Dear Older Self,
People close to you told you when you were in your twenties
that you were overly serious. But, over the years, you have
learned to not take everything so seriously. You have embraced
As you grow older you will need to continue to let go of
being too serious. You will need to continue to grow in your
ability to laugh. What a delightful assignment this could be!
It might be the most enjoyable recommendation of any of the
notes to yourself in this entire collection.
When I talk about learning to laugh, I do not mean laughing
at someone else’s expense. Not ever. I mean laughing at life. I
mean laughing as a way of letting go of resistance. Laughing as a
way to embrace what is. Laughing as a playful form of surrender.
This might include laughing at the things that cause you needless shame. Like laughing at the steady movement south of the skin and muscles that have come loose and are steadily responding to the call of gravity. Or laughing at that small animal that now seems to be permanently hanging from your upper arms, imbedded under the skin, swaying around like ababy sloth.
It could also include laughing at your own diminishing abilities.
Like your crazy memory lapses.
Please try to avoid being like your loved one who took himself
too seriously. It tortured him to not be able to remember a
person’s name—a task he had taken great pride in over the years.
He would try to recall a name and when the name did not arrive
quickly on the tip of his tongue, he would become angry. His
anger, of course, took up so much mental energy that there was
no way for the lost name to resurface to consciousness. And this
only made him more frustrated. It also made him more unpleasant
to be around.
Think about the contrast with your elderly friend who had
developed the ability to laugh in such moments. Her memory
was amazing. But sometimes recall was slow. Like the time you
were helping her walk to the bathroom and she was telling you
about a friend of hers. She could not remember the friend’s
name. So she quietly waited for the name to come to her. When
she finally remembered, she was already using the bathroom,
with you on the other side of a partially closed door. “Lorraine!”
she shouted, and then she laughed and laughed. You could not
help laughing with her. Her hilarity was contagious. The moment
was pure joy.
You have already had a few good laughs at yourself over this
very kind of situation. Remember the time when you put a piece
of left-over pizza from lunch in the refrigerator at work? You
wrote the word “pizza” on a sticky note and put it on your desk
so that you would remember to take the piece of pizza home. After a long afternoon of intense work, you looked at the note
and had no idea why it was there. “Pizza?” you said. After a
couple of minutes you remembered and started to laugh. You
laughed. And laughed. You still laugh at this crazy moment.
These moments will become more frequent. Keep laughing.
Life can feel so serious sometimes. Here we are, in these
notes, carrying on about changes and losses. It requires a kind
of mindfulness to be open to humor, and to seek humor, on a
regular basis in the midst of life’s challenging realties. So, pay
attention to whether or not your brow always seems furrowed,
or if your mind always seems filled with worries, or if your heart
feels heavy all the time. As you can, look for gifts of humor in
the midst of it all.
Sometimes very serious situations can offer moments of
humor. It is good to stay open to this possibility. Remember the
elderly friend you took to the ER, who received a large dose of
intravenous Lasix. The Lasix was given to help her body get rid
of excess fluid that was putting pressure on her heart and lungs.
So it wasn’t very long before she needed a bed pan. It turned
out that she had never in her long life had the need to be on a
bed pan. So the thought of not being allowed to get up to walk
to the bathroom and having to figure out a bed pan at her age
struck her as pretty funny. She started to laugh. It was even
funnier to her when she realized that her nurse’s aide was a male.
So she laughed harder. But the real hilarity ensued when the bed
pan proved to be too tiny to contain all the fluids the Lasix had
sent its way. With only thin curtains for privacy in this busy ER,
there was no one there at the time who could have missed your
joint chorus of laughter as her bed pan overflowed.
You don’t have to wait until you forget a name or have a mishap
in an ER to laugh. Let laughter be a part of every day. Make
it a point to watch comedies. As much as possible, spend time
with children, so you can let them remind you how to play and how to laugh. Notice your new limits and embrace them with
Laughter is good for you. It offers perspective. It floods your
brain with endorphins. It blesses others with moments of joyful
bonding. It moves you out of the tensions caused by resistance
and into the grace of surrender.
So, dear older self, let go and laugh.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com