I have something in common with both Winston Churchill and Oliver Sacks.   Yes I know I am neither a great politician nor an esteemed neurologist known for my brilliant essays written for the lay public.   However, all three of us suffer from a condition known as prosopagnosia, or “brain blindness”.   People suffering from this diagnosis have a malfunction of the fusiform gyrus, the specialised area of the brain which determines facial recognition.   This disorder puts us at a serious disadvantage in social situations and I have often been accused of being a snob, by the person I do not recognise.   I bit more understanding would be appreciated!

My niece, living in Canada, drew my attention to a mind engaging article by Robert Sapolsky entitled “The biology of Us and Them,” which highlights a further important function of the fusiform gyrus.  Because of the role that his small area of the brain plays in facial recognition, it, in turn, plays a role in the formation of social prejudice. We feel more positive towards people who look like us, as have a natural tendency to be more favourably disposed to those who have similar behaviour patterns as ourselves, as well as those who have a comparable appearance

As Sapolsky points out in his analysis, both humans and animals favour those of our species who are most like ourselves in their physical appearance.   Despite the fact that today many of us who live in big cities live in culturally diverse environments, most people will have more friends who bear a physical likeness to themselves, than those who differ in appearance.   No doubt education and familiarity helps us to minimise these barriers of physical appearance, but the gut reaction of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our unconscious reactions, will demonstrate during an experiment in an MRI machine, a definite preferential reaction to photographs of similar faces to the subject and those which differ in physical qualities.   There will be an instantaneous negative reaction to a physiognomy which differs from our own.   This reaction may be adapted when the subject allows cultural influences to overcome his initial prejudice.

From this theoretical understanding of an inherent bias which we possess for a preference to people who are both physically and culturally similar to us, I am going to introduce a contemporary controversy which has elicited heated debate.   Being a secular Jew the current events of the nation of Israel are of particular interest to me.   One of the most prominent political divides in politics in that country is around the treatment of the Arab citizens within the state of Israel. Such a controversy has erupted over the past few days.

With the elections coming up in next month, Netanyahu who has been the right wing president of the state for the past 14 years is being seriously challenged by a centrist party which is forming a coalition with some of the Arab political parties.   This has resulted in the prime minister supporting his colleague who has made some statements around the danger of the Israeli Arab Parties, with which his opponent intends to form a coalition.  Netanyahu feeling insecure about his political future has pointed out the danger of having Arab political parties as members of the ruling party.

Netanyahu was responding to comments on social media by Israeli TV presenter Rotem Sela who wrote on Instagram on Saturday, “When the hell will someone in this government broadcast to the public that Israel is a country of all its citizens? And the Arabs, God have mercy, are also human beings. So are the Druze, so are homosexuals and by the way so are lesbians….and, shockingly, the left.”   Both Gal Gadot, international star of the film Wonder Woman, and the President of Israel have support Sela

Netanyahu supports his comments by quoting the contents of the new Nation-State Law which was passed in Israel a few months ago and similar sensitivities were aroused.  This controversial law states that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is our state, the state of the Jews. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to cast doubt on this, and so to undercut the foundations of our existence and our rights. Today we etched in the stone of law: This is our state, this is our language, this is our anthem, and this is our flag.”

An unfairly brief background excursion into the historical background may help the reader understand this gut reaction of the Prime Minister.     The Jews have a 2000 year history of being discriminated against and have suffered, and fought long and hard for the Jewish state.   A sad reflection is that there needed to be a Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews to give the motivation for the UN to create the conditions for the creation of this Jewish Nation State.

I think that the amygdala of Jews has become super activated because of this difficult history.  There is an unconscious reaction when a Jewish person’s insecurity is threatened.   It is all due to so many years of being a nation of outsiders.     So whilst I can agree with Galot, Siler and the President for their support of universal human rights, the rights of Arab citizens within the state of Israel, I can also understand the biological basis of the gut reaction of Israelis who feel that their culture and lifestyle is being threatened by giving political power to the Arab parties.

