Being in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with restrictions having been imposed on the traditional lifestyle; it seemed like a good time to start a new initiative. TED has recently curated a new opportunity within their offerings. This they have named Ted Circles. To become a facilitator required filling in an application, and having achieved that status my next move was to recruit a group of participants.

Creating the Circle

Networking from a local database, luck was on my side and I have found about a dozen people who have become part of a vibrant group of elders, exploring the recommended TED talks. Each month a theme is promoted, and four Ted talks featuring that topic are recommended on the TED Circles website.

The First TED Circle

By mutual consent, we chose to view Emily Esfahani Smith’ talk entitled,There is more to Life than Being Happy at our first meeting.

The presenter’s family were American immigrants from Iran.  While she was growing up her parents were active Sufi’s who regularly entertained in their home the local followers of this movement and she observed them meditating and performing their communal religious practices. This early exposure to people living a humble life of compassion and sharing has led Emily to explore the possibilities around living the best life possible.

Emily’s 4 Pillars of Meaning
  1. She commences by describing the need for belonging to a group. Essentially this starts with the family, and as one proceeds through adolescence, new group identities form an essential part of positive growth
  2. Purpose is her second criterion. She considers purpose or meaning to be more essential than the pursuit of happiness.
  3. Then she identifies ‘storytelling’. This is the ability to review one’s life by being more aware of the positive features. Simultaneously attempting to minimise the challenges and look for the potential good in what may be a difficult stage of our life.
  4. Her final pillar is that of Transcendence. This is indeed a challenging concept, so the decision was that at our following meeting we would have a discussion to try and gain some insight into this esoteric topic!
Johnathan Haidt’s approach to Transcendence

Going back to the TED offerings, Jonathan Haidt’s “Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence”, was chosen as a means to explore this concept.

What Haidt explains is that humans are what the sociologist Durkheim described as Homo Duplex. Whilst we need to achieve and satisfy our earthly needs, we are at the same time looking for a ‘secret staircase’, and maybe it is a spiral one, to lead us to a higher experience which could be described as religious or spiritual.

However, the ultimate achievement of transcendence is when we realise that as John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Ultimately transcendence can be achieved when one internalises the role we can play for the betterment of humankind.

The Humanistic Perspective of Transcendence

A humanistic take on Transcendence is offered by Scott Barry Kaufman in his contemporary work “Transcend, The New Science of Self-Actualisation.” Kaufman uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a springboard for his theory. Maslow’s theory was taught in Psychology 1, which I studied in the 1950s, so it is interesting to learn how this tool is used by Kaufman as the underpinning for a 20th century understanding of the subjective concept of transcendence.

Basically, Maslow postulated all those years ago that our basic needs for food and sex must be fulfilled before our emotional needs can be wholly recognised. Only when these emotional needs are met, then the higher need for self-actualisation can be sought. Ultimately the ability to fulfil one’s personal needs can be further merged with the needs of the other inhabitants of the planet, offering us the experience of Transcendence.

In Conclusion

I do believe that each person needs to find his or her own subjective experience of transcendence. In the same way as you can debate the meaning of religion, or spirituality without reaching consensus, there may be many unique and personal ways of experiencing transcendence.

This reminds me of an insight I experienced whilst studying Buddhist philosophy which I encountered when delving into the practice of Mindfulness. The great masters, if asked the ultimate goal of engagement in many hours of practice of their daily meditation, tend to hedge the question!  The experienced meditator in the eastern tradition is not keen to put his or her experience into words.   It is as if trying to verbalise the grandeur of the ultimate experience of Transcendence would be diminished in the communication.

Each person needs to find his own way of both describing transcendence and articulating their personal experience. We all climb the staircase in our unique way. “Viva la difference”

Addendum

Pearl Selibowitz who attended the meetings on Transcendence was motivated to pen this piece:

A Moment in Time

Judge not lest ye be judged, the master said

Offend not, for he who takes offence will be burdened and you will always bear the scar

Think on the man with no shoes whose feet bleed as he walks on the road

Think of the child with no bread, who has no dream to see him through

Open your window and see your dawn

Open your heart and bless the giver who has given you shoes and bread

So you may follow your dream

I spontaneously made a statement during our recent monthly Conscious Ageing Meeting.   This impulsive articulation of an inspirational hunch has resulted in my delving into a profound journey of research and meditation.   My suggestion.   At our next monthly meeting, we will feature the concept of Multiculturalism as a focal point for discussion.

Multiculturalism Defined

Multiculturalism can be defined as the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably side by side in the same country

My motivation

My motivation for this topic was based on my semi-conscious feelings around the contemporary changing attitudes to the integration of different cultural and ethnic groups into mainstream society.   This hunch has verified by subsequent enquiry.    The concept seems to have become mainstream in the news of the past week.

Concerns world wide

Evidence from all over the world – be it the Americas, or Europe, or Africa or Australia; demonstrates controversy over the acculturation of immigrant groups. Should they be encouraged to foster their own unique identity, or should they be expected to integrate into the dominant culture of the country of their birth; the land of their adoption?

Israel

The first contribution to my thinking resulted from a report I received from a good friend in Israel, an experienced teacher of English as a foreign language in the south of the country.   It is in this region around the Negev Desert that the majority of Bedouin Arabs live.   I learned that during their primary and high school education, the Bedouins and Jewish populations in Israel go to schools devoted solely to their population group.   It is when they enter the stage of their tertiary education that Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs meet socially for the first time.  This new situation brings with it the challenges of adapting to people with a wide variety of social norms and cultural values.

