樂齡暇滿身 (Joyful and Leisureful Aging)

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因工作的關係,我天天都與超過65歲的長者們在電話上進行生理及心理評估,至今一年有餘。

一開始我很不解也很驚訝,怎麼10個長者裡面,有9個都被診斷患有憂鬱症?剩下的一個可能「雖不中,亦不遠矣」?

長者不該是「含飴弄孫」嗎?這些長者怎麼了?

待我電訪的經驗一多,我便了解他們的憂鬱其來有自。

有句玩笑話—「少年看學歷,中年看經歷,老年看病歷」,有次我花了一番功夫,把落落長的醫療診斷跟長者確認後,例行性地問了句:「有什麼我沒提到,您要補充的嗎?」電話那頭幽幽地傳來:「我已經有這麼多病了,都醫不好,您還要我得什麼?」我連連道歉。

當我問:「您晚上睡得好嗎?有失眠嗎?有沒有覺得難過、孤單、焦慮的時候?」在睡不好跟心情低落的原因中,「想念已往生的配偶」是常見的答案;還有長者接連在一年內失去配偶與兒女;移民來美國的長者也有受思鄉之苦的。

有些長者避重就輕,把自己形容得「生猛健康得像一條活龍」,跟我預先收到的資料大相逕庭,在我旁敲側擊下,才知道長者很怕她一說不舒服,就要被「抓」去住院了,離開熟悉的家讓她太不安!再者,長者也有自尊,不想承認自己退化虛弱了。

住院真的是個壓力源,我以前在醫院上大夜班時,常遇到譫妄(又稱為日落症候群) 的長者,即使骨瘦如材的老媽媽都會突變,真的生猛得像一條活龍,拔點滴、胡言亂語、到處跑,我在後面苦苦追。

目前我電訪到最高齡的長者為94歲,她已經耳不聰、目不明,失智到「不知今夕是何年」,住在養老中心,由她的女兒代為回答,我以為這女兒是訪客,直到70歲的女兒說:「喔!我也是這養老中心的住戶。」我這才想到,是啊!這女兒也「老」了!

我常常關注「老」,如貧窮老人、獨居老人、受虐老人、流浪無家可歸老人、被孩子啃老的老人、老人身心照護等社會議題,有些似乎在亞洲國家(文化?)常見。

我們都會老,也並不是每個長者都能含飴弄孫。

那麼,我們要盡力當什麼樣的長者呢?佛光山開山祖師星雲大師說:「最幸福的是灑脫的老年人。」

(1)灑脫的老人──不一定要有老伴,有書為伴。(2)灑脫的老人──不一定兒女照顧,自己去普愛天下的兒女。(3)灑脫的老人──不壓迫子女,不執著子女;子女有所問,樂於開導指引,但子女怎樣做,不過問。(4)灑脫的老人──一杯茶,一份報紙。(5)灑脫的老人──每星期都有三五老友聚會談天。(6)灑脫的老人──酸甜苦辣,皆能品嘗。(7)灑脫的老人──南米北飯,皆能當飽。(8)灑脫的老人──蒔花除草,逍遙自在。(9)灑脫的老人──死後的地早就買好了。(10)灑脫的老人──不聽是非、不說是非、不傳是非、不怕是非。(11)灑脫的老人──心中有佛。

在疫情以前,我在西來寺當義工時,有次被陣陣笑聲吸引,原來是在松鶴學苑上課的長者們快樂地笑著,西來寺松鶴學苑本著「老吾老以及人之老」的精神,陪伴長者「活到老學到老」, 於2016年3月1日正式成立 ,藉由學習新知識和認識新朋友,維護老菩薩身心健康。(摘自官網,註一)

佛光山西來寺松鶴學苑的「樂齡暇滿長者」。  The joyful and leisureful aging seniors at FGS Hsi Lai Temple Senior Activity Program.  The 25th cohort (2/27/2024~6/4/2024) is currently open for enrollment   (來源:佛光山西來寺松鶴學苑;Source: FGS Hsi Lai Temple Senior Activity Program)

佛光山西來寺松鶴學苑的「樂齡暇滿長者」。 The joyful and leisureful aging seniors at FGS Hsi Lai Temple Senior Activity Program. The 25th cohort (2/27/2024~6/4/2024) is currently open for enrollment (來源:佛光山西來寺松鶴學苑;Source: FGS Hsi Lai Temple Senior Activity Program)

松鶴學苑的老菩薩們精神抖擻,好學精進,真是好美麗的一道風景,真好的「樂齡暇滿身」!從那時起,我便默默關注他們。

「樂齡暇滿身」一詞由佛學詞彙「暇滿人身」啟發而來,「樂齡」讀音為英文字「Learning」諧音,鼓勵老年人快樂學習而忘齡 ,「樂齡」便成為長者的代名詞。 「暇」是閒暇的意思,也就是有時間;「滿」是圓滿的意思,也就是有足夠的條件,「暇滿人身」,是指不會投胎到沒有修行機會的地方,或是轉生為不俱足修行條件的眾生 ,一般而言,俱足「八種有暇」和「十種圓滿」的十八暇滿人身,才有機會學佛。

我認為,短短兩字「暇滿」,包括了世間最好的祝福,祝您我都暇滿!

註一

佛光山西來寺松鶴學苑 https://www.ibpssonghe.org/


Joyful and Leisureful Aging: Wishing You a Life Full of Leisure and Fulfillment

As part of my job routine, I have been conducting physiological and psychological assessments over the phone with seniors over 65 for over a year now.