 

I was initiated into Mindfulness and Meditation through an academic route by undertaking a two year diploma course at our local university.   However, I have become aware of the debt that is owed to Buddhism for its unique and valuable contribution to our present understanding of the human condition, so have frequently attended meditation sessions at a local Buddhist Centre.  When I learned that this centre has a Bardo group which meets monthly, my curiosity was piqued and I had my initiation into a Death Café this afternoon.

Death and dying form an integral part of the Buddhist tradition, a subject which is openly discussed in the East, but a topic that is surrounded by taboos in the West and only vocalised under very explicit circumstances.   I have attended numerous meetings at this particular Buddhist Centre and meditate there regularly, but was feeling a little out of my comfort zone attending this gathering which was so boldly and openly being called a Death Café.   Curiosity and my need to experience novel events allowed me to overcome my trepidation.

Between death and our next rebirth the Tibetans believe we experience an intermediate gap; this gap is called the Bardo.    Whilst I do not have a belief in rebirth, I was interested to learn the Buddhist way of supporting people in the last stages of their earthly existence.   The term bardo can additionally be more loosely used for describing any space that occurs between two states.   The transition from sleep to wakefulness, or the interval between meditating and coming back to interacting with the present moment, are also considered to be states of Bardo.

A group of about fifteen people were gathered for the meeting which the facilitator opened with some guidelines for the participants. She informed us that there were other Death Cafés operating in and around Cape Town.   Each gathering followed its own procedures and there did not exist any ideal protocol or favoured procedure.   Without being prescriptive a Death Café is a space for the participants to share their ideas and emotions around their personal experiences of the death of loved ones, with participants acting as support for each other.   It is a space in which people are encouraged to talk about their own experiences, rather than to engage in deep psychological theory.   People from all religious denominations are welcome to the group which includes non-believers and sceptics, as well.  The usual rules around confidentiality were mentioned as well as the need for everyone to be given a chance to express themselves.

The rationale for people attending this Saturday afternoon meeting were many and varied, as were the ages of those present which ranged from a young woman in her 20’s, to others of middle age and a few seniors, as well.

Many of the more senior participants spoke about their difficulty in disposing of their physical possessions.   One lady spoke about how she had sold many hundreds of books, but still had many beautiful books, illustrated with beautiful Tibetan objets d’art which she never looks at, but she nonetheless could not bear to part with them.   A middle aged gentleman spoke about how his memorabilia were packed away in a large bin in his garage.   He knew he would never look at the contents but was unable to part with material of such a personal nature.   Someone else spoke about her elderly mother spending time sitting in her wheel chair in the garage.   Her redundant possessions were stored in this external area and she spent time sharing the space with her beloved possessions.

It made me wonder whether this attachment to objects was a characteristic of this particular generation.   With today’s move toward minimalism, maybe the present generation of young people will not have the same feelings about their possessions when they reached the end of their life!

I became aware of the value of placing my reminiscences into a digital format with my personal blog posts living in an electronic format which does not pollute any land space.    Whilst listening to these reports about hanging on to belongings, I felt pleased I had instructed friends and family some years ago to forgo giving me presents on the occasion of my birthday.   I had reached the stage where physical things had started to lose their importance.   I have everything I need.

Varied experiences of difficulty around the acceptance of death were articulated.   In one instance the daughter did not want to discuss the funeral arrangements with her elderly mother.  This lady had definite ideas around how this last rite should be commemorated and because of her daughter’s reluctance to speak about it she had written detailed instructions to be followed on her death.   In other instances participants mentioned the problems they had when elderly family members were not prepared to accept they were at the last stage of their life.   They refused to talk about arrangements around their death.

There were differing opinions on the terminology to use in describing the state of death.   Someone took strong exception to bereaved people talking about their next of kin as having “passed on.”   She felt the use of the direct terminology was important.   “People do not pass on,” she proclaimed, “people die.”   No euphemisms were permissible for this lady.

