Advice from the Skillful Doctor: Skillful Aging

Question: I’m approaching my 50th birthday, and I’m getting depressed because I’ve started to feel old. How can I approach middle age with a more positive attitude?

Answer: First, let me say that I am with you. In fact today is my 50th birthday!

And here is what I would offer in response to your question…. If you and I were to take a simple survey, I think we would find that most people associate aging with death as opposed to growth. Indeed, in modern society, people carry a profound fear of death. Disconnected from the practices and wisdom of a vital spiritual context, many not only fear the dying process and the pain associated with it but also death itself and what, if anything, follows. If this is how we live, as we age, we will, in our mind, inexorably move closer and closer to this end game. For many, aging represents a ticking bomb and death a leap into the great unknown. Unless we find an alternative way to organize our thinking this will always be our view. Only by coming around to a more enlightened understanding of our lives and the relativity of death will we ever truly experience the fullness of living.

In fact, considering the inevitability of our own mortality can enrich our lives. It can help us appreciate the bounty around us. It pushes us to work harder on our relationships-strengthening those that need support and letting go of those that no longer serve us. It can show us how to truly appreciate what we have and take less for granted.  It can help us reconnect to others and to all life on this planet. It can point us in the direction of meaningful work and help us renew our commitment to discovering our true dharma. In short, confronting our existential anxiety puts us on the path to the ultimate state of being. To do this is to live skillfully.

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