Like many Americans of my generation, I always thought growing old was something other, more uptight, people did. I’m young at heart, and while I’ve collected more knowledge and have gained more respect for wisdom over the years, my world-view remains basically as optimistic and energetic as when I was a very young person. My definition of the mind-body connection was the smug assumption that as my mind went, so my body would follow. That was when I was two inches taller than I am now, when my spine didn’t crack in rippling waves when I turned my head to back down the driveway and when I thought stretching was optional. I’ve eaten fields of blueberries, done innumerable down dogs, gotten my heart rate up, laughed, maintained connections with social groups, chosen bulgar over beef, worn buckets of sunscreen and stayed positive in the face of adversity. My hair is still graying, my eyesight dimming, and my recall circuitous. But rather than depressing me, or making me feel betrayed, I am surprised to find my physical limitations somewhat freeing. I can only ascribe this point-of-view to a way of thinking I’ve been learning from Master Miao Tsan. Until recently, my body–even in all its imperfections–defined me. It was strong, it was tireless, it did what I asked it to do. I felt at one with it, and forever young. But I am learning that my body, like every mortal body, is part of the constant flux of the universe. My circumstances, my intention, my karma–all created by me–have in turn created my current reality. My body is only a by-product of those forces. I exist as an individual only in my own mind. In the bigger Mind, that of the Collective, all the energy that comprises me is part of a vibrant, endless energy, rising and falling, coming together and moving apart. As the world of appearances cycles though Samsara, so do the bodies that we dwell in cycle through the inevitable stages of aging. I can’t preserve this body at any one stage, just as I can’t stop the cycling universe. I need to recognize that truth and not grasp it or fight it. And as my body becomes more burdensome, my mind frees me from it. While I’ll continue with the down dogs and the wrinkle cream, this body is not who I am. Who I am is my thoughts. And what I strive to be at one with is not a physical body but the Collective.
“Enlightenment, as taught in Zen, means that though every moment of change we remain in recognition of our oneness with the collective. Each of us is both the collective and a part of the collective. when we have this awakening, we can understand that the individual is the collective and the collective is the individual. They are inseparable and indistinguishable.”
Just Use This Mind (p.44)