The constructive meeting ended with the facilitator giving us the chance to quietly attend to any strong feelings we may be experiencing and to consciously and mindfully accept their presence as an integral part of the human condition.   I may well attend a similar meeting in the future.   The discussion was valuable.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Harry Leslie Smith aged 95, has just died, and this portrait of him is culled from an article by Paul Hunter written in The Star on November 28th 2018.

I have taken particular inspiration from this story, not only because I share my surname with this man, but because at the age of 80 I have been motivated by my Memoir Writing Teachers to share my story with the world.   If Harry Smith can do what he has done when he is in the 10th decade of his life, I can surely get my story out there in the 9th decade of my journey on this planet.

Smith has brought up in England in poverty and saw his sister die of tuberculosis at the age of 10 years because there was no health system to assist her.    By a stroke of luck, his parents inherited some money allowing them to move to the New World.    Harry’s father earned sufficient as a carpet maker to develop in his son, the desire to help those people not as fortunate.

On retirement, Harry Smith was motivated to write his story when his wife died of tuberculosis and his middle son of three, who was battling schizophrenia, died of lung disease.   His self-published book drew the attention of The Guardian and he was then invited to write a regular column.

Harry became an activist in his 90’s when he and his son travelled to the Mexican border to publicise the conditions of refugees trying to enter the USA.   They documented the injustice, cruelty and inhumanity experienced by the potential migrants.   He opened a Twitter account and his admirers ranged from teenagers to geriatrics.

In paying tribute to his father, John Smith describes Harry as, “My best friend, my political comrade and my mentor, who I had the great fortune to accompany on a spiritual and political odyssey that spanned the last nine years of his life.”

Harry’s mission as a survivor of The Great Depression and World War II was to ensure that his past which was ravaged by austerity, lack of health care and intemperate populism, did not once again engulf the world.   Harry feared that at this juncture in history the world was in a similar situation as when Hitler took over control of Germany.   At the age of 91, Harry Smith was invited to speak in the British Houses of Parliament where he warned of the dangers faced by the National Health system.   He received a standing ovation when he opened the eyes of the Members of Parliament to the potential of social services being eroded.

“I would like to feel, when I go, that my life meant something,” he said. “I have seen changes happening; I need to warn ordinary people of the potential significance of the erosion of traditional values.”    It is rare to find a person in his 90’s who is prepared to travel the world in order to fulfil his personal ideology.

The past six days have been spent on beautiful green lawns competing in the Western Province Croquet Association’s Annual Tournament.   In order to play in the four events for which I am eligible I put aside four days of my schedule, which were freed of any other commitments.

The trip to the venue for the competition in Somerset West takes about an hour – a little more or a little less depending on the traffic.   The unpredictability of the journey required an early rising of 6.30am with the return home in the late afternoon in time to take the dogs for a walk.   Whilst anticipating this competition, which takes place in the height of the South African summer, I was concerned about the degree of heat with which I may have to cope.    Luckily all four days were comparatively mild and my energy which was supplemented by liberal quantities of isotonic liquid held out.

What I had not anticipated was that I would enter into the quarter-finals of the Handicap Doubles Event.   My partner and I won our round robin section in the initial rounds which meant that on the fifth day we were required to play in both  the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.  As we were successful in both these matches we had to return for the sixth day to play in the finals at nine o’clock in the morning.

I am trying to work out what motivates me to take that supreme amount of effort to participate in competitive play and undergo the nervousness experienced during the game, when an 80 years old lady could well be sitting at home in front of the TV.   I may mention at this point that I do not possess a TV.   I source my daily news from a local newspaper or the internet, and my entertainment comes from online channels such as TED and YouTube.

My partner Raegan Malenga for this competition is a 32 year old refugee from the Congo who has been living in Cape Town for the past five years and works as a painter – decorating buildings from eight in the morning until six in the evening.   A series of events, the details of which I have not been able to totally unravel from this young man whose mother tongue is French, has resulted in him taking up residence in the tool shed of our local croquet club.   Living on the premises for the past six months, he has had the chance to practice his croquet regularly, whilst he has taken over some of the responsibility for maintaining the lawns as well as the club house.  He has mastered the game so well that I invited him to partner me in the recent competition.   It is a great feeling to know I assisted a young person to achieve something that is unheard of in his community of birth.   However,  that is not enough to get me up early in the morning six days in a row and negotiate the early morning traffic.

