FOOL: If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I'ld have thee beaten for being old before thy time.

LEAR: How's that?

LEAR: Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.

King Lear, Act 1, Scene  5

The Importance of Being Silly

Every time we see an ad touting a product designed to raise the libido, increase potency, and stimulate eros, the conviction gets ever more imprinted on the eldering population that the only fun you can have is in the bedroom. When you get older, however, more subtle and more deeply joyful possibilities arise..

Mardi Gras and Purim are approaching — seasons of rejuvenation. It seems to me that there are a number of ways in which elders can create possibilities for fun for themselves that not only will delight, but will refresh, stimulate, and heal the cells of the body. Norman Cousins healed from his illness by watching funny movies. You have surely heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

This is the season in which we can allow ourselves to be silly. My friend Bernie DeKoven is known as Dr. Fun. He is helping people find delight in win-win games. In fact, we had a conversation the other day. He is starting a play community. A play community! For years we have talked about how to let Silly out of the cage. Both “Serious” and “Silly” co­exist within us. Bernie thinks Serious has Silly imprisoned in most of us.

These two forces operate in our consciousness. Silly can’t take action because the force of Serious — who likes to think of itself as the Great Manager — overrules. Silliness gets bound up by the business-like approach of Serious, whose first question is always, “What’s the use?”

I once said to my son, “That was a stupid movie.” He replied, “No Daddy, it wasn’t stupid. It was silly, and I like silly movies.” That’s very, very discerning. Silly doesn’t get out often enough— so there’s this conspiracy not to let Silly out because Serious says Silly is stupid.

We need to re-learn how to play and let Silly out so that we can simply have fun. Sometimes the child in us does play, but we feel guilty. Sometimes the parent in us scolds us for gambling with or wasting our time. Very seldom does the adult in us get to play with high consciousness: High play facilitates the kind of communication in which my heart can communicate an emotion with your heart. Imagine that I put some music on and, with all my eighty-plus years, I look in the mirror and begin to dance. Objectively, I’m not a ballet dancer. But subjectively... OY! Am I a ballet dancer! If can make a leap, if I can make eight scissors on the way up! We don’t have a chance to use Silly in this way often enough. Someone once told me that people don’t stop playing because they get old:.  But no, people get old because they stop playing.

Silly brings us lots of vitamins! I once read of a research study in which they took samples of T-cells (cells which indicate immune function and general health) of elders before and after the experiment and got folks to wear the clothes they wore in the 1950s. The researchers then played the music of that era in a room decorated from that time and had them dance to the tunes they danced to in the 1950s. They then took T-cell samples again and showed an increase in T-cells after the merriment. It seemed to the participants that the burdens of the serious years had been lifted from their shoulders. They experienced more vitality and energy.

My suggestion is that you invite some friends over who would like to play silly with you. Dress up in funny clothes, play games in which everyone can win, and make time for fun and hilarity. Chances are that you will like the experience and that you will want to repeat it with your friends at least once a month. I suggest full moon times as the best time to invite Silly as a Master of the Revels. Now go have some fun with this!

from Memories of My Father

Those we love from the first
can't be put aside or forgotten,
after they die they still must be cried
out of existence, tears must make
their erratic runs down the face,
over the fullnesses, into
the craters, confirming,
the absent will not be present,
ever again. Then the lost one
can fling itself outward, its million
moments of presence can scatter
through consciousness freely, like snow
collected overnight on a spruce bough
that in midmorning bursts
into glittering dust in the sunshine

— Galway Kinnell


Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was an internationally recognized loving teacher who drew from many disciplines and cultures. He has was at the forefront of ecumenical discussions, enjoying close friendships with the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and many other leading sages of our time and was the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement which laid out the foundations for 21st-century Judaism.

He was instrumental in inspiring the convergence of ecology, spirituality, and religion and in his later years put special emphasis on Spiritual Eldering, or “Sage-ing” as he called it in his seminal book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older. Reb Zalman's “Sage-ing” work — work which commenced after he was 60 — was seminal in the emergence of a conscious aging movement in America and the inspiration of our own efforts with Second Journey. He died on July 8, 2014, at the age of 89. For more about this remarkable, gentle soul, visit the Reb Zalman Legacy Project.