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Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser

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The bestselling author of Work as a Spiritual Practice presents a new vision of the aging process, awakening a spirit of fulfillment and transformation. Everything changes. For Buddhist priest and meditation teacher Lewis Richmond, this fundamental Buddhist tenet is the basis for a new inner road map that emerges in the later years, charting an understanding that can bring new possibilities, fresh beginnings, and a wealth of appreciation and gratitude for the life journey itself.

In Aging as a Spiritual Practice, Richmond acknowledges the fear, anger, and sorrow many people experience when they must confront the indignities of their aging bodies and the unknowns associated with mortality. This wise, compassionate book guides readers through the four key stages of aging- such as "Lightning Strikes" (the moment we wake up to our aging)-as well as the processes of adapting to change, letting go of who we were, embracing who we are, and appreciating our unique life chapters. Unlike many philosophical works on aging, however, this one incorporates illuminating facts from scientific researchers, doctors, and psychologists, as well as contemplative practices and guided meditations on aging's various challenges and rewards. The tandem of maintaining a healthy body and healthy relationships, infused with an active spiritual life, is explored in rejuvenating detail. Breath by breath, moment by moment, Richmond's teachings inspire limitless opportunities for a joy that transcends age.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2012

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About the author

Lewis Richmond

11 books24 followers
I am the author of five books, mostly on Buddhist themes related to the workplace, illness, a nd (more recently) aging. In addition to a career as a Buddhist teacher (now retired), I have been a software entrepreneur, musician and composer.

My latest book EVERY BREATH, NEW CHANCES: HOW TO AGE WITH HONOR AND DIGNITIY--A GUIDE FOR MEN is due for release Nov. 2020. Although as the title implies the book is oriented to men's aging issues, women should find a lot of interest in it; I hope they will buy it, read it, and give it to the man in their life!

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5 stars
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236 (40%)
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133 (23%)
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32 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 89 reviews
Profile Image for Yelda Basar Moers.
180 reviews130 followers
November 18, 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.






Profile Image for Donna.
3,831 reviews10 followers
December 26, 2015
I liked this, which is really saying something, because I didn't like the audio narration. It was so annoying.

The author is Buddhist. I found his outlook interesting. Some of it felt enlightening and certainly gave me food for thought. But with that being said, some of this had me rolling my eyes as well. So 3 stars.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,448 reviews365 followers
July 21, 2021
A terrific book for those of us "on the other side of the mountain" (since everybody is aging and this book is, I think, designed for older people). Richmond, a Zen teacher, shares his own experience wilth illness and aging as well as those of people with whom he has worked who had adjusted (or not) to aging in various ways.

Richmond discusses the "extraordinary aging"--people lively and vibrant into their 100s! The chief characteristic they seem to all share is an unending curiosity, about life and its many offerings. Enthusiasm is another marker of healthy aging.

Another tool for happiness as we grow older is volunteering. It seems that it's true that the more we give, while also taking care of our own needs, the more we receive and people who volunteer for 3-4 hours a week enjoy longer life, along with a higher quality of living.

Each chapter ends with a reflection and meditation. I found the meditations beautiful, doable, and helpful in opening my mind and heart.

The book ends with several chapters about doing an independent day (or half day) retreat by oneself. Every detail is laid out and explained. I am planning to use his structure in the near future, although living with others without access to an outdoor space is challenging. However, definitely doable--as are all of Richmond's suggestions.

A beautiful and invaluable book that I look forward to reading again.
Profile Image for Joan Winnek.
251 reviews42 followers
March 6, 2013
This book immediately grabbed me with its chapter on lightning strikes. My own lightening strike happened about six months ago, and had several forks.

This is a book to keep and reread for its many insights into aging and the clearest explanation of Buddhism I have found. The writing is engaging, and the contemplative reflections are activities I want to work through, slowly.

Profile Image for Barbara.
389 reviews24 followers
April 15, 2018
A lot of good ideas here for appreciating every moment of your life. It's written from a Buddhist perspective, but is applicable to any philosophy. The book included lots of stories about people facing their aging and ultimate deaths and had contemplative exercises to do, as well as a schedule for a do it yourself spiritual retreat. One of the concepts I found interesting was vertical time--time as it exists in THIS breath, as opposed to horizontal time--our ordinary time line stretching from our known past into our unknown futures.
Profile Image for Karen.
832 reviews121 followers
April 22, 2019
I've read several books on spirituality and aging that are influenced by Buddhist teachings, but this one foregrounds Buddhism the most.

