By Michael Lisagor, Bainbridge Island
“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” — George Bernard Shaw
Buddhism teaches that the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death are an inescapable part of life. The important thing is not to be defeated by them. Thanks to my parents, I’ve already had a victory over the first one. So that leaves aging, sickness and, inevitably, death.
Ever since I got my Medicare card in the mail, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be 65 years old and moving closer to the end of this life. As a child and teenager who suffered from severe depression, I was too afraid of the present to expend energy worrying about the future, much less old age. Most of the older people I knew back then seemed full of regret and suffering. It wasn’t until I started a spiritual practice in 1969 that I got a glimpse of a different way to age — one full of hope and vitality instead of fear and sadness.
Youthfulness originates from life force. There are young people who are disillusioned and there are elderly people who, no matter how the years pass, sparkle with the glow of youthful inner vitality.
Still, I can’t ignore the fact that my body has slowed down. Slight injuries now have greater consequences. A hurt lower back that might have kept me in bed for a few days recently took two years to recover. Through this experience, I learned that my mental attitude significantly affects my ability to heal. And, my daily Buddhist practice gives me the wisdom and strength to influence my mind and, accordingly, to lessen my physical and emotional suffering.
So, youth has nothing to do with chronological age. Instead it reflects our ability to consistently maintain a hopeful, flexible and tolerant mind.
Unfortunately, right when I am experiencing love for the whole world, I will encounter someone in person or in the news that triggers negative feelings. Of course, this “stress” is usually what I need to cause me to continue to evolve into a more enlightened, compassionate person. While not always with open arms, I do welcome these opportunities.
There is a saying that goes: “To a fool, old age is a bitter winter; to a wise person it is a golden time.” Without the support of a loving family and friends, my winter would be bitter indeed. I’m so grateful that this doesn’t have to be the case. And I look forward to laughing well into my nineties!
Mike Lisagor lives with his wife, Trude, on Bainbridge Island. They are members of the Soka Gakkai International — a very diverse Nichiren Buddhist lay organization of over 12 million people in 192 countries. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.