Larry Rosenberg is founder and guiding teacher of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and the author of Breath by Breath. Using the Buddhist text Five Subjects for Frequent Reflection, he examines the challenges of aging, getting sick, dying, and being heirs of our actions. Becoming intimate with these givens, we can use every experience in life as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. At the outset, Rosenberg quotes Ajaan Lee: "Aging, illness and death are treasures for those who understand them. . . . If they were people, I'd bow down to their feet every day."
We spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and money trying unsuccessfully to halt the process of aging. Instead, we could practice the Buddhist asuba meditation, which centers on 32 unlovely parts of the body and the changes they are going through. Rosenberg suggests that we use any illness as an opportunity to look at things more deeply. We can meditate on the unpredictability of life and the unpleasant feelings we have about pain.
Buddhism has a long tradition of facing death instead of trying to hide or flee from it. Monks have done cemetery meditations and used beads made of human bones as a reminder of mortality. Rosenberg writes: "Death is not waiting for us at the end of the road. It is walking with us the whole time. We are fascinated by disaster epics, like the story of the Titanic, but the truth is that we are all on the Titanic, right now. We just imagine it's a pleasure cruise, just as the people on the Titanic did."
Work with the signs of aging, illness, and the presence of death in your life. They are all unavoidable. Rosenberg's wise words on these themes will help you reframe your attitudes toward them.