Dear Older Self,
You came into the world equipped with the an enormous capacity for wonder, awe and curiosity. Everything was new. There was so much to discover. As an infant you reached for the noses and mouths of those holding you. Then you struggled to crawl toward the object in front of you on the floor for the pure joy of exploration. When you learned to walk you picked up sticks and leaves and rocks on your path, exploring them with curiosity. You were hard wired to take in the world, to learn and delight in it all.
These gifts of wonder, awe and curiosity are still yours. Even now. They are beautiful gifts. They are sacred gifts. They are yours to rediscover if you have laid them aside or yours to continue to use if you have been enjoying them all along.
Learning is one of the ways we stay engaged. It is a way to keep our minds active. It is a way to keep our sense of wonder and gratitude alive.
The changes and losses in your life can drag you into a place of mental withdrawal. You may be tempted to disengage your mind. You may be tempted to give up on life while you are still alive. You may be tempted to buy into the old myth that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. It is true that you may not learn as quickly as you once did, but you can still learn.
You live in an era of endless opportunities for learning and discovery. The internet not only offers search engines, it offers online courses about just about anything you can imagine. You can take language lessons, cooking lessons, learn about math, or the ocean, or the wild life of the plains of Africa. You can read what others are doing to bring peace and justice to this world. You can read people’s faith stories, listen to gifted musicians, educate yourself about the latest technological advances.
There are also opportunities for seniors in community centers, college campuses, libraries, churches and retreat centers. These are places where you can engage face-to-face with others, make new friends, enjoy socializing as you learn and discover new things. Unlike traditional classrooms there are no grades and there is no competition to this learning experience. It is for the pure joy of learning.
You have heard elderly acquaintances talk about feeling selfish for engaging in ongoing learning and discovery. If this is all you do, it might feel unbalanced. But if this is one of the things you are doing, while finding ways to be of service to others through your words, actions and prayers, it can help you to keep living as fully as possible each day.
I encourage you to be cautious about spending your time listening to news broadcasts that tend to sensationalize the headlines and present only negative stories. Limit the amount of time you devote to things that create fear rather than hope. I also encourage you to be cautious about filling your living space with the drone of mindless television programming. An occasional show that brings humor or a well-told story can be a delight. Too much mindless programming can make your brain go numb. You don’t need that kind of ‘entertainment.’
Remember the man you knew in his late 80’s who lived in a senior care center and spent time in their library every day? He would read the news from a variety of sources and he read many of the books that were available. Every time you visited him he was eager to engage you in conversation about the book or article he was reading, always with a desire to hear your perspective on the subject at hand. It was a delight to spend time with him, exchanging ideas and reflections about everything from theology to science to world events.
Remember the elderly woman who asked all her friends who traveled to bring back a copy of newspapers or magazines from the countries they visited? She eagerly explored them, in spite of the language barrier simply for the joy of holding another part of the world in her hands. This same woman always had a book she was reading and thinking about. She even had a friend who read books with her and they held book club meetings over the phone to discuss what they had read.
Dear older self, you are here, on this earth, being given the gift of life one day at a time. You still carry in you the gifts of wonder and awe and curiosity. Allow yourself to enjoy these gifts and to engage the world around you using these gifts. Let go of disengaging and embrace learning.
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