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

 

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, eating and drinking anything we wanted and the next day we would still be more or less OK. But now, it seems that things have changed. 

 

Growing older offers 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 seeking for all of it.

 

But, now, after the party has gone on all night, in the early morning hours of my later years, things look different. Many girls look tired and plain, their make-up is smeared and smudged; they are no longer innocent, smooth, cheerful and entertaining. They have expectations that have not been met and were not able to fulfill. They have turned into women, passing through romance, passion and arguments, childbirth and children, responsibility, bills, betrayals and failures and all of this has happened to us men as well. We took to sea on oceans of possibility and adventured til our ship hit the rocks and now much of our time is spent repairing leaks. We pursued the objects of our desire; got to the top of the ladder and realized it was against the wrong wall. What we thought was once so important, we hardly even think about now. The uncontrollable winds of fortune ripped holes in the once-swelling sails of our idealism, while our body inevitably weathered and aged.

 

I paid rent for many years in the city, but have left my house and business and wandered out into a desert. Even though I thought my life was about God, when I look back at the ‘party’ of my youth, even my ‘religious pursuits’ were passionate, filled with the ever-changing desires for sex and god, in other words, it was all about myself, not God, who I admit I never met. 

 

Now, I have sobered up some, I was drunk on hormones, nature’s way of getting man and woman to procreate and there was not that much 'eternal love' about it; it was eros. I had on rose-colored glasses and was stupidly amazed

when the world seemed rosy.

 

What I thought was passionate aliveness, my attraction to the form, voice, and nature of woman, the beauty of a sunset, the ecstasy of music, the exquisite taste of food has changed to just an older man out in the desert, looking at the distant lights of all the young drunks, hearing the drumbeats of their loud party,

struggling before the sad inevitable dawn. 

 

Now, as the always, the aging sun rises and the drunks have found their way home;  the heat of the day and the chill of less-restful nights remind me that absolutely everything will be lost and I know 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 have become more sober. Life demands different fruits from my orchard of understanding. I cannot even indulge myself very much without feeling some previously hidden weakness in my body,

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 can still sprout, but this season is lit by a different light, as different as a late fall afternoon when the light is fading,

from that of a spring morning full of promise. 

 

The Hawaiian vacationed, lush, tropical rainforest of bright-colored flowers floating in a deep green abundant forest of jungle, with a warm perfectly blue ocean to swim in and a pure white sandy beach to recline on with a lover while we watch the astounding colors of sunset while soft night air and lapping waters sing;

I have been there, many times and it has not made a lasting difference.

 

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

 

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 utterly changing my life) that we all must pass into the desert of old age, death and disease. From a very young age, I was interested in God, Liberation, meditation and Religion. I read many of the great texts. I sat with many teachers. But, embarrassingly, such things changed my actions only 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 will always seem to be of little consequence until you are the one who wakes up drunk after the party. 

 

Have you ever flown on a plane? Each and every time, before you push back from the gate, 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 the flotation devices are, how to brace for a crash. It is all only background noise until something goes wrong with that plane and you wish that you had paid close attention

so that it could have made a difference. 

 

Well, there is something wrong now with the flight of my life and I did not pay attention to what I heard and I have begun a spiraling descent through old age, disease and death. This is why I say, ‘I am embarrassed.’

I am not alone in this, almost no one paid attention. But, that is not an excuse for anything. The party had some very interesting moments

but now they are only distant memories; useless in this situation.

 

Still, I feel responsible. I feel I should turn to those who have not yet seen the desert and tell them what it is like out here. But, most are not interested

or don’t believe what I say

or cannot make much out of it, because they are intoxicated,

like I was. 

 

“All of this was a long time ago. I am now old and my mind has changed

You have talked with me about fighting

… and I have told you of the long time ago.

All that is past . . .”

- Chief Two Moons, speaking 

about the battle of Little Bighorn

 

 

'My mind has changed' as well and I am also suffering a hangover.

The results of all the acts I performed have fruits

I 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 like a drunk, intoxicated by what he has been drinking? How can I explain that drink will fade away in a few years as it will be for everyone . . .

and then

as it inevitably must, comes the withdrawal, old age and death

 

These are the sort of things that I think about here in the desert. The silence is vast with possibility and memory.

I sense the dead ends of infinite space

as clouds of my mere countless experiences drift by. 

 

I sometimes imagine I have been blessed.

After all, I have heard the teaching of the Great One,

I am not lost, I just have not realized what I believe.

But that is just ‘hope’ 

and hope is a dangerous river to fall into

as it ignores a terrible truth that must be heard.

 

As I write this I am 68 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 in these stories

happened years ago

and now these things are just memories.

 

There is a difference between someone when they are young and someone of my age. I began to sense it about the age of 50. It is something that is difficult to describe; 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 went 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. It began to snow as I made camp, pitching my tent under the bough of a tree where the snow was not very deep, as the area was protected by the overhang of branches and was out of the winds. It was cold, very cold and very, very silent; only the soft hiss of snowflakes falling. It was very clear, I was not in control of what was going on all around me, I felt very vulnerable and when

I finally crawled into my sleeping bag as it grew dark,

this is what I heard . . .