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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  1. I thought ASP meant "automatic savings plan." This was a product WAMU offered.

    Great review Dad. Is this the author that emailed you back.

    Oh, I shared your blog to facebook. Let's see how many people read it!

  2. Author, Lewis Richmond liked my review.