Richmond pens essays that explore age-related topics such as role loss, aging bodies, disability, grief, and other losses. He also profiles about a dozen people who are in the second half of life and how they are reinventing themselves to create opportunities. He also quotes a handful of people, chief among them The Dalai Lama and Shunryu Suzuki.

"As the Dalai Lama put it, 'If you're going to be selfish, be wisely selfish, which means to love and serve others, since love and service to others bring rewards to oneself that otherwise would be unachievable.' If scientific validation of this truth is needed there are a number of studies that provide it. People who volunteer their time are happier, healthier, and may live longer" (pp. 126-7).

"Shunryu Suzuki, in describing Zen practice, said, 'In our practice, we rely on something great, and sit in that great space.' I find this sentence beautiful because with a slight change in vocabulary it could refer to any religious practice" (p. 125).

Richmond himself has some quotable passages that convey insights that can help turn anguish about aging into acceptance:

"Adaptation and flexibility are our beset strategies for keeping abreast of our aging, and the keys to creating freshness and new opportunities as we age. We need to remember that change works both ways. It is not just wear and tear; it is also new beginnings" (p. 47).

Richmond shares with his readers part of his experience as a person who survived a serious brain disease, one that left him in a coma for part of the time. One of the most salient parts of his book is his description of a vision he had while in a coma:

"Inside my coma I was having many visions. In one I remember sitting with a group of people on bales of hay in a barn. It was late summer, and the smell of the hay was sweet. Some of the people were my Buddhist friends; some I did not know. We were passing around a hot drink, perhaps tea or broth, and engaging in friendly conversation. Every so often the group would chant or sing something. It was a pleasant, friendly sound. I felt safe there. I knew I would be taken care of. My friends were with me. Two weeks later I woke up" (p. 159).

I'm afraid that my subconscious would not be as positive, loving, and healing as his. I have some work today to prepare for an era of serious illness.

Richmond is a Buddhist priest, and he includes a section toward the end of his book on how to spend "A Day Away" as a way to become more introspective as an older adult. He provides a detailed descriptions on how to do breathing exercises, seated meditation, and walking meditation. I admit that I read these and did not apply them. Perhaps I will check this book out of the library again so that I can follow his advice. On the surface, his book seems a little simplistic. But he's asking people to change their way of being. The power isn't in mental gymnastics; it's in transforming one's self.

972 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2016
Two things happened this year: my friend, Janet, mentioned Atul Gawande's book, On Being Mortal, and I turned 75. As a result of these two events, I have been reading many books about dying and this book is one of the better ones. It is based on the spiritual and brings to the reader a calm approach to the inevitable. I highly recommend it to anyone who might be feeling unsure about the direction of their life now that they are "retired" and in the final part of their life. The encouragement within the book will be helpful to many. It is, after all, just one breath after another until the final breath.
Profile Image for Ellen.
268 reviews3 followers
February 14, 2018
I am currently part of a meditation group named from the title of this book and informed by ideas and suggested practices in it. The book is rich and dense. Having just finished reading it and taking notes, I will need to take the time to digest and integrate its perspectives and offerings. I have no doubt that at some point in the near future, I will also reread it, more slowly.
Overall, I am feeling more hopeful about aging, more committed to proceed as gracefully as possible, focused on living in the present, moment by moment, accepting the burdens and the blessings of aging, with loving kindness toward myself and all creatures.
Profile Image for John Kaufmann.
616 reviews53 followers
April 28, 2020
I originally gave this two-stars, but have upgraded it after re-reading it (i.e., listening to the audiobook.) While not full of gems, it was full of a quiet wisdom. The book also provides numerous mindfulness/meditation exercises, which appear to be tailored to those of us who are aging.
Profile Image for Luminea.
273 reviews
April 21, 2022
I really enjoyed this insightful book written by a Buddhist priest. His perspective and philosophy resonated well with my own pagan spiritual path and gave me some wonderful new insights as well. The suggestions and tools for practicing meditation, gratitude, being of service, acceptance, kindness, etc, can truly be embraced by anyone at any age. We are all growing older breath by breath.
Profile Image for Sara.
852 reviews23 followers
December 12, 2011
I was fortunate to win a copy of this book through Goodreads.

