Age — What’s in a Number?

In the last class until late February we followed up on how this idea of linear time impacts our perceptions of who we are and the nature of life.

We talked about birthdays, especially those big threshold birthdays that seem ever more daunting. I have a friend who is turning 75 and is terrified of the age. She didn’t know why until she realized that a good friend had died at the age of 75. This is one of the ways we latch on to numbers and turn them into bogeymen.

My beloved aunt was sure she would die at the age of 73. After all her mother and sister both died at that age. Therefore, she would too. It made no difference when we would mention that both of them had been lifelong smokers with emphysema and related issues and she had never smoked. No, to die at 73 was her destiny.

So my phone call to her on her 74th birthday was sweet indeed. It was as if she had been given a whole new life. She is now in her mid-80’s and happier than she was in her 60’s when she foretold her own death.

The husband of a meditator in our group is quite certain he will die this year. He says he has always known that this is the age he will die. He may well do so. Any of us might die this year. Who knows? Like my aunt, nothing anyone says can dissuade him from this belief. So I told his wife that if this was the last year of his life, perhaps he could follow Stephen Levine’s book A Year to Live: How to Live this Year as if It Were Your Last. That way whether he dies this year or not, it will have been a rich skillful experience of living fully.

If we were not so attached to this imaginary time line, if we could sense into the spaciousness and compassionate nature of simply being alive in this moment, at one with the cycles and seasons of the natural world, we would be less inclined to vest an imaginary number or date with so much significance. We would be able to release set ideas about what it is to be a certain age, stop hemming ourselves in about what we are able or not able to do, based on a number rather than our sense of being in this moment.
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This is the last dharma talk until the end of February as our class is on hiatus. In the interim I encourage you to look over the topics on the right side of this blog and find ones of interest to you. Combine the reading of one post with a meditation before or after. This could be your daily practice, or you could set aside time once a week to read. There are 170 posts. Even for those of you who have read them all, you will find something new now, because you are in a different state of mind and facing different challenges than when you read it before. So explore the blog freely. And please comment at the bottom of any post you read. Just click on ‘QUESTIONS & COMMENTS.’ I would love to read what you have to share or have the opportunity to answer any questions you may have.


If you are new to meditating or feel the need of refreshment instruction, please notice that at the top of this blog there is a tab for a separate page that offers basic meditation instruction. The development of a daily practice of meditation is the greatest gift any of us can give ourselves, for through it we access wisdom, compassion and appreciation for this gift of life in all its seasons.

2 thoughts on “Age — What’s in a Number?

  1. Mindy Zimmerman

    Thank you for this deliciously rich topic. As I approach a birthday next week I find myself wanting to make doctor appointments to make sure my body is still functioning the way I want it to in order to approach the next decade healthy. As I work with people who face health issues I can't help but wonder, “what's going to happen to me?” It is a constant daily meditation to bring myself back to the here and now and be grateful for my life today. Such a good lesson about looking at worry and the fear of future unknowns. Staying aware of this moment, this breath, no matter how labored, weak or full, I am able to notice and slow down. May our lives be full and rich no matter how long we walk this earth.

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