Saturday, September 18, 2010

Creative Aging and the Flowering of the Inner Life

Our annual fall retreat at Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies ended yesterday with a big tsok (blessed food) feast. What a blissful, happy, delightful time of spiritual practice this retreat has been. My spiritual teacher is now 86, and our time together is even more precious than ever. I found it difficult to leave, even after I changed gears by helping to clean and re-organize the temple shrine room, which needed it after a week of retreat practices three times a day, and even after Sarah and I swept and mopped the floor of our adjacent East Wing, which is our more social gathering place with a kitchen, dining room and bookstore.

I sat outside with a few lingering friends and watched the processional of deer. We have a congregation of deer it seems, in the meadows and hills, and all around the temple. They are safe from hunters here. I'm so accustomed to the trusting way the deer move around near the temple that when visitors show up and exclaim about it, it startles me. I finally got into my car and drove down to the Mandala Garden to circumnambulate the big Vajrasattva statue and contemplate returning to my so-called ordinary life. The top photo shows the Mandala Garden, and the temple is on the hill above it.

In the Mandala Garden I met my old friend Lama Bruce, an unassuming guy who is also a very good meditation teacher, partly because he has spent most of his adult life in meditation practice and retreat. Bruce was leading a tour for folks at Mountain Meadows, a continuing care retirement community in Ashland. They all departed after awhile, and I circled the statue and turned the prayer wheels by myself, while the clouds formed marvelous patterns across the sky and the tiny finches enjoyed the seeds in a nearby bird feeder. I could have stayed there for hours longer, but finally I got in my car and drove to town, reminding myself that integrating spiritual practice into everyday awareness and life is what it's all about because we sit on our cushions for only part of the day, but we are in our minds 24/7.

As I grow older, the inner life of spirit and imagination fills more and more of my experience. I remember reading an article by Jane Thibault titled Aging as a Natural Monastery. In the article Thibault points out how aging simplifies one's experience. "It was as if life had been stripped down to its barest essentials, so that the real could shine through and be appreciated, even if the real involved pain and suffering...In a very real sense the experience of old age, especially frail elderhood, is an experience of living monastically. Solitary life in one’s own home or common life in a nursing home is an experience of winnowing, of paring down to the barest essentials."

My own immersion in the natural monastery of aging has not reached that stage yet, but it will. Meanwhile, my natural monastery has more activity, in the midst of which beautiful gardens of solitude and contemplation bloom. I love being in those gardens. Being, simply being. Breathing. Remembering, recalling the pristine nature.

Last evening I attended a marvelous poetry concert by Kim Rosen author of Saved by a Poem. a gorgeous book which I highly recommend if you have any interest in heightened awareness and the transformative power of words and poetry. Her performance was thrilling as she shared poetry of many poets, along with beautiful mostly cello music. I couldn't take her workshop because I am doing a solo performance tomorrow, but I look forward to connecting with her more sometime soon.

Yes, my house concert In the Presence of the Sacred happens tomorrow at my old friends Rochelle and Rob Jaffe's home. I chose the beautiful image of an angel for the poster we created for the event. The image is taken from a Giotto fresco. I love its freshness and immediacy. Tomorrow I will be sharing healing voice in the form of wordless improvisational song and will also be offering hymns and prayers of St. Francis, Milarepa, Lorca, the Tibetan siddhi Gotsampa and others. I set some of the pieces to music myself. Some have traditional melodies, and some arrived with composed melodies when I discovered them.

All of my solo performances have at their heart a call to adventure, and that adventure is being in the presence of the sacred--opening up into an exalted, consecrated way of being or state of mind. But this performance is especially so, because of the nature of the hymns and prayers in it. I am looking forward to tomorrow, to sharing with the particular mandala field of energy vibration that is attracted to take part (also known as the audience). I also look forward to the opportunity to share this particular sacred constellation more with further audiences in other venues. So if you find the notion of sponsoring this work interesting, email or call me.

Oh, the photo in the center is a pathway in Lithia Park, where I often love to walk.

1 comment:

  1. Gaea, I really appreciate this very rich piece. Everything from the photos and words describing your post-retreat experience to the quote tying aging to a monastic experience. That comparison really resonates with me. I have, for several years, been saying that I wanted to get down to the bones, the basics of myself. Frequently I use the metaphor of clearing out the food in my cabinets, really using it all up. I also would love to know more about your solo performance work.