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 laughter.
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.
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