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September 2, 2011

Aging: Jowls and the Truth of Impermanence ~ Diane D’Angelo

Pass the Oil of Oy Vey, Please….

Last week held a momentous event. Getting reading for work, I turned my head at just the right angle and caught the image in a mirror. There they were: the unmistakable beginnings of…..shudder…..jowls. I’ve learned to deal with not being able to wear high heels anymore (God, I miss ‘em), have accepted other saggy indignities, but eesh maneesh — this is a new one. It was kind of like seeing a baby bump for the first time, only instead of knowing that the impending social irritant would be people feeling free to touch my belly, the opposite will happen. I am well on my way to becoming irrelevant.

Now before you rush to judgment about my silly female affectations, jump in to reflexively shoot reassurances/advice or dismiss this post entirely (after all, Elephant Journal does seem to love posts about sex, yoga sex and sex pop culture, albeit in a Buddhist-y kind of way), hang with this for me a few, won’t you?

The surprise in all of this is how once, again, how very human, how unexceptional I am. For what my reaction reveals is that for all the meditation, the mindfulness practice, the acceptance proselytizing (once a therapist….), I’m still just trying to beat the rap of impermanence, illness and yes, death. Damn. Here comes another layer of ego to slough away.

I knew I was vain, but sheesh, my changing appearance frightens me. I no longer recognize that woman in the mirror. Superficially, I can say that I’m scared about diminishing attractiveness and sexuality. Or the encroaching realization that perhaps many of my early professional accomplishments had more to do with youthful looks than actual talent (Ouch!).

Those things are true of course, but the bottom line is that while I now clearly see the inevitability of my death and have come light years from the existential terrors it used to evoke, I want it to come on MY terms. A painless event in soft-focus would be my preference to the more likely crotchety decline. Did I mention that my hearing is also starting to pay the rent for all those great concert seats?

And it’s times like these that taking refuge in the sangha works. It really does. For I am not alone.

Ram Dass recounts that when he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed, he lost all sense of his practice. Taken aback by the lack of spiritual grace, he came to see how once again the ego had lulled him into a comfortable, arrogant rut. I’ve read stories about other people I’ve admired who struggled with the aging process, too. As Allen Ginsberg once said, “The suffering itself is not so bad, it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”

Needless to say, I’m paying closer attention. And for that, I remain grateful.

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Diane D’Angelo is a writer and civic engagement advocate based in Phoenix, AZ. She is grateful for the work of Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron and Susan Piver. They’ve helped make her hard row to hoe just a little softer.

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