Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Aging as a Spiritual Practice

"Aging as a Spiritual Practice" (ASP) takes a non-hype approach to aging. It is not a how-to-do book, nor is it a step-by-step linear list of things required for a long, healthy life. There are no secrets or methods revealed for a longevity hidden in the pages. ASP is a spiritual guide and in the author’s words a “guide to gracious living.”  Gracious does not mean the manners associated with genteel society; but means a kind, courteous, and merciful manner of living. Richmond states one of the keys to a long life is mental flexibility and that the three biggest killers as we age be controlled by diet: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. He mentions these without judgment, relying on the reader to act accordingly as Richmond's emphasis is the spiritual aspects of life.

Lewis Richmond is a practitioner of Buddhism, a well known teacher and lecturer. ASP had its roots in a previous book, "Work as a Spiritual Place", his blog and numerous workshops on aging. ASP is an easy, comprehensible read not encumbered with jargon and the language normally associated with professional tomes on Buddhism. I’ve read it twice and most likely I will read this book or at least portions of it again. I have ASP in my Nook Tablet and it will be one of the many books I travel with.

Richmond’s approach is hinted at near the end of the introduction when he comments on a statement by a workshop participant, “I’m fifty-eight and I know where I’m headed – downhill. It’s all downhill from here.” Richmond then answers, “Well, I’m not sure I agree, but even if you’re right, the real question is: Are you going to slide, or are you going to steer.” ASP goes on to present the Buddhist view of aging: life changes; but with the hope that it can be fulfilling and fruitful, not just a journey with no destination except in physical death.

ASP is a mix of commentary by the author, antidotes and contemplative reflections or exercises for the reader. These reflective opportunities give the reader a chance to interact as if he or she were attending a workshop. The reflective portions are not frivolous, but meaningful mechanisms for the reader to think about the issues Richmond poses.

Zen logic is applied to the description of life as a time-line. Horizontal Time flows from birth, to childhood, to adolescence, to maturity and beyond. The past is clear and gone; the future is unknown and uncertain. We live in neither. We live in what Richmond calls Vertical Time, the here and now. It is the life we live, experience and control. An analogy I can allude to is the sing along on a screen to help understand Horizontal and Vertical Time. The words flow from right to left, the notes and words we sing is the bouncing ball at the center. The note we express at this moment is the life we create and experience.

ASP reaffirms many of my beliefs but that is not why I believe it is a good book for everyone to read. It is missing the traditional connection to God and therefore easy for believers in the Christian/Judaic belief and practice system to disregard the book’s message.  Richmond recognizes this missing element; however, if the we interchange the words God, Buddha or a Devine Power we can appreciate that Richmond’s purpose is to have the reader realize it is how we live that is important and not whether an internal or external power motivates people or controls our life.

In various places Richmond uses variations of the two prayers below to be read out loud or thought about. We are encouraged to swap the pronouns I, me, you, us, we, them, and they to alter the prayer’s power and meaning because everything is connected.
May I be filled with loving kindness;
May I be free from suffering;
May I be happy and at peace.


As I grow older, may I be kind to myself;
As I grow older, may I accept joy and sorrow;
As I grow older; may I be happy and at peace.
Richmond closes his book with comments about the “extraordinary elders.” Extraordinary elders are people who have lead long, creative lives and who maintain curious throughout their lives to experience the newness of each and every day. Active mental interactivity with life is a key to having a meaningful and perhaps long life.

He hopes that the lessons he teaches in ASP will “continue to influence your elderhood, day by day and breath by breath.”

Aging as a Spiritual Practice
Lewis Richmond
Gotham Books
ISBN: 97815924069

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Times (Blog) they are a Changing

Change is inevitable. 

 When Bob Dylan wrote and sang “The Times they are a Changing” in 1963 the United States of America was in the midst of major social and political transformations. Turmoil permeated all aspects of American life. The civil rights movement filled the nation with hope and fear, the sexual revolution was emancipating to some and revolting to others, drug use was encouraged and criminalized and war loomed on the horizon. In the words of Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the time of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...”

Dylan’s song captured the mood of the nation in 1963. It was first performed before the assassination of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the official start of the Vietnam War. Even that prophesying song was not immune to change; the rights to that revolutionary song were sold in 1994 for bank and accounting firms TV commercials. The times they changed, for the almighty buck.

Now this blog will change. Not as revolutionary as the nation did in the 1960’s or when the song was sung for TV commercials but a modest change to reflect the actuality of this blog. Change is mentioned in at least twelve blogs since “65 and Alive” began in September of 2011. The initial blog refers to changes; the only constant in life is change. Now is the time for change, in reality just a minor adjustment.

The “About Page” is gone, with its too rigid and wordy purpose for the path the blog followed. The new sub-title, Reflections on Work and Life after 65, of the blog gives me more latitude to write, express my views and generally ramble. Gone too are my personal web pages, which had become static and stale. I will continue to search for topics and ideas relevant to senior life, but also other topics that can enlighten and entertain readers of all ages. Next week’s book review entry has lessons meaningful for everyone, not just seniors.  Come back and read it.

In March a Visual Blog with minimal comments was added. I carry a camera most of the time to record images that I wish to share that can’t be put into words. My digital library has thousands of images that I will glean for viewing; but mainly, I will add fresh, new images. I have one locale in mind that calls out to be photographed, watch for images from the park soon.

I’ll keep writing, if you’ll keep reading. That is one change I don’t want.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ordinary Experiences

I read an interview of Kyran Pittman, author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life, in which the interviewer (Gretchen Rubin) noted Kyran’s “emphasis on finding happiness in the small, ordinary details in life…” I do want to find her book at the book store and read more about her intentions and revelations.

