Yelda's Reviews > Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser

Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond
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Nov 17, 11

bookshelves: spirituality, inspiration-mind-body, mind-body, religion
Read from November 11 to 17, 2011

Buddhist priest and teacher Lewis Richmond is his latest book Aging as a Spiritual Practice begins with what he believes are the four stages of aging. The first stage “Lightning Strikes,” is a realization that we are growing old. The sensation comes out of nowhere, unexpectedly, like a bolt from above. I am only thirty-five years old, but this is exactly what happened to me recently, before I had even been assigned to read this book as a Library Thing Early Reviewer. Naturally, I was drawn to the book.

This was my recent “Lightning Strikes” moment. Since I’m pregnant, I can’t color and highlight my hair, and about a month or two ago, while it was up in a ponytail, I found myself face to face with an anomalous site: a bunch of gray hairs, stubbornly held together by their own thickness, on the side of my head, far too many to pluck. Feeling tired and sluggish from the pregnancy with that gray spectacle before me: lightning struck, just as Richmond said. I realized, yes, I am only thirty-five, but I’m turning a corner to a place I don’t want to go.

This is Richmond’s gift, his ability to make his story relatable to anyone who has left youth’s golden walls. His book, a mix of self-help, inspirational and meditative guide (Richmond suggests specific meditative exercises such as “Gratitude Walk,” “Calm Lake,” “The Loving Kindness Prayer,” and “Resting in Awareness”), comprehensively explores the connection between spirituality and aging. After giving a brief overview of the next three stages of aging, Richmond discusses elderhood, the feelings of growing older, all the while illuminating his narrative with the Zen fables of his mentor Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki. The author also includes the present day science of healthy aging and the Buddhist approach.

In his discussion of lifestyle factors that contribute to healthy aging, including diet, exercise, relationships, stress management, and spirituality, Richmond includes lesser known factors such as time in nature, service to others and flexibility in attitude. I found the importance of time in nature the most fascinating. Citing the research of Dr. Roger Walsh, Richmond writes that in an industrialized world where we don’t have healthy time in nature, we can suffer from disruptions of mood and sleep, impairment of attention and greater cognitive decline as we reach the elder years. Equally compelling is the “biophilia hypothesis” movement among environmental scientists, calling for the need of regular exposure to nature to maintain normal mental health. Without it, our minds don’t function well.

When it comes to spirituality itself, Richmond mentions various Buddhist contemplative practices to help with aging, such as mindfulness of breath, compassion, gratitude and spacious awareness. Meditation, he writes, is at its core focus and insight, but it can also be seen as surrender, a state of spacious awareness because it feels like a clear blue sky or a boundless ocean, or a time to simply relax and rest into the light of who we are on a deeper level. A regular practice also quiets the inner dialogue of our minds; it can stop all that thinking about aging.

I found Aging as a Spiritual Practice a heartfelt, yet intelligent guide for those contemplating aging on their spiritual path. It’s a lovely read, well thought out and edited, lacking the simplistic writing, trite concepts or lazy regurgitation that can plague many self-help books. Ultimately, Richmond’s positive spin and Buddhist approach gives hope to aging. It’s worth the read if aging is on your mind too.






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