This book is a great resource for those of us that are starting to realize we aren't "young" anymore, or at least as young as we used to be. Richmond goes through the different phases of aging, the first of which is "Lightning Strikes" - that first moment you notice things aren't quite what they used to be (a grey hair, creaky knees, kids going off to college, illness, whatever). He uses examples from his personal life and illnesses to help drive his messages home, as well as uses friends and acquaintances experiences. He discusses Buddhist ideas about change, attachment, kindness (towards yourself as well as others) and provides a great overview for those early on the Buddhist path, or those even just interested in Buddhism.

The latter part of the book is called "A Day Away" and it is very specific instructions (where to go, what to bring, what to eat and drink etc) as to how to hold a one day retreat for yourself in order to explore how you feel about aging and where you are in the process. I think this section was incredibly helpful, and helps take the "mystery" out of the Retreat process, and shows that it is something that every person can participate in. For this alone, I recommend this book.

This book will retain a spot on my bookshelf, and I would imagine that as I continue to grow older (knock on wood!) that it's information will become even more valuable. As a sufferer of a chronic illness, I already had "lightening strike" for me, but the rest of the phases haven't happened yet - I think this book will help me navigate them.
180 reviews2 followers
August 30, 2016
Even with a twenty-plus year zen practice, I found useful practice ideas in the book. It should prove more helpful to those without a meditation practice.
Quotes:

Shunryu Suzuki (About dying): "Don't worry. Nothing is going to happen."

Stephen Levine: "Don't worry. Dying is perfectly safe."
411 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2012
A thoughtful book about some of the issues of aging and ways that spiritual practices can help with the transitions along the way. Though Lew is a Buddhist priest, his suggestions are universal.
73 reviews5 followers
May 13, 2016
"The awareness that you are here right now is the ultimate fact."
Profile Image for Michael.
1,521 reviews5 followers
June 4, 2021
So, here is a snapshot of your hero, aged 52: I have been annoyed about the whole "...and my pronouns are..." thing for no reason that I can think of. I went to the gym yesterday, lifted (what I thought was) light weights, and today feel like I fell off of a cliff and landed on cinder blocks. I cut down my calories, reduced how much bread and cheese I eat, and I still didn't lose any weight. I hurt my neck sleeping. I keep forgetting words. My body is not looking good. At. All.

Basically, I am aging.

I'm thinking, there are two ways to go into this whole thing: resist, or accept. This wonderful, thoughtful book is about accepting the reality that aging is going to happen whether your like it or not, and that it doesn't have to be awful (I've used the phrase 'managed decline'...). One of the hardest things, but the best things, about Buddhist philosophy is how it insists on the truth about things, no bullshit. I am of a nature to grow old. I am of a nature to be sick. I am of a nature to die. It's going to happen, and denying that, or resisting it, will only cause suffering.

And here's the thing: suffering is inevitable, and suffering is caused by resisting change. So...accept that in this year of our Lord 2021, people signal their pronouns to each other. Deal with it. Accept the fact that I can't lift weights like I used to. Change my exercise routines. Accept the fact that part of being middle aged is weight gain, and that I can still be healthy and well even if I don't look like I did when I was 30, etc.

This book is so helpful. Re-framing things; that is, looking at reality from a different angle, is a wonderful strategy. Wayne W. Dyer (who once touched my head) said, "When you change the way you see things, the things you see change," and he was right. Rather than focusing on all the things that are hard now, why not think about what's better (and there really are a lot of things).

I recently read Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives which said a lot of the same things as this book. Guess I have a whole new genre of books to read! (See? Re-framing...)
Profile Image for Alyssa Zimmerman.
100 reviews2 followers
October 13, 2022
I'm not Buddhist, and only in my 30's, but I am deeply invested in spiritual practice (as a Christian), and many of the struggles of aging are relevant to people like me who live with disabling chronic illness. I wouldn't say this book is anything groundbreaking, but what it does is offer both a hopeful and a helpful narrative to elders, without a hint of pity or spiritual bypassing.

