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My Life Has Just Begun

Finding Buddhism in my 60s, I awaken to my mission to demonstrate what’s possible in life’s golden years.

Mission—Eric Guthman in Los Angeles, July 2023. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

by Eric Guthman
Los Angeles

I had lived a relatively comfortable and secure life until everything unraveled in my 50s. In 2012, my wife of 26 years passed away from cancer. The year prior, my career of 30 years, which I loved, came to an end, leaving me unemployed and seemingly void of skills relevant to the 21st-century workplace.

I was trying with all my strength to restart my life, stay afloat financially from all the medical bills and somehow maintain stability for my then-20-year-old daughter, whose life had been so profoundly interrupted. Grieving and scared, I felt stuck in a nightmare. 

Several difficult years passed and, by the beginning of 2016, I was barely hanging on—unfulfilled, unhappy and about to lose my home of 25 years. Devilish functions were having a field day with me, although back then, I was not even aware of what that meant.

A turning point came as I was having a conversation with a friend, a retired massage therapist. 

“What would you do if you could choose anything?” she asked me. 

“Maybe I could be a massage therapist… if I were 20 years younger.”

She reassured me that I wasn’t too old, and that I’d probably be great at it. The idea of starting over and recreating myself in my late 50s proved scary, but I thought: If not now, then when? I can’t go on doing what I’m doing.

After much consideration, I quit my job and signed up for a one-year certification program in massage therapy. Amid my reinvention, I met Jude, in 2016. When I walked into her home for the first time, I saw her altar and thought, Oh boy, what do we have here? She didn’t mention it but waited, instead, for me to ask.

“I chant for my happiness and the happiness of others,” she told me. It sounded like something I could wrap my head around. Months in, she asked, very gently, if I’d like to chant a few minutes with her. Her vast knowledge of Buddhism, along with her powerful faith experiences, stirred a curiosity in me, so I started chanting with her, and in September 2017, received the Gohonzon. Shortly thereafter, I took on the role of district men’s leader.

Eric and his wife, Jude, in Los Angeles, January 2022. Photo Courtesy of Eric Guthman.

That same year, I started my massage practice. It was hard, both physically and financially, however I began to slowly build my private practice and then started my own chair-massage company with Jude. All was going well until the pandemic shutdown. By mid-2020, I wasn’t sure that massage would even come back given the state of the pandemic. I had to find the courage to recreate myself… again!

I continued to chant and deepened my vow to support the members in my district, and to study and share Buddhism with people that I felt might connect with it.

I remained unclear about how my life could expand at this age when I came across this quote from Ikeda Sensei:

Life loses its dynamism from the moment we lose the passion with which to live it. No matter what our age, we cannot afford to let the flame within our heart grow dim. … We do not become unhappy because we grow old. We become unhappy only when we grow ever more unwilling to change as we age. (

I completed a one-year certification program to become a life coach. However, I was missing massage and the connections that I had with my clients. Later that year, I decided to start offering massages again. I soon discovered that these heart-to-heart interactions created tremendous value for my clients, as well as myself, and were vitally important to my sense of purpose in the world, and therefore my happiness. 

I have always been inspired by Sensei’s innate ability, even in the briefest interactions, to be totally present and deeply connect with the person in front of him. Through the power of his life condition, he makes every person feel that there is nothing more important to him than the present moment. I came to understand that my mission is best served by honoring my desire to connect with people’s hearts. This led me to rededicate myself to my massage practice and expand my life in additional ways that fully express my Buddha nature.

It’s become clear that my Buddhist practice, supporting the members of my district and earnestly chanting for the happiness of myself and others have brought me tremendous benefits.

In October 2021, I married Jude, the love of my life and soulmate. And just this year, my massage practice has grown over 75%, thus creating financial stability for me and my family. I have relaunched my chair-massage business, and recently received my certification as a personal trainer.

Every day I meet new clients and people curious about my life journey. Invariably, they tend to be inspired by the fact that I recreated myself in my 60s. It opens the door to explain that I’m a Buddhist practitioner and tell them what the practice has done for me. It’s been fulfilling to share my life with others in this way. 

I plan to work with men and women over the age of 50, to reenergize, reinvigorate and help them restore their own vitality. I will continue to provide massages as long as my body will allow me to. I’m planning on doing this well into my 70s.

At age 66, life for me in many ways has only just begun.

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

Eric Guthman: Let this faith guide you. I came to this practice rather late in life and it was kind of a surprise to find that my calling was massage. Give it a go in front of the Gohonzon: Ask for a clear path for whatever gifts or talents you bring to the world. What makes you unique, special? You’ll begin to see the path that’s yours and gain the confidence to walk it.

August 11, 2023, World Tribune, p. 5

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