So, there must be something about the game of croquet that motivates me.   Or maybe something about my personality make up.   As it is easier for me to analyse the game of croquet, than my personal motivation, let me indulge in an exploration of the dynamics of the game of croquet.

It is a slow game, bearing some resemblance to golf as you hit the ball with a specialised instrument with the aim of moving it thought a hoop rather than dropping it into a hole.   However in golf you are not allowed to hit your partner’s ball, in croquet part of the skill is to move your partner’s ball as far away from the hoop as possible, whilst retaining your ball in a position to go through the hoop.   The decision as to whether to hit your partner’s ball away, a defensive shot; or promote your ball closer to the hoop which is constructive, is always a judgement and in integral part of the strategy of the game.   The mental agility required in making this decision is certainly part of the attraction of croquet as far as I am concerned.

One needs a fair amount of skilled physical co-ordination in order to hit the ball accurately.   This may involve a gentle hit to block the opponent’s route to the hoop, or a highly energetic movement to remove your opponent’s ball far away from the hoop.   This is where Raegan has developed over six months to be able to compete against the best players in the Western Cape.   Living at the club, he practices daily and his accuracy at hitting the opponent away, and his shots at the hope have a high percentage of success.

A fascinating aspect of croquet is the slowness of the game which allows for a partnership to share their ideas about strategy before taking each shot.   The rules of the game allow 60 seconds between shots for partners to discuss the various possibilities available to them.   So whilst verbal interactions before taking a shot are part and parcel of the game, stillness and silence are required when your opponents are playing.

Having indulged myself in an analysis of some of the highlights of croquet, I am starting to understand the rationale for my enjoyment of the game.   However my need to play competitively needs further analysis.   I believe this challenge has something to do with the neurotransmitter of dopamine, the detailed role can be understood by studying the intricacies of the physiology of the reward system.   This nuanced topic will be undertaken in a future blog post.

 

I wish to introduce you to one of my favourite thinkers.   Matthieu Ricard holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the Pasteur Institute, in Paris.   He is a multitalented scholar who interrupted his research into cell genetics to become a Buddhist Monk. He not only translates Buddhist texts but also acts as one of the chief interpreters for the Dalai Lama.   In addition he is a prolific photographer and has done sterling work in raising money for the underprivileged in India, Nepal and Eastern Tibet.

Much of the information in this blog is culled from an article in Tricycle which you can either read or restrict yourself to my personal interpretation!    https://tricycle.org/magazine/why-meditate/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=a2f224650e-daily_Dharma_2019_2_28_NS&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-a2f224650e-307275697

Because Matthieu is immersed in scientific methodology I respect his capacity to interpret Buddhist texts and philosophy for the Western mind.   He has played an important role in the scientific study of Buddhism by being the first subject, who is a long term meditator, to be examined in an EEG machine.   I had read about this research about ten years ago and I was highly impressed when I learned about the results of his meditation on compassion when it was evaluated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   The readings, when measuring Matthieu meditating on compassion, were the most extreme that had ever been witnessed. The needle measuring the requisite brain waves went right off the graph paper!    I was so impressed by this overt demonstration of the power of meditation that when a new course was offered in Mindfulness and Meditation by our local Stellenbosch University, I was the very first person to enrol.

Matthieu, in conversation with a journalist from Tricycle Magazine, says that one of the main pursuits of Buddhism is, “To bridge the gap between the way things appear and the way things are.”   So often our suffering is caused because we interpret events or conversations unrealistically.  Buddhism helps us to understand that events and happenings are not always as they may appear to us.   Most of our perceptions are from the interpretation we place on our sensations, rather than an accurate portrayal of reality.   So, one of the aims of Buddhist practice is to determine the difference between reality and our interpretation of events.    The study of Buddhism precepts is a therapeutic route to our realistic interpretation of our experiences.

