Dear Older Self,
You may find yourself resisting the changes and growing vulnerabilities of aging because of fear. But you might also find yourself resisting because of feelings of shame. Shame is that belief that if people knew you fully, they would reject you. It is that feeling that you are less-than others. Or the sense that your needs make you look weak and unloveable.
You know how shame can push people to cover up, hide, pretend, numb, distract, go silent, refuse help from others and do all kinds of other crazy stuff. You have seen the crazy things that shame can make a person do. You have seen an elderly loved one who was blind pound her chest Tarzan-like as she refused help with organizing her medications. She insisted she could “do it herself” when you had just let her know that her medications were scattered all over the bathroom.
Shame has led you to do this kind of crazy stuff yourself. When your first child was born, and was suddenly sent off to the neonatal intensive care unit, you refused to allow friends to come see you. When you needed support the most, you resisted out of shame—shame that was connected to feeling so vulnerable. You were acting much like the blind, elderly, loved one who insisted on self reliance when she needed help the most. For both of you, shame kept you from opening your hearts to receive what you so desperately needed.
Shame can cause us to push away our deep longing for love. Love is like oxygen for our souls. We gasp for it. We need it to survive. But shame tells us we don’t deserve it, or that we shouldn’t need it.
To the extent that human love has failed us, to the extend that we ourselves have failed at loving others, we come to distrust love. So we fall back on self-reliance. We become determine not to need anything from others. The reality is that our longing for love is built into who we are as humans. It never goes away, no matter how much we hate it, push it away, or yell mean things at it.
What I want you to keep in mind, dear older self, is that the antidote to shame is humility. Not humiliation. Not thinking less of oneself. Quite the opposite. Humility is all about embracing one’s own dignity and worth and honoring the dignity and worth of all others.
Humility grows in the soil of knowing that we need and long for love. It comes from learning that in spite of our fears we are loved and valued. It comes from knowing that love and valuing are gifts given to us from the beginning. They are ours. Always. Our dignity and our worth are gifts from our Creator who loves us unconditionally.
Knowing ourselves to be loved and valued makes possible a deep knowing that others are also loved in this way. All others. For this reason humility is marked by respectfulness, kindness, forgiveness and goodness. It is marked by fair play, justice and mercy.
The kinds of behaviors that humility encourages are a stark contrast to the crazy behavior encouraged by shame. Unlike shame that can make us want to refuse help and push away love, humility allows us to be vulnerable, authentic, open to help, and grateful for love.
You have seen the gifts that humility brings as you have observed the generation ahead of you. Think about the 89 year old woman you knew who went to a counselor because she wanted to work to restore her relationships with her adult children. Think about the elderly man who was free to share tears of gratitude and grief as he said his last good-byes to his family. And keep in mind the aging men and women you have known who learned to receive the support they needed with genuine gratitude.
One of the gifts available to you as you age, dear older self, is the opportunity to let go of shame in new ways and to embrace humility more fully. You are loved as you are. You are valued as you are. There is no shame in your aging, or your weaknesses, or your needs. There is no shame in your longing for love.
Humility offers you gifts that are vital for your well being as you age. Humility will give you the peace of mind to accept your growing limits without shame. Humility will give you the capacity to receive support from others with gratitude. It will allow you to age with grace.
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