Happy 90th Birthday, "Thay!"
By Kathy Custren
"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Getting in Touch with Age is Not an Easy Thing
The celebrated Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, turns 90 years old on October 11, 2016. Born in Vietnam, this global spiritual leader and peace activist is an inspiration to me and many who strive to be mindful in all we do. Yet, at the age of 90, even following this man's life peripherally, his many accomplishments are astounding. For me, 35 years his junior, Thich Nhat Hanh, also known by his nickname "Thay," continues to help me realize that being conscious of, and getting in touch with my age, is not always an easy thing.
When Friends and Family Leave, is Longevity Good?
Earlier this year, I purchased an affordable bicycle to make travel to and from work a little easier. The walking exercise/meditation was going surprisingly well, even if friends and co-workers were concerned about safety and traffic. The hills and being off of a bike for nearly 30 years had more of an impact on my cycling success than I expected. It became very apparent to me that age could really be worrisome.
Soon, with knowing of two friends who passed on in the last year, the inkling of age being a concerning thing has been creeping into various conversations. As labeled by some, the untimely passing of favorite musicians, David Bowie and Prince, for example, is another knock on the aged door. Looking at my own family tree, I only have one grandmother who made it to age 90, the same as Thay; so the odds are not overwhelming in my favor. When friends and family leave to attend the hereafter, it begs to question if longevity is a good goal after all.
"We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." -Thich Nhat Hanh
'May the Road Come Up to Meet You…' -from an Irish Blessing
With the realities of aging, it is good to make a mindful effort to cover as many contingencies as possible. So, things like wills, insurance, and other important directives are being updated. I am grateful to co-workers who give me rides to and from work, who get me there in spite of bad weather and even faster than biking.
I am grateful for the ability to walk well; however, truths become evident. My senior neighbor was severely injured doing yard work, and two recent falls of my own tell me how quickly that ground just might actually come up to meet me. "You may not be so lucky next time," friends warn. The Earth could be calling my name right now, for all I know, so mindfulness had better play a bigger and steadier role. Thay's words about how we have to walk the Earth remind us to be mindful and gentle, with the Earth and ourselves. Our communion works both ways.
Eyes Open, No Fear; Just Understanding
Being the age I am now, and associating with people even older than myself, continues to open my awareness to a few facts; okay, truths. One, is that the experience of aging does provide a plethora of understanding. People of a certain age can literally see through the nonsense and bull many people try to pull, like wool, over the eyes of another. For shame!
Two, as a teenager and young adult, I used to think I knew all I needed to know and could handle anything. Looking back on that tone of brave naivety thirty years later, "What was I thinking?" So, aging also leads me to say, "If I knew then what I know now."
Hardships Do Not Get Easier as We Age
Three, the hardships we may have in life as young people do not get easier as we age. We may have friends and family to help us weather them, which is a true blessing. If we are successful in our careers, we may have the income to pay for help. But the worries and anxieties of life can feel especially burdensome, and bring extraordinary suffering, if we are without family, friends, or enough savings stashed away.
Four, there are always people who care. For a living example of this, I do look to the extraordinary care and attention given to Thay after his recent stroke. As a monk, he and others like him live a life of austerity and spiritual service. I have been fortunate to cross paths with people who offer no label as to spirituality, who also serve the world, either by choice or circumstance. Observation tells me a life of service brings an added bonus of care to any life, whether one anticipates it or not.
The Goal: For Hope to Surpass Suffering
Five, that it is good to have hope; for a new tomorrow, for longevity, for peace, to overcome suffering and adversity, and for the impossible or the next dimension to come to pass. Hope surpasses suffering in much the way a life of service comes back with unexpected benefits. It is all part of that positive plane of existence we can be on, if we so choose. So, in gratitude for his 90 years of existence, and all he continues to teach us in his way, let us say, "Happy Birthday, Thay!"
"Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Reference: A Thai Buddhist Life: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/wat_m5.htm
About the Author
Kathy Custren, OMTimes Senior Editor, is a mother of four. She strives for balance and has a deep respect for All. Interests include education, elements, nature, humanity's cosmic origins, philosophy, spirituality, and wellness. Connect with her community page "Consciousness Live" on Facebook.