A newspaper headline describing Matthieu as the “Happiest man in the world” has been oft quoted, and he was asked how he felt about this description.    “Of course, it is better than being called the unhappiest man in the world,” he replied.  Happiness, however, can be over-rated as a personal goal according to Buddhist precepts.

He then went on to say, “Thinking that happiness is just an endless succession of pleasant experiences seems more like a recipe for exhaustion than it is for happiness. Happiness is a way of being, not a sensation. If you are only looking for pleasure, then you need to know that there’s probably no way that the brain could sustain pleasurable sensations forever.”   He believes that genuine happiness is related to wisdom.   Pleasure by itself is over-rated.   Whilst there is nothing wrong with pleasure, it cannot be equated with true happiness.   For true happiness, a person needs to be attuned to reality and free from mental toxins such as hatred and craving.

Matthieu has some interesting things to say about evolution.   If we need to wait for genes to change for people to become more altruistic and compassionate, we may need to wait for 50,000 years.   However, if the wisdom of Buddhist psychology and philosophy can be culturally acquired then there can be a major transformation towards more peaceful solutions to conflicts in just a couple of generations.

It would be great if the current major trend of seeing more and more people with a Western cultural orientation assume the skills of mindfulness and meditation,  could lead to the evolution of a greater understanding between all cultures, and ultimately we could achieve greater understanding and altruism between people of different social and political backgrounds.

“So the idea is to gradually progress from a state of mind where unfavourable conditions prevail, to another state that is characterized by stable attention, inner peace and clarity, confidence, courage, openness toward others, benevolence, the ability to deal with emotions, and other qualities of a vast and calm mind,” says Ricard.

For Matthieu in conversation view:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4QetA3ypdQ

 

It was Wednesday evening at 9pm and I received an email to inform me of a lecture being held at the University of Cape Town’s Medical School the following Thursday at 9 o’clock in the morning.   Alright, I would miss my usual Thursday morning game of tennis, because to hear a PhD student talking about her research into the neuroscience of meditation together with a visiting expert to relate the Buddhist side of the story – this was too good an opportunity to miss.

It would mean I would be involved in the rush hour traffic of office workers making their way into the centre of the city of Cape Town.  I decided I would need to leave home at 8 o’clock in the morning to do the trip which would usually take 10 minutes without the morning rush hour congestion   The Medical School has a large rambling spread out campus so I needed to consult  Google Maps to ascertain my route to the designated lecture theatre.

I was lucky. The traffic was not too heavy and I arrived at the campus at 8.30.   Just as well I was early because by the time I had found out where the visitors were allowed to park, had registered my car with the security staff, and reported the location of my car with the official on duty, a considerable amount of time had elapsed.

“Now where exactly is the building?” I enquired of the official in charge of security.  “Oh,” he casually responded, “normally you would have to walk around those buildings over there, but I will show you a short cut.   Just walk down those steps, turn left and you will see the building.”   Thinking it would be plain sailing from here, I jauntily prepare myself to follow his directions.   But, I land up on a roof top with an iron bar surrounding it on all sides.   No pathway to be seen!

5 minutes later finds me returning to the helpful security officer.   “No,” he responded to my query, “you took the wrong steps.”   This time he escorts me to the correct steps and tells me that I need to go into the revolving door ahead from where I will be directed to the Fuller Barnard Building

Having negotiated the UCT Medical Campus for the past 30 minutes, I finally arrive at the Moerat Room – the lecture theatre which was my ultimate destination.   Seated around a large table are about 30 students.   I take my seat somewhat self-consciously as the only senior person in the room, and am surprised by the announcement –   first class freshly brewed coffee is available in the foyer together with beautifully decorated and iced cupcakes.

Having enjoyed this  generous repast, I am ready to listen to a lecture on Buddhism and Neuroscience.  I was not disappointed.    Geshe Lobsang Tenzin was a worthy ambassador  of the Dalia Lama.   He has participated in a programmes developed by Emory University in conjunction with Tibetan institutions of higher learning in India.  His interest is in the role of meditation and its impact on positive health.   He outlined the work of the Mind and Life institute, referring to the annual dialogues initiated by the Dalai Lama with Western Scientists which started in 1987.    Since then there have been regular interactions both in the West and in Dharamsala addressing different topics at the intersection of science and contemplative understanding.   Wisdom at its very best!