I cannot speak to Buddhist resources, but I know for Christians, most books are written for younger folks or for moms, always for the very busy crowd. It can be hard to find plain resources written for the older folks that don't speak down to them or glamorize them. This book does neither, and that impresses me.
352 reviews
February 14, 2019
I would give it a 3 1/2. It didn't add a lot of new information on meditation but gave it an interesting twist towards how to apply it to the aging process. Richmond is a Zen Buddhist priest. Most of my reading has been in the Tibetan tradition. He acknowledges the differences. There is a lot of quiet wisdom here for any age. I particularly liked the section on compartmentalization and have found it a useful practice. I also liked the visualization of time. We live in linear time from past to future. We tend to think that way. Vertical time is the point when this present moment dissects linear time. That visualization has helped me come into this present moment more.
August 31, 2019
Most of my jaunts into the literature about aging is anything but uplifting. L. Richmond invites me to see my aging as a journey to great insight, wisdom, and joy but without pontificating about the "golden years". His emphasis on strengths, enjoyment,, and gratitude are a welcome change. The author brings to the dialogue the essential Buddhist non-judgemental perspectives that tend to be absence for discussions of aging. It is never too late to find our "heart centre". This book is a companion on the journey to becoming an elder.
105 reviews1 follower
June 21, 2021
I enjoyed listening to this book while walking. The section about Buddhism, meditation and overcoming the typical fears of aging were interesting. I will probably listen to some chapters again. I have not yet tried meditation consistently to give it a chance, but in a way walking while listening to this book and thinking about myself and those I love is a form of meditation. For those who have not read or listened to the book, it should not be dismissed because you don't think you are old enough to start thinking of such things. It can have meaning at any age as we journey through life.
Profile Image for Melanie Rigney.
Author 11 books23 followers
June 25, 2017
I devoured this book on my 61st birthday. Richmond's examples of struggling with aging... and finding some comfort in faith, regardless of one's tradition... are well told. I met the next day with a Trappist monk about my age who noted that our generation in some ways is forging new ground, as many of the wise spiritual writers were dead by the time they were our age. He said he wondered why no one is writing about this. I said, "There is!", gave Richmond as an example, and passed on my copy.
Profile Image for Alan.
115 reviews7 followers
December 11, 2020
Lewis Richmond, counselor and Buddhist priest, offers a helpful guide to mindful living while aging. Although Lewis draws upon Buddhist spiritual practices, the exercises he offers can be readily translated into other contemplative faith traditions or into non-theist worldviews. As someone guided by Christian contemplative traditions who is striving to "end well," I deeply appreciated the wisdom of this book.
5 reviews
May 14, 2021
Interesting perspectives on ageing from the Buddhist perspective, providing thoughts for dealing with the potentially negative aspects of the process. Book could have been more concise. If one is not really into meditating the exercises are a bit too much. Author mentions differences between Tibetan and Japanese (?) perspectives but doesn’t explain in sufficient detail for an uninitiated reader. Will have to study this further.
Profile Image for Chris Worthy.
156 reviews14 followers
December 24, 2018
This book is among several recommended by a friend who is also counselor. It is fantastic. Though the author is Buddhist, he makes clear (correctly so) that the principles are for people of all beliefs. This book is filled with beautiful reminders that I am challenging myself to employ in the second half of life.
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 15 books35 followers
July 4, 2020
So this took me a while to read, something that seems to occur with book I know can never "be read" completely, ever. This one really is a series of exercises in mindfulness from an array of perspectives, culminating in the option for a structured "Day Away" with oneself. I will be returning to this, and the star ratings may be increasing!
18 reviews
January 27, 2021
Found this on mom's bookshelf as we were cleaning out the house. No wonder she died so peacefully. This book is full of practical wisdom, teaching stories from the author's life and his Zen tradition, and very helpful contemplations.

Loved the lists beginning chapters 4 and 5, for "I like growing old" and "I don't like growing old" respectively. Spot on!
27 reviews1 follower
February 16, 2020
Buddhist philosphy made accessible. Relevant to anyone. Practices and suggestions useful to anyone seeking a more mindful, compassionate life. Assumes limited exposure to Buddhist practices prior to reading.
Profile Image for Robin.
188 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2020
I will be rereading this book when I go on retreat for a few days next week. I look forward to practicing the exercises that Lou outlines in each chapter.

I took a workshop led by the author a few months ago. He really is as personable and genuine as the book would lead one to believe.
Profile Image for Debbie Hoskins.
Author 1 book53 followers
December 28, 2020
Very accessible, yet comforting material about aging. Exercises are included. One I did, was actually using objects to count the years of living left. I figure my writing and art abilities will hopefully stay strong until 80 yrs. Hopefully I will get bonus yrs, but thought 80 was realistic.
Profile Image for GollyRojer.
167 reviews1 follower
June 16, 2021
Interesting, informative, enjoyable. It's difficult to do activities at the end of chapters with an audible book. I plan to come back to this when I'm better prepared, and go through it again, this time doing instead of just listening.
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