Susan Moon is a writer and Zen Buddhist who teaches popular writing workshops mostly in California. She is the former editor of Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged Buddhism. She has edited two collections of essays: Not Turning Away and with Lenore Friedman Being Bodies. In this sterling collection of essays, Moon looks at the rewards, blessings, drawbacks, and challenges of aging: "In my mid-sixties and in good health, I'm still a baby at being old. Now is a good time to investigate the matter and to develop courage, because getting old is hard. Getting old is scary." The author is a member of a group of older women who call themselves the Crone Group, and they have been sharing their experiences at this stage of life. We are so grateful that Moon has written this insightful book in which she passes on what all this has meant to her.
"My mind, like my bladder, is shrinking with age so it doesn't hold as much at once." Many readers will know exactly what she is talking about: we forget the title of a film we saw a few days ago or get lost in a parking lot looking for our car. A few of us have what the Buddhist's call "beginner's mind" which enables us to read ten books on the same subject yet feel we are encountering brand new material. Moon concludes that we should see the bright side of memory loss: it's practice in letting go. We can only hold so much information and then it is time to forget some of it so we can travel more simply and lightly upon the earth. She also offers some wise counsel on responding to one's blankness by trying the mantra: "Senior moment, wonderful moment."
The body wears down. Buddhism recognizes and honors this natural process of impermanence. Moon writes about her eye problems and her arthritic knees. The latter were so bad that she had to give up Zen sitting on the floor and use a chair instead. Instead of fretting over this development, Moon changes her perspective and rejoices in the chair as "a spiritual aid."
Then there is the problem of falls, which results in the deaths every year of about 13,000 people over 65. Every morning while brushing her teeth, Moon stands on one foot as a practice to improve her balance. It's only a matter of time until a cane or a walker will be used for the same thing.
Some other topics covered in these refreshingly honest and enlightening essays are the benefits of being single, the preciousness of old friends, the pleasures of a house that has been lived in for a long time, the delights of being a grandparent, the role of sex, feeling invisible, the value of the spiritual practice of curiosity, and dealing with the death of a parent and coming to terms with one's own demise. Moon ends her journey through her own conscious aging with this wonderful share:
"Every morning I vow to be grateful for the precious gift of human birth. It's a big gift, and it includes a lot of stuff I never particularly wanted for my birthday. Some of the things in the package I wish I could exchange for a different size or color. But I want to find out what it means to be a human being my curiosity remains intense even as I get older so I say thanks for the whole thing. It's all of a piece. In thirteenth-century Japan, Zen Master Dogen wrote, 'The Way is basically perfect and all-pervading.' I'm already in it. We are all in it; we are made of it."