The PhD student who hosted this event plans to form a group for students who are interested in meeting regularly to study the manner in which neuroscience informs the practice of Buddhism.   That is great – I have opened an opportunity to join like-minded people on a regular basis to gain further insight into the manner in which eastern and western thought enhance each other.    How satisfied I felt at having made the effort and ultimately successfully negotiated the challenge of changing my personal program and fulfilling the hazards of finding this elusive venue at such short notice!

Yesterday I was invited to give a talk to members of our local University of the Third Age about “Ageing and Sageing.”   This invitation resulted from the events of last year when I had the privilege of hosting Gary and Charolotte Carlson of Sage-ing International who live in Alburqueque, New Mexico.   They volunteered to visit Cape Town after their tour of the Kruger National Park so that we could share our experience and knowledge of the process of Eldering.  We had been interacting over the internet, but this would be the first time we would meet.   The Carlsons offered to facilitate some workshops to give Capetownians the benefits of their international experience and teaching.

In my presentation yesterday, I spoke about the pioneering work of Rabbi Zalman which he describes so eloquently in his book entitled  “Ageing and Sageing.”   The foundation of his philosophy can be summed up in the following words, “What is the point of an extended life, if we do not develop an extended consciousness?”   He further states, “Fortunately our culture’s limited view of ageing is undergoing a profound reconceptualization.   We are the first generation to apply the insights of humanistic and transpersonal psychology and contemplative techniques from our spiritual traditions to the ageing process itself, giving birth to what some people call the conscious ageing movement.

It so happened that yesterday was the first day that my new website called A Mind of Grace was ready to launch.  I feel this is propitious.   Whilst Zalman passed away at the beginning of the technological revolution, he could never have foreseen the possibility that the process of blogging may form an integral part of the “ageing and sageing” process.  I am looking forward to experimenting with this opportunity to blog and share ideas with an international audience.    I believe the process is intimately tied up to my intention of practicing the art of conscious eldering.

This morning I had a further opportunity to practice some ‘sageing skills’.   The process of transforming South African schools from the dynamics of the apartheid era to the more progressive approach of our new democracy is proving extremely challenging.   My domestic worker took a seat in my study when she arrived today to talk to me about her strong emotional reaction to a story that appeared in this morning’s Cape Times.   A local school, which under the apartheid system was reserved for white learners, now has learners of all races.   An unfortunate incident was reported in today’s newspaper about an altercation between a learner and a teacher which took place a few days ago at a local school.  It has involved a degree of violence by the pupil when she shoved her desk towards the teacher, who then retaliated with physical blows to the learner.  The events had been widely reported on social media.   Albertina has two daughters; a teenager, and another daughter in her early twenties.   She was particularly disturbed by this altercation, because of the violence involved and complains that today’s children have no respect for their parents, She perceives this problem to exist amongst her children’s generation of school goers.

I had recently watched the moving TED video entitled, “My son was a Columbine shooter. This is my story.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xfyN-yBZ7c  The mother’s poignant recount of healing during the past 20 years since this shocking incident, may help Albertina to realise that rebellion amongst school children is not a new phenomenon.    She recognised the pain that this mother had worked with during the intervening years.   That she had come to some degree of equanimity and acceptance.   I hope that my novel form of therapy may assist my employee to come to terms with the difficult relationship sometimes encountered between parents and their children.

I do believe that part of the sageing process is to keep in touch with the responsibilities of the mothers of today, as well as the current challenges faced by children of this generation

In Cape Town we have been adapting during the past few years to a severe shortage of water, and how with our public supplier of electricity Eskom, going through major supply problems we are having to cope with regular electricity outages lasting a couple of hours, twice a day.