Ordinary life is my life. I am not a Hollywood star, politician, famous author or athlete; I am an ordinary person doing ordinary things. My days are filled with interactions with other ordinary people.

As my 68th birthday approaches I wonder am I happy? I’ve written previously about happiness but I really think I want fulfillment and meaning. How will I be remembered by my family, friends, co-workers and people whose lives that I’ve touched? Some days I have more questions than answers and perhaps that is good. Not being sure keeps me on my toes.

Last Tuesday I needed to go a plumbing wholesale company to purchase a new toilet for my office. As I approached the sales counter someone called out my name. It was a former co-worker who I hadn’t seen in at least twenty-one years. A bit older, more gray and a few pounds heavier but still recognizable as the friendly hard worker that I remembered. We chatted and caught up on news of the many people we knew from our time together. Information on who was dead, sick or still working. Another former co-worker joined and brought me up to date on his children’s lives, children who I have recollections of as toddlers. Both of their faces were smiling during our twenty minute reunion.

He recounted in a recent conversation with a few of the other old-timers someone asked, “What happened to Warren?” At least I wasn’t forgotten. I made my purchase and he helped me out with the toilet. Very ordinary.

As a manager in our previous association I couldn’t exactly remember some of the circumstances of our relationship. When we parted I apologized for any missteps from the past.

“Oh, no. You were the best,” was his answer. Being highly regarded was better than merely not forgotten. A chance encounter, an ordinary exchange of remembrances put a bounce in my step the rest of the day. My ordinary day was exceptional.

I feel ordinary and that is great. When we celebrate my birthday this weekend with my family I will appreciate the ordinary. A simple meal at home, a homemade dessert, and a gift card (my usual and appreciated gift) to the book store where I probably will buy Planting Dandelions. I love being ordinary, it’s so special.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

March Visual Blog

Photos, Movies and Slide Shows

March 25, 2012
If you are viewing this blog this is your current location.

March 18, 2012
Gruene Texas

March 17, 2012 St. Patrick's Day at a Mexican Restaurant

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Sleep or Lack of

Senior citizens have sleep problems, or so we have been lead to believe.  Seniors need more sleep and take more naps.  Just ask anyone.  Older people complain more about sleep problems, not because they sleep poorly but complaints are a natural habit of seniors.  The reality is that sleep disorders affect all ages for a variety of reasons. 
First of all let me inform you of my credentials: I am not a doctor, therapist or specialist of any sort.  But I did sleep in a Holiday Inn once so I feel smarter (and rested).  If you think you have a sleep disorder please contact your physician before you nod off.  Now that I’ve gotten my legal obligation out of the way I can rant on to my pleasure.
Sleep problems are not related to age.  Sleep disorders can be caused by any number of factors or combination of reasons.  Chronic diseases, sleep apnea, depression, neurological conditions, pain, prescription medications, stress, alcohol (no more night caps!), poor sleep hygiene, sedentary lifestyle, stimulants (caffeine and soda), nighttime urination and Alzheimer’s disease are a few causes listed in an article from the NIH.  Some of these causes are age linked, but many are not.  The same article lists four main types of sleep disorders: difficulty of getting to sleep, difficulty of telling the difference between night and day, early morning wakening and waking up often during the night.
Poor sleep hygiene means no TV, food or dogs in bed.  Professionals suggest that we keep the nighttime temperature a little on the cool side and save the bed for two purposes only: sleep and sex.  I am not going to list other suggested tips on how to sleep better in this blog but give you a link to one list from Mama's Health .
Sleep pattern interruptions can cause a myriad of problems that affect the quality of life.  In addition to feeling tired the next day pain problems can be increased, causing even more loss of sleep. Suffers can experience reduced ability to concentrate or solve problems; depression and memory loss are a few problems that can be caused or exasperated by sleep disorders. 
Ruby catching ZZZ's
During my sleep research (not research while sleeping) I learned more about changes in my own sleep habits and the underling scientific concepts about them.  There is a link between exercise and sleep.  During the past year I have been exercising 3 or 4 times a week and my sleep seems to be more continuous and quicker.  Exercise alleviates the problem of the sedentary lifestyle as a cause of sleep problems.  I wake early after eight and a half hours of almost solid sleep.  I do get up once due to pain in my hands; while I'm up I urinate and a let the dog out (that problem again), but go right back to sleep. 
Advance sleep phase syndrome or phase advance is a natural condition I learned about through my research, look that mouthful up.  It is the change in the internal clock that occurs as we age.  A form of a biological daylight savings time: go to bed earlier and wake earlier but still sleep eight hours.  Who messed with my clock?  I no longer stay up to watch the late night talk shows.  I like the late shows but my internal clock is off kilter.  This is probably related to SAD (Season Affective Disorder), a disorder caused by the lack of sunlight during the winter, inhabitants of the Arctic region and night-owls.  But more likely it is just a wild, unscientific statement caused by the lack of late-night humor.  Before long I’ll be getting up before sunrise and spending an hour or two writing.  A good thing, if I don’ bother my wife or dog.  But with my luck I’ll be going to sleep before the 10 pm news because of phase advance and miss even more.
Many of us have heard of REM sleep and non-REM sleep.  The REM (rapid eye movement) sleep commonly thought of the deep sleep cycle associated with dreams.  Now researchers think that we dream throughout the night.  REM dreams are more involved and actually seem like stories; non-REM dreams are more like very short stories, quick thoughts associated with minor issues or problems of the day.  Holy cow, I am dreaming all night in place of the laughing at the late night shows.

I’d better finish this blog before I fall asleep. 

KISS:  Knowledge is Sleep’s Sandman.

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