Dear Older Self,
As you experience losses, limits and changes there will be a temptation to feel sorry for yourself. Self pity can be toxic to our hearts, minds and spirits because self pity can lead to despair. So, when you become aware of self pity in yourself please work to let it go.
Please remember, however, that learning to let go of self pity is not the same as letting go of grief. Grief is very different from self pity.
Grief is the courageous process of saying “good-bye” and “thank you” to the people, places and things that are no longer a part of our lives. Grief is an expression of our love. And, as such, grief moves us toward gratitude. Grief is a state of tender-heartedness and of vulnerability. Because of this, grief opens us to receive comfort from others and from God. Grief opens us to grace. All of this is healing. All of this is hopeful.
Self pity, however, is a process of closing our hearts to the gifts that are all around us and to the gifts we have been given in the past. It is a kind of forgetfulness of the “goodness and mercy that follow us all the days of our lives.” Self pity is based on the false assumption that we are alone, that we are forgotten, that we do not matter, that all hope is gone. It is a toxic focus that feeds bitterness and despair.
In order to let go of self pity it can be helpful to make a practice of remembering all the people who love you. It is also helpful to keep doing the things that you love as much as possible.
In order to remember those who love you, keep pictures around you of loved ones who are no longer with you and also of loved ones who are. Spend time remembering moments of laughter and connection. Remember moments of simply being together. You might make a list of memories of times you have spent with people who have been important to you. You could make an recording of yourself talking about these memories so that you could listen to it periodically. You might also think about writing an occasional thank you note to people who have blessed you in some way. And you might want to spend time thanking God for each of these people and for the ways you have been blessed by their lives.
Remember your widowed friend who decided when she reached 90 to throw a party for a dozen of her closest female friends? She not only celebrated her many years but she actively reminded herself of these women who loved her. Each one received a small gift and a personal note of gratitude for the gifts of love and friendship they had given.
Letting go of self pity can also be accomplished by staying engaged with the activities you love. It might be helpful to keep a list of some of your favorite things. Whether it is dancing, gardening, writing or listening to other people’s stories, reading novels, or playing with children, enjoying your pets, or being outside near a lake or ocean. List as many things as you can think of that have been a source of joy for you. Then do as many of these things as you can, as often as you can. You may need to be creative in finding ways to modify these activities. If you can’t dance on your feet, dance in your chair. If you can’t write, record your thoughts, memories or stories. If your eyesight will not allow you to read, get audio books from the library or the Braille Institute. If you can’t swim or even walk beside the nearest body of water, ask someone if they can take you in your wheelchair.
Remember that video of a flash mob of people seventy years old and older dancing in a public square? One of the women was in her wheelchair. A gentleman was moving her wheelchair to the music as she waved her arms and danced in her seat. The two of them were letting go of any despair they might have felt. They were embracing life.
Keep in mind the two elderly women you knew who had lost most of their eyesight. They both loved reading. When their failing eyesight meant that they could no longer read, they agreed together to order audio books from the Braille Institute and talk together about their latest favorites. They too were letting go of despair and staying engaged in life. They were doing something they loved and they were doing it together.
Dear older self, celebrate the people you love. Enjoy the people who love you. Do the things you love. These are the things that will help protect you from despair and self pity.
Make room in your life for remembering all who love you. Make room for doing what you love.
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