Lewis Richmond—Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, columnist for the Huffington Post, musician—addresses the challenges facing a generation of baby boomers as life catches up with them in Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.
What part of aging do you think baby boomers are finding most challenging?
It really depends on one’s life situation and gender. Some people like growing old and some people don’t. The body, energy, mental acuity all start to decline. Some people are better prepared than others. I’ve also found that women and men experience these changes differently.
How have your own life-threatening illnesses affected the topics covered in this book?
I had cancer at 36; that was very tough. This was the moment that I call “lightning strikes” in the book. I realized I was getting old. For many people it’s most common to realize this with changes to their parents, but in my case it was me. My second illness at 52 was far more dire; I was in a coma and it took two to three years for me to recover. Out of that experience I gained a sense of being alive, feeling gratitude at being here. Every day I wake up and feel that.
How do people stop feeling so afraid of the losses that aging brings?
Loss is only half the story. There are so many gains, including a sense of gratitude for having lived one’s life, gratitude for the people you have. Many people want to start giving back, such as volunteer work after they retire. Elderhood is this stage.
You’ve written about mortality and about work from a Buddhist perspective. Do you have any thoughts about Steve Jobs, who was acquainted with Zen Buddhism?
I didn’t know Steve Jobs but I knew his teacher quite well. He brought joy and magic to people. He used his incredible gifts to bring light to other people. He was very influenced by the Buddhist world view. He spent the last eight years of his life under a death sentence and look what he did. There’s no stronger argument for turning loss into light.