It is Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2019, and I have just returned from a game of early morning tennis and a swim. On reaching my home, I find there is no electricity and this situation will only be rectified in about two hours time. Under normal circumstances, my computer would be my next port of call, but due to the lack of electricity that activity is no longer viable.  Alternative occupations need to be found. No cooking, because the stove is similarly out of action. So I have decided to write this blog with pen and paper and transfer it to a digital format later when power is restored.

February is the middle of our summer, and we have a Mediterranean climate which means rain falls in the winter. Last year our dams were 30% full, this year is better as they currently stand at 66% full. In the good old days when local rainfall had not been influenced by the new hazards of climate change, dams were frequently reported as 101% full.   The only watering allowed in gardens is with the use of a bucket.   This can be done on only two days a week and only within a two-hour time frame. Washing up the dishes happens once a day. Showers are a rare luxury and ablutions in the summer most often consist of a swim at the gym or in the pool at the residential village where I live. Toilets are flushed, only when needed.

Capetownians have adapted to using about 25% of the daily water consumption when compared to the days when no concerns existed about saving water. This is the ‘new normal’. I will never use water from the tap without being conscious of the fact that I am utilising a scarce resource which needs to be consumed carefully and with circumspection.  This new respect for a commodity which had been taken for granted until recently now feels deeply embedded in my current lifestyle.

Having adapted to minimising the use of household water, we now need to cope with daily outages of electricity. The political conundrums behind this most unsatisfactory state of affairs, I will not attempt to analyse, as that I do not see as my role. However my interest as an observer of human behaviour requires means I wish to comment on the capacity of the man in the street to alter daily habits which may have been practised for many decades previously.   In the past commodities like water and electricity were consumed without any consideration for their finiteness.   Necessity has dictated that we are now constantly aware of saving water. In addition, we need how to adapt to having no electricity for extended periods.  Many businesses have had to invest in private generators to ensure they have a constant energy supply.

The present situation brings back a memory of a conversation I overheard some forty years ago. This was between my children at play with the offspring of some American visitors. These children from abroad were talking about pollution and environmental degradation,  concepts which were new to me.   It was the first time I had become aware that one should not throw foreign objects out of the windows of your car.

Again, in those days there were few cars on the roads, and traffic jams were unknown in this country. Today I am aware on a daily basis that more and more vehicles are on the road and I must budget for more and more time to reach my destination. Time, electricity and water are all in short supply!

My grand-daughter who is in her 20’s is doing her bit for the preservation of the environment. Whilst she has a post-graduate degree in the History of Art, she has decided to put her energy and idealistic tendencies into doing her bit for diminishing the amount of plastic that pollutes the environment. She is manufacturing re-usable cotton bags for shoppers for use when they go about their regular purchases of fruit and vegetables. By providing these bags for the temporary storage of their purchases, she is helping to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  Her range of products is sold at local markets and she is making her mark as a young person who is not only environmentally aware, but actively doing her bit to preserve the balance of nature and the natural ecology. https://www.instagram.com/kare_bags/

I have decided to take the “bull by the horns”, the “bit between the teeth” and expose my day to day musings with my cohort who are endevouring to develop some meaningful understanding of the human experience.

The motivation to start a blog arose after an eight-day Memoir Writing Course on the Isle of Lesbos which I attended to celebrate my 80th Birthday.  I was sufficiently inspired by this immersion experience to record 40,000 words of autobiographic reminiscences, as well as create a potential title for a memoir.  “The Curious Octogenarian,” seems to encapsulate who I am at this stage of my development.  What I now need is a framework into which I can immerse my recollections and experiences, in order to add meaning and depth to the story.

I am anticipating that the weekly writing of this blog, in which I plan to share my day to day mind excursions, will assist me in making some worthwhile connections between my life and a contemporary rationale of the human experience.   As I have been acting as a facilitator of Conscious Ageing for seniors during the past 10 years I have been investigating the art and theory of maintaining my physical, cognitive and emotional well-being.    I will be sharing with you my insights, and hoping that in turn you the reader will give me some feedback, maybe some direction or other input.