In the beginning, I was puzzled and surprised. How is it that out of 10 seniors, 9 are diagnosed with depression? What about the remaining one, perhaps “not far from it”?

Shouldn’t seniors be in the stage of “indulging in grandchildren”? What happened to these seniors?

As my experience grew, I’ve come to understand that the origins of their depression are deeply rooted.

There’s a joke: “Youth looks for education, middle age looks for experience, old age looks for medical records.” One time, after going through a lengthy medical diagnosis with a senior and regularly asking, “Is there anything I haven’t mentioned that you’d like to add?” A faint voice came from the other end of the phone, “I already have so many illnesses that can’t be cured, what else do you want from me?” I then sincerely apologized repeatedly.

When I ask, “Do you sleep well at night? Do you have insomnia? Do you feel sad, lonely, or anxious?” Among the reasons for sleep deprivation and low mood, “missing their deceased spouse” is one of the most common answers. Some seniors have even lost their spouses and children one after another within a year. Some immigrant seniors in the United States also suffer from homesickness.

Some seniors prefer to downplay their issues, describing themselves as “vigorous and healthy like a dragon.” This contrasts significantly with the information I had received beforehand. Through subtle probing, I discovered that these seniors fear that expressing any discomfort might lead to being “seized” and hospitalized, causing distress at the thought of leaving their familiar homes. Seniors also have their dignity and may not want to admit that they are experiencing health decline and weakness.

Indeed, hospitalization becomes a notable source of stress for them. During my past night shifts at the hospital, I frequently encountered seniors experiencing delirium, also known as sundowning. Even frail-looking grandmothers would suddenly transform, exhibiting a vitality reminiscent of a dragon – pulling out IVs, speaking incoherently, and darting around while I chased after them.

The oldest senior I have interviewed over the phone is 94 years old. She has already lost her hearing and vision, and her dementia has progressed to the point where she is “unaware of the present moment and uncertain about the current year.” She resides in a nursing home, and her daughter answers on her behalf. I initially thought the daughter was a visitor until the 70-year-old daughter said, “Oh! I’m also a resident of the nursing home.” It then dawned on me that yes, this daughter is also “old”!

I frequently focus on issues related to the elderly, encompassing societal issues such as impoverished seniors, those living alone, elderly abuse victims, elderly homeless, and seniors who continue to support their adult children financially. Additionally, I delve into subjects related to the physical and mental well-being of the elderly. Some issues seem prevalent in Asian countries (or cultures?).

We will all age, and it’s important to recognize that not every senior has the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of indulging in their grandchildren.

What kind of elderly should we strive to be? The founder of Fo Guang Shan (FGS), Venerable Master Hsing Yun, says, “The happiest elderly are carefree.”

(1) Carefree seniors – Don’t necessarily need a spouse; books can be companions.

(2) Carefree seniors – Don’t necessarily rely on children; love all children in the world.

(3) Carefree seniors – Don’t oppress or cling to children; willingly provide guidance when asked, but don’t interfere with how children handle their matters and affairs.

(4) Carefree seniors – A cup of tea, a newspaper, embodying simplicity and tranquility.

(5) Carefree seniors – Regularly meet with three to five old friends every week.

(6) Carefree seniors – Taste the sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy sides of life.

(7) Carefree seniors – Satisfied with both simple and extravagant meals.

(8) Carefree seniors – Gardening leisurely.

(9) Carefree seniors – Have their post-death arrangements in order.

(10) Carefree seniors – Don’t listen to gossip, don’t speak gossip, don’t spread gossip, and aren’t afraid of gossip.

(11) Carefree seniors – Have Buddha in their hearts.

Before the pandemic, I was drawn by waves of laughter while volunteering at Hsi Lai Temple. It turned out to be the elderly attending classes at FGS Hsi Lai Temple Senior Activity Program. In line with the spirit of “respecting the old as we respect our own parents,” Hsi Lai Temple’s Senior Activity Program accompanies seniors in their journey of “learning throughout life.” It officially commenced on March 1, 2016. Through acquiring new knowledge and making new friends, the program aims to uphold the physical and mental well-being of the elderly (excerpt from the official website).

The spirited and studious elderly at Lai Temple’s Senior Activity Program form a beautiful and inspiring sight, truly embodying the concept of “Joyful and Leisureful Aging” (樂齡暇滿身 lè líng xiá mǎn shēn). Since then, I have quietly kept an eye on them.

The term “Joyful and Leisureful Aging” (樂齡暇滿身 lè líng xiá mǎn shēn) is inspired by the Buddhist term “Leisureful and Fulfillful  Life” (暇滿人身 xiá mǎn rén shēn). The pronunciation of “樂齡” (lè líng, which means Joyful Aging) sounds similar to the English word “Learning,” encouraging seniors to find joy in learning and forget about their age. “樂齡” (lè líng) has become synonymous with seniors. “暇” (xiá) means leisure or free time, and “滿” (mǎn) means fulfillment or having sufficient conditions. “暇滿人身” (xiá mǎn rén shēn) refers to a state where one does not reincarnate into a place without opportunities for spiritual practice or as a being lacking the conditions for practice. Generally, only those with the “eight leisures” and “ten fulfillments,” the eighteen conditions for a fulfilled life, have the opportunity to study Buddhism.

I believe that the simple two words “暇滿” (xiá mǎn) encompass the best blessings one can have in life. Wishing everyone a life full of leisure and fulfillment!

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