It’s official. I am now old, an old fogey. I have passed the 70th-birthday benchmark. And I feel myself changing.
It is a bit like being an adolescent all over again, except that the unstoppable bodily changes herald old fruit rather than fresh flowers. I can now talk about “young people” as anyone under the age of 50. When I fumble with my credit card in the supermarket, I sense the irritation of these speedy youngsters. They are totally unaware of the fact that they, too, will become an old fogey, unless they die before then. We are mostly unseen. A recent magazine supposedly reporting “what women want” did not have one picture in its several articles of anyone over the age of 40, let alone 70. There is no celebration of old age as there is of attaining adulthood. No one, it seems, wants to be reminded of imminent and inevitable death. Perhaps celebration is the wrong approach to aging.
We celebrate spring rather than autumn. Autumn is “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” said Keats in “To Autumn.” I can feel myself wanting to be “earthed.” Somehow, digging in the garden, putting new plants in the soil fills this need. The theologian, Paul Tillich called God the “Ground of our Being.” I have always liked Tillich’s phrase. I can easily adapt it to my Buddhist understandings. The ground of my being is my “Buddha Potential.” But it is deeper than just potential. The ground of my being is my absorption in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We Buddhists talk about grounds: the grounds and paths to enlightenment.
The path shows the way forward. The ground is what we have established. Sitting here in the garden, protected from the wind, I allow a sense of absorption to pervade me. All of it, the warmth, the protection, the spring flowers, the prayer flags, my dog guarding the gate, the people walking past my gate to the beach … all of these are pervaded by this same energy. Whatever happens I feel quiet, still, grounded. It may be spring in the garden, but it is autumn in my heart.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
The songs of autumn are the songs of the grounds of our being.
Many years ago I wrote a poem, unaware that it would one day apply to me. Back then I was one of those young ones who were irritated by the old woman holding up the supermarket queue. These were liberated ladies in that they all belonged to a club for women with university education, but I guess they still fumbled in the supermarket. They were no fools. Now I am one of them.
By Ven. Chönyi Taylor
The liberated ladies sit and nod
as each autumnal leaf
falls past the sun …
half remembered caricatures
of round full fruit.
They will not hold the sun,
but fold their shoulders warm
with friendly ghosts.
each soothing monotone
will sink into the earth …
more like a fruit
than like a stone.
Perhaps as we get older the practice of Dharma becomes more important than Dharma practice. By this I mean that awareness of the ever-present Buddha energy, arranging one’s mind towards constant compassion, and settling into such knowingness, are more important than the formal words and even the mantras that we recite each day.
These days, I am more interested in making sure the ground beneath my feet is firm. I have many lifetimes ahead with new paths. At least I can carry some of this grounding into my next life.
Ven. Chönyi Taylor is a registered Foundational Buddhism FPMT teacher and an elder for the Discovering Buddhism at Home Course. She is the author of Enough! A Buddhist Approach to Working with Addictive Patterns (Snow Lion, 2010) and has been published in Mandala, Buddhadharma, Dharma Vision and Sangha Magazine. She is a founding member and member of the training committee of the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists and an Honorary Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry at Sydney University.