert of old age, death, and disease. From a very young age, I was always interested in God, Liberation, meditation, and Religion. I read most of the great texts. I went to many teachers. But, embarrassingly, such things did not change my actions, except superficially. 

 

This is the point of what my great Teacher, Adida Samraj, calls ‘Hearing’ or getting the ‘point’ of life which he often described as “You cannot become happy. You can only Be Happy”. That sounds like a trite philosophy and it will always seem to be of that quality until one wakes up from the party. 

 

How many times have you ever flown on a plane? Each and every time, at the beginning of the flight, while waiting for take-off, there is a 5-minute review of all the things you are supposed to do in the event of an emergency. Oxygen masks, emergency exits, where they are, how to brace for a crash. These things are only background noise until something goes wrong with that plane and you wish that you had paid close attention so that it made the difference. 

 

Well, there is something wrong now with the flight of my life. I did not pay attention to what I heard and the plane of my life has begun a spiraling descent to old age and death. That is why I say I am embarrassed. I am not alone in this, almost no one paid attention. But, this is not an excuse for anything. The party had some interesting moments but now they are only distracted memories.

 

No longer drunk, I feel a sense of responsibility to turn around to those who have not yet seen the desert and tell them what it is like out here. I feel like a ‘designated driver’. But, most are not interested in and do not believe what I say or cannot make much out of it, because they, like I was, are intoxicated. 

 

Of course, I am suffering a hangover. The results of all the acts I did whose fruits I am responsible for and now must suffer or enjoy.

 

How can I tell a young person that a lot of what they feel is just the world colored with hormones, that they are just like a drunk who is intoxicated by what he has been drinking? That drink will be taken away in a few years as it will be for everyone . . . and then comes the withdrawal.

 

These are the sort of things that I think about here in the desert. The silence is large, vast with the possibility and the dead ends of infinite space and experiences. 

 

I like to imagine I have been blessed. I have heard the teaching of the Great One, that I am not lost altogether, I just have not realized what I believe. But my hope is just that- ‘hope.’ And hope is a dangerous river to fall into.

 

As I write this I am 67 years old. Old age, as they say, is the least expected of things to happen to a person. Most of what I have written about happened years ago and now it is just a memory.

 

There is a difference between someone when they are young and someone of my age. I began to realize it about the age of 50. It is something that is difficult to tell of. It feels useless to speak about, much like telling a very young person about romantic love. They will begin to know it themselves only after they experience it and then it will be too late, they will already have gone over the falls and be deep into some revulsion or flowery commitment to one or another illusion that will inevitably end badly.

 

Once, I was camping in the backcountry of Yosemite in the winter. I had purchased snowshoes and walked far back into the high country to McCabe Lake, which was frozen and covered with snow. I made camp and pitched my tent under the bough of a tree where the snow was not very deep, as it had been protected by the overhang of the branches and the winds had not blown much snow there. It was cold, very cold and very silent; I was not in control of what was going on all around me, this was what I heard . . .