I have recently pursued a study of Buddhist philosophy from whence the theory and practice of contemporary mindfulness and meditation has emerged.  The interest in meditation has grown since a number of Westerners travelled to India to explore these ancient practices and brought back concepts to guide us in coming to terms with our everyday experiences.   On their return, in the ’70s they transposed these concepts into a format which is palatable for professional people in the West and are now of interest throughout the world.

I visualise developing some mutual benefits for my future blogging community.   Those advantages would be in the form of the examination of the best life possible in our senior years.   I have no fixed or firm concepts of where this verbal interchange will take us – I enter the challenge with an open mind and the naïve belief that a mutual conversation will enrich us all.

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Much of my recent thought time has been devoted to wondering about my own personal motivation.    Have you ever speculated about how many thoughts you have during a single day, or in an hour, or a minute?   Your ‘default mind network’ is responsible for many hundreds of thoughts each minute.

My meandering mind is frequently devoted to understanding my own personal needs in this, the 9th decade of my life.   Why have I made this monumental commitment to articulate my thoughts and ideas into a weekly blog?   Why do I need to make myself vulnerable by exposing my writing for judgement by the rest of the world?    What is this urge regarding challenging myself to write a regular blog?   Why is it that I require myself to play croquet competitively and am not content to play ordinary “social croquet?”   These ideas have been in the forefront of my mind recently and maybe have influenced my interpretation of some recent on-line reading

Loretta Breuning of the Inner Mammal Institute has recently revamped her website https://innermammalinstitute.org/   When I read about the roles of the neuro-transmitters which are necessary to give us human a feeling of well-being, it made me feel that maybe it takes me more effort than most people to boost my positive hormones!   The general theory behind Loretta’s work is that the human is not built to be happy at all times.  The main goal of the individual is the transfer of our genes into the next generation –a further development of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

Breuning states that the primary need of us humans is to be constantly on the lookout for danger signals.   If we think about the danger of one lion, or one gunshot wound; we realise that a single incident or event can result in a life threatening situation.   The danger of these potential threats to our life means we need to be constantly on the alert.  The production of cortisol is the internal warning of a threat to our well-being.

When succeeding in a challenge we receive a spurt of dopamine, when we bond successfully with another human we stimulate oxytocin, and serotonin is added to our blood stream when tasks are accomplished successfully.   Part of the human condition is to be on the alert to promote these neurotransmitters in order to elevate our mood.    Opportunities for achievement and for bonding will give us our next dosage of a happy chemical, according to Breuning.

Today I was reading the regular week end post from Jules Evans www.philosophyforlife.org.   This British philosopher’s weekly report of happenings, meetings and cultural endeavours never fails to stimulate my interest.   He has come up with a new theory of motivation – something rather novel which comes as a surprise to me.    “ People who get bored easily need more stimulation and activity as this helps them to overcome the lethargy of a depressive mood state”, states Evans.    He describes how during the past week he watched Free Solo – a documentary about 33-year-old Alex Honnold’s attempt to free climb El Capitan in 2017.  Evans describes his discomfort as he watches the apparently foolhardy rope dangling activities of the protagonist whilst solo rock climbing.    Honnold participates in ongoing dangerous solo expeditions for many years without having an accident.  Things change however, when he accidently falls in love and after making a commitment to the young woman his accident free record is shattered.   In the following year he has two climbing accidents.  These events give rise to the hypothesis that to be successful in this fear enhancing activity you need to be totally dedicated to your craft with no external distractions.   You need to be bored!

Evans follows up with the story about Time Ferris who has written five best-selling books, has a successful on line presence and a lucrative interest in such companies as Uber and Facebook.   To round off his achievements he is a word champion of the tango, a polymath and a body builder.  Whilst it would seem that someone who is such an achiever would be contented and worry free.  In fact Tim admits in a recent podcast his intense need for achievement, as he is motivated by a feeling of not fitting in or being worthwhile.   This appears to me another variation of the ‘boredom hypothesis.’

Now that I am busy internalising the writing of Loretta Breuning and Jules Evans I need to think about whether I have learned anything about my own need to achieve and compete.