Friday, February 1, 2013

Aging ... and All That Comes With It ... Is a Laughing Matter

During this past year as I was learning to cope with shingles and post herpetic neuralgia, it occurred to me that the constant pain I experienced just might prove to be as the doctors warned--with me for the rest of my life.  At first this possibility saddened me, and then it made me think of the millions of people who have dealt with pain all their lives.  I wondered if any of them had also discovered some non-prescription techniques that can help us cope with not only chronic pain, but also with coming to peace with the inevitable aging process.

I finally recognized that whenever I was doing something I really loved to do, like writing an essay or a book -- or spending time with loved ones -- I was able to totally bypass pain for hours at a time.  This was a gift, as it also reminded me that in accepting this illnesss and other aging signs, I was led to coping with them and being grateful for what I could still do, instead of bemoaning what I couldn't.

I asked Dr. Gladys McGarey, an internationally renowned holistic physician, who is in her ninth decade, about laughter being "good medicine."  She smiled and shared the following facts: Twenty years ago Norman Cousins, a highly respected and longtime editor of The Saturday Review, was diagnosed with a serious systemic disease --ankylosing spondylitis.  He believed that laughter could cure it, and proceeded to rent some Laurel & Hardy, and Marx Brothers videos to watch.  His bestselling book, "Anatomy of an Illness," chronicles his success with his unusual "treatment."

Since then, she explained, scientific studies have confirmed that laughter boosts the immune system, and lessens pain by increasing the level of endorphins, the body's natural pain killer.  It also supresses epinephrine, the stress-producing hormone, lowers blood pressure and has a beneficial effect on overall well-being.  Doctors and scientists are also proving that an individual's belief in the modality they select to use has an affect on the desired result.

What a wonderful, confirming bit of news.  I learned that it's possible to just start laughing out loud, in the privacy of my home, and to continue until I feel my energy shift to a higher vibration, which means a more positive outlook on life.  I've also learned that whether it's me or a friend who is coping with pain and/or aging symptoms, when I call them up and focus on lighthearted conversation, we both feel better.  Also the laughter that ensues from a funny movie, or video, or TV program can work wonders for our intention to stay on the sunny side of life.

Personally I have always considered laughter one of my favorite life gifts.  I can burst out laughing at the drop of a feather.

For example, recently I was getting ready for bed and had just removed my glasses, so I'm now dependent on my "old" eyes.  Suddenly something landed on my forearm.  I couldn't see if it was a centipede, a moth or a small scorpion -- the poisonous type.  As I moved my hand to brush away the intruder, it swooped gracefully down to the carpet.  I quickly grabbed a hard-cover book and pinned the culprit to the floor.  For good measure I jumped, well, stomped on the book several times.  I decided I'd had enough excitement for one day and would wait until morning to view the "body."

When I awakened I went to the bathroom for a "burial tissue," put on my glasses, and gingerly removed the book to reveal my prey.  There on my beige short-pile rug lay not a fanged, horned stinging creature ready to take a bite out of me, but instead a small feather, probably an escapee from one of my pillows.  I smiled to think of all the adrenalin and drama I had conjured up in my mind.  I picked up the feather with the tissue and deposited it in the great-white eddy, toilet, and flushed it away.  The ridiculousness of the situation settled in and up bubbled laughter that was so full I had to hold onto the nightstand.

My body was energized by the laughter, and my heart and mind were now prepared for more of the same.  What a wonderful way to begin a day.  Now I know that not only can laughter overcome pain for hours at a time, it can also serve as an open door to understanding that aging is no less a sacred gift than being born.

Several months ago I began experimenting by sharing my aging symptoms ("badges of courage") with friends and family.  After I told my "feather" story and tossed in such realities as receding gums, cataracts and low energy, they smiled as if to say, "I can top that," and proceeded to do so.  The complaints included the usual, from grey hair to losing hair, hearing, and vision, together with all the challenges related to assimilation, circulation, digestion and elimination, and finally skeletal problems.

The interesting thing is that the conversations always included laughter.  I firmly believe the dynamic that results from such openness creates a bond that accepts aging as "what is," laughts about it, and puts a lighter spin on it.  In that moment our shared heritage and destiny unites us and suddenly -- in this terribly disconnected world we're feeling warm and fuzzy, and connected.

I figure since aging is mandatory, and pain seems to be high on the list of maladies, why not use them as gifts to learn from, and to celebrate our conscious awareness by putting more fun in our lives.  This could lead to a lighthearted wiggle in our walk or a secret sparkle in our eyes, which would brighten our day and give younger people hope for the future.

To tickle your funny bone and strike your fancy, here are a few of my favorite, funny, inspiring and lighthearted quotes on aging:

You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there.      ~George Burns

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in 70 or 80 years.  Your body changes, but you don't change at all. ~Doris Lessing

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful and reverent -- that is a triumph over old age. ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Once you are over the hill, you begin to pick up speed. ~Charles M.  Schulz

You don't stop laughing because you grow old.  You grow old because you stop laughing.  ~George Bernard Shaw

We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work it's way through Congress. ~Will Rogers
Copyright 2013 by Fern Stewart Welch

The author's books: "Tea with Elisabeth," recipient of the 2010 Silver Award for Non-fiction; "You Can Live a Balanced Life In An Unbalanced World, and "The Heart Knows the Way --How to Follow Your Heart to a Conscious Connection with the Divine Spirit Within," are available at and other booksellers, as well as bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble.