In early 1997, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an effort began to create a residential sangha for the elderly based on a triad of values: contemplative practice, service to community, and respect for the environment. The structure for this enterprise is Jubilados, a nonprofit organization whose name, translated from Spanish, means “those who are joyous.” The group was cofounded by Santa Fe residents Geoffrey Landis, founder of the Santa Fe Vipassana Sangha, and Stefan Dobuszynski, a psychotherapist, meditator and social activist.
Jubilados has since acquired a long-neglected 13-acre farm on the outskirts of Santa Fe that will be used to create a low-cost, rent-based community for over 120 people, two-thirds over the age of sixty. They recognize that, for many people, a life built around a spiritual core takes on added value with age. Since 1998, Jubilados has also sponsored annual national symposia on the theme of conscious aging and has fostered creation of a nonresidential community of elders who meet regularly to engage in spiritual practice, yoga and discussions about their own aging and dying. This community also participates in various forms of community service.
On Friday mornings at Jubilados House—the old adobe farmhouse that currently dominates the project’s land—a group of community members meets to discuss various facets of the aging process. Recently, Abhi and Sid Hudson, who live at Jubilados House and serve both as its caretakers and the overseers of its Sunday morning contemplative practice, were asked how they came to be involved in Jubilados. Other community members chimed in:
Abhi Hudson (age 72): My partner, Sid, and I were living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We felt cut oﬀ from our cultural roots and from the meditative atmosphere that we yearned for. One day we picked up an Inquiring Mind and saw an announcement by Geoﬀrey Landis of his dream for a living community of [older] people involved in contemplative practice. So we leapt into our car and drove all the way to New Mexico to check out Jubilados.
We participated in the ﬁrst symposium as volunteers and embraced the organization as if it were our long-lost mother. By late winter, several Jubilados members had begun to meet each Friday morning to support one another and to deal with their own personal and spiritual issues. Here it is, eighteen months later, and I have probably been one of the most regular attendees. We are now a close-knit, loving group, and I feel that this is my tribe. People whom I would not normally have gone out and sought as friends have become a kind of extended family. They have infused my life with an enormous amount of discovery, about both myself and human beings in general.
Yvonne Carleton (age 80): I grew up in England, came to this country, got married, and raised a family. When my family ﬂew the coop, I really missed being connected with people intimately. Then I took a workshop with [rabbi and gerontologist] Zalman Shachter called “From Aging to Saging,” where I met Geoﬀrey and Stefan. They started talking to me about Jubilados, and I went to their ﬁrst symposium, where I met people who were my peers. All of my life, I’ve been used to having much younger people be my peers. It was a big boost for me to meet people my own age who were “like” thinkers and had “like” attitudes. It’s the underlying spirituality of Jubilados that really attracts me. I feel supported in my spiritual journey, not just in my everyday life.
Sid Hudson (age 76): Abhi and I met over twenty years ago and decided to share an inner journey together. We were on the volunteer staﬀ at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts in 1991–92. Now, for perhaps the ﬁrst time, I feel I have a spiritual home. I think that’s because at this stage of my life I really want to talk about the aging process and how to deal with it.
I belonged to an Albuquerque sangha for a while. I was its oldest member. I was with people who were practicing vipassana along with me, but their focus in life was on things like jobs, midlife crises and relationships. These concerns were very diﬀerent from mine. They had never been old, and they were in a diﬀerent place. I’ve also hung out in senior centers. But I’ve never been able to ﬁnd any organization, even those devoted partly or completely to seniors, as fulﬁlling as Jubilados. The concept here isn’t that revolutionary, but the feeling, the ambiance and the reality are diﬀerent. A lot of groups talk about making life better for the elderly, but this is a functioning model.
Abhi: For the last twenty years, Sid and I have deliberately located ourselves where we could tap into spiritual communities. Inevitably, wherever we’ve gone, we’ve always been the oldest people. There’s usually been a gap of ten to twenty years between us and other members of the group. And let’s face it, when you’re forty, you’re not focused on your body falling apart in the same way as when you’re seventy. Nor are you looking death in the face quite so directly, at the ways your energy makes you have to make choices about what you do, or at having to depend on other people to help you.
This group diﬀers from mainstream aging groups in that it is willing to do a dance back and forth between the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows. It’s willing to face the really tough stuﬀ without becoming all gloom and doom, but rather to ﬁgure out how to be with it wisely. At the same time, we are able to laugh and have a certain lightness and joyousness about aging.
Yvonne: Even my children don’t want to talk about my aging and dying. They’re not interested. Nowhere have I found such a focus as we have here. We’re not trying to be giddy and gay, to show that we’re not deteriorating and dying. We’re simply showing who we are. It really feels like we’re starting a movement that’s going to change—or at least contribute to changing—the face of aging in our culture.
Abhi: It strikes me that Jubilados has a fresh take on this whole dicey realm by basing itself on the three prongs of using our environment skillfully, being in service to others, and embracing our inner lives. Along with that goes a dedication to ﬁerce honesty and a willingness to step into territory that is diﬃcult. In our Friday morning group, we have discussions about how people might simplify their lives, how they might become less clinging and anxious about holding on to home, family, belongings and so on. I’ve expressed a fear of my body changing in a way that leaves me wheelchair-bound. The idea of living in that realm is most distressing to me. Yet now I’m more accepting of the possibility of living inside my own inner adventures. The idea of becoming inﬁrm is simply another kind of challenge.
Sid: I ﬁnd that the concepts of impermanence and nonattachment are at the very center of my inner journey. I’m constantly aware of them. I’ve had a heart attack and have recovered very nicely. Now when I talk about clinging I am talking about even clinging to one’s life as a form of attachment. This insight is central to me in profound ways. There are moments of feeling, “Well, it’s okay.” There’s a sense of contentment, that life is temporary and we’re not going to change that. I’ve decided that the issue for me is to continue to work with how I go and the process of letting go.
Gayla Bacon (age 57): I once worked with a man who had AIDS. He taught me how to garden using bonsai plants. I always think of him when it comes to attachment and letting go. When I would start cutting on a bonsai plant, I would ask myself if this was a place I could or should cut. Now in my own life, I ask myself when I let go of something whether my life is going to become more whole, more spiritual, more beautiful, as a result of that letting go. It’s about giving up control and saying, “If I cut this and it’s not right, then that’s okay, too.”
My own life-threatening cancer came out of the blue. I’d never been ill in my life. I remember ﬂying to Dallas for chemotherapy. I used to be a nervous ﬂier, and I sat there saying to myself, “Y’know, if the plane goes down, it’s no big deal.” My cancer taught me so much about impermanence in that moment. My fear of ﬂying was secondary because I didn’t know what was going to happen to my life anyway.
Yvonne: For several years I’ve had a feeling that I want to exit life when I get to eighty-two. By having a deadline, it helps me think about impermanence and about what I want to do with the rest of my life. If it’s only two years more, how do I want to spend it? Impermanence has made my life much more signiﬁcant in a way, because so much of the time I have pushed away the fact that I’m dying. As Zalman Shachter says, “We back into death in our society; we don’t really look at it.” When I reach eighty-two, I think I will be ready to quit. Death is an exciting event—so much a part of life, as important as birth. I’m open to whatever is going to occur.