Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jaravagga: Aging

It’s been a long day. Nothing particularly taxing, just long. I’m tired, feeling run down, and anticipating my task for the night. I sigh. And I’m not terribly motivated; haven’t been all day really. But dutifully I sit at the computer and I look up the next chapter in the Dhammapada and what do I see? Commentary on old age.

Fer crying out loud, do I really need this? And frankly, this chapter is not all that inspiring. I mean, how can you get jazzed up about anything, how can you fire up any intensity or resolve, when faced with verses like this:

“Worn out is this body,
a nest of diseases, dissolving.
This putrid conglomeration
is bound to break up,
for life is hemmed in with death.”

Oh yeah, this Buddhism shit is real fun. Get to meditate on how my body is a bloody mass of flesh and slimy sinew and gooey oozing shit like pus. Mmmm. And then I die!

I get all that. Believe me. At 51, I’m dealing with a body that is slowing down, getting achy and unwilling to do what it used to. I’ve slipped from – dare I say? – a dashing slim man of 6-feet-1 and 185 pounds who kept in good shape and could bed just about any man I wanted, from that I’ve slipped into this tired heap that’s about 215 pounds and lucky if I can get a smile out of a cute guy. In the gay world, I am now known as a bear, which just means I’m fat and hairy.

I still work out to stay in decent shape, swim several times a week, plodding my way through the water getting in about a half-mile in 30 minutes. But about all I can do now is swim and use the elliptical machine because anything else hurts. My right ankle and my left shoulder both have arthritis. Let’s see, what else can I bitch about? Oh yeah, my feet, ugly skinny things are gnarled so bad that I need to wear orthotics. And being 51, I can have issues with flatulence. Doesn’t help much on a date.

And that’s what I observe about my own body. I watched as my mother’s health deteriorated, slowly at first, but in the last two years of her life, it was quite rapid. And when she died at 89, I stood for a moment in the hospital room where she lie, alone, and meditated on her corpse. It was actually quite a special moment. When my mother died, I felt relief – her suffering was over for now.

Mick Jagger had it right when he sang, “What a drag it is getting old.” Wonder how he feels about that line now?

“Through the round of many births I roamed
without reward,
without rest,
seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth
again & again.

House-builder, you’re seen!
You will not build a house again.
All your rafters broken,
the ridge pole dismantled,
immersed in dismantling, the mind
has attained to the end of craving.”

It is very unlikely I will find release in this lifetime, so I am destined to build another house – a bag of bones with ooze and blood and guts and shit and piss and … blech – that will also eventually fall apart into ruin.

I just try not to dwell too much on it for now. Death can be a powerful motivator, a force that can get us to do the right thing right now and not delay. But tonight I’m tired, and I think I’d like a glass of wine.

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