The Choice to Age Well: Refresh Yourself in Spirit
1. Take the time to open up: In our accomplishment-oriented world, we move and think endlessly; we go on and on and don�t stop. So in the midst of your day, take time to stand aside and breathe deeply. If your partner or co-worker is talking to you, give them full attention and actually listen. As you do so, gradually letting your guard down, thought slows down and a slit opens up where spirit can enter.
2. Spend time with kids or with the elderly: When we are racing to try to stay ahead of the bills, it�s hard to stay centered. So take a break from it all; go in the backyard and ride the swing with your kids. Let them help you into that rhythm where the body just moves and joys in itself. Or, stop and listen as your grandmother tells you of her first job as a salesgirl or of milking the cows on the farm. Time outside care and routine, with people who live and move in themselves, will give you a glimpse of what you, too, are, and what connects us all deep inside.
3. Find the new in the old: In the midst of life, the ordinary and even the tedious can open into the magical if you give them your full attention and interest. The other day when my wife suggested we go grocery shopping together, I winced, because I hate shopping; but something in me said, try this. The result was, I had a relaxing and full experience amongst the rows of fresh vegetables and bountiful bins of flour. That�s why when the Zen master is asked how to contact our spirit, he says, �I eat my rice, and I wash my bowl.� Really, it�s all about throwing rigidity and stale habit into the dustbin and opening to the ever new, even within the old and ordinary that beckons us to try it afresh.
4. Open up to weakness: Usually our weakest areas are things we want to hide. Do you have trouble getting angry with your husband for no good reason, or exasperate others because your way is the only right one? A weakness usually puts us in conflict with others, or it causes suffering deep within ourselves. Rather than hiding from them, open up to your weaknesses; appeal to others for help with them. People who can�t admit failings don�t realize they are a trail leading down into us straight into spirit. If we can surrender our rigidity and egocentricity over to our appeal for help, it will lead to a place of healing deep within that we cannot invent or plan for. By showing us how human we are, humbling personal experiences can help us go beyond our finite boundaries to find an inner refuge and home.
5. Practice meditation or prayer: All ways to spirit point to one thing and that is finding peace and truth in the wholeness of who we really are. To help in this, I would recommend a spiritual practice such as personal reflection, where we take time to go over the events of our day or even of our life, striving to redo in our minds things we could have handled better. In this practice, prayer to the divine, however we may conceive it, helps us gain the strength to make the new choices and become more who we want to be.
For support in this difficult work of personal change, I have found another form of inward prayer very helpful, and that is meditating on the words of sages and poets who have known emotional security and spiritual peace. In this mode of prayer, concentration on an inspiring passage, word by word, seeds the mind with the higher reality present in the passages. Eventually, concentrated meditation can slow down the feverish pace of automatic thinking, which blocks access to our true self and feelings. With a slower mind-- even a still mind�Zen teachers point out that a sudden flash can illuminate our spirit, showing us who we really are and have always been. And at that time, we will know we are ageless, with the fount of spirit and life within us always.
� Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran�s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs.
Visit Stephen�s work at www.directawakenings.com