South Africa

This knowledge led me to think about the educational system in South Africa. In the days of apartheid, there were schools for people of African Descent, of Mixed Race, and Asian parentage.   White children attended their schools devoted to their population group.   During the past 20 years, since the dismantling of the former political dispensation, schools in this country have become racially integrated.   While there have been some incidences of racism reported in schools during the transition; considering the rapidity of change, the new system is working amazingly well.

And, in my family

I am privileged to have an adopted Zulu grand-daughter who attends a multi-cultural Montessori school which enrols children from the total range of ethnic backgrounds resident in Cape Town.   This includes children of African parentage, Coloured children, Asian kids, young persons of mixed race and a sprinkling of Caucasians.   When I arrive to fetch my grand-daughter, I am greeted with the words, “Hallo Mishka’s granny.”   I find this salutation most appropriate!

Multicultural Song writer

Johnny Clegg died this week at the age of 66.   He was a great musician of Jewish descent who blended western music with that of the Zulus.   Johnny spent much of his childhood in the company of Zulu children and was enchanted by their music, dance and rhythm.

He was a dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, and activist.   Even these accolades fall short of describing the energetic, passionate man who had become one of South Africa’s greatest musical exports.   He acted as a cultural ambassador for South Africa by combining western and Zulu tradition in his well know band Jaluka.   Listen to his music here

End of Apartheid

The end of Apartheid in South Africa coincided with my entry into a franchise business which allowed me to engage in teaching computer skills to children.   It was a great source of satisfaction to me, and a novelty at the time, that I could market our educational opportunities to all population groups.   Some of our best customers were children who would have been prohibited from utilising our services a few years previously.

Putting it all together!

Whilst ideologically the concept of a multicultural society appeals to me, it seems that there are many problems when immigrants are allowed to maintain the customs of their motherland.  From the wearing of different apparel, the practice of different cultural norms and the adherence to different value systems; there may be many conflicts of interest.

A high-profile historian Geoffrey Blainey first achieved mainstream recognition for the anti-multiculturalist cause when he wrote that Multiculturalism threatened to transform Australia into a “cluster of tribes”.  He criticised Multiculturalism for tending to “emphasise the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians”.

Major News Story

At the present moment, we have President Trump continuously in the news regarding his policies on the Mexican border.   He has been suggesting the four Democratic women who are criticising his policies should, “Go back to your own country, and fix the crime infested places from which you came.”  This is even though three of them were born in America, and the fourth is a naturalised citizen.

These comments have led to a tremendous backlash with views on slavery, the holocaust and other historical forms of exclusion are emerging to the forefront of political discourse.

What do you think?

If you do not favour Multiculturalism, does that mean you are a racist?   It seems to me that some balance needs to be found between retaining one’s personal identity, and adopting the customs of the major cultural group in our country of residence.

Your thoughts would be welcome in the Comments section of this blog post.

 

 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama

I like to keep up to date with current developments in mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism. This results in my contact with varying interpretations on the benefits of living a lifestyle which includes compassion for self, for the other, for animals and the environment.

Karen Armstrong

However, it was Karen Armstrong who first drew my attention to the power of this personal quality.  Her interest in compassion arose from her own struggle with religious belief.  When she lost her faith in the Catholicism in which she was raised, she was motivated to study a wide range of different religions.  This led to her understanding of the main role played by compassion in all the different faiths; those of both the East and the West.

Promoting her ideas on TED

In 2007 she drew the attention of a broad audience to the benefits the practice of compassion can bring to the individual when incorporated into our lifestyle.   With a beautifully articulated TED talk,   she created an awareness of how compassion needs to be learned to enhance our wellbeing.  “Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other,” she said.

In 2008 that she was awarded the annual TED prize for promoting the importance of developing a compassionate lifestyle.    She believed in a worldwide movement towards minimising war if the benefits of compassion could be learned and practised by a sufficient number of people.  https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion?language=en

Charter for Compassion

Karen worked with an international panel on a Charter for Compassion, which came out in 2012.  It opens with these words: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.   Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect…………………”

Matthieu Ricard

It was Matthieu Ricard who trained as an engineer and later became a Monk who first drew scientific attention to the neurological changes taking place in our brain when we have developed our capacity for compassion.   It was about 25 years ago when he was the first person to be placed in an MRI machine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to meditate on compassion.   What the scientists observed was profound.   The needle measuring the activity of the delta waves of the unconscious mind jumped off the graph paper.   Due to his thousands of hours of meditation, Ricard had control over parts of his brain that are normally unconscious. You can listen to him here: https://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_how_to_let_altruism_be_your_guide

Meditation and Compassion

The psychoanalytic model divides the mind into the Conscious, the Unconscious, and the Subconscious.   With the long term practice of meditation, you can gain access to both the unconscious and the subconscious mind, which helps you to have greater control of your emotions.  This is what makes the study of the theory and practice of Meditation and Mindfulness so worthwhile.   I put myself through a two-year University Diploma Course on the theory and practice of mindfulness as for the past six years have developed a daily early morning meditation practice.   I do believe that this regular routine has allowed me to maintain my emotional responses at equilibrium and not overreact to stress and the inevitable receiving of bad news.

Self-Compassion

Christine Neff, who is the leader in promoting the capacity to look after ourselves, says very wisely, “Compassion for others isn’t sustainable without compassion for self.  Self-compassion involves “being with” ourselves in a compassionate way, as we naturally do for our friends who struggle.   It also involves protecting and motivating ourselves.   Saying “no” to others who are hurting us, drawing our boundaries firmly, as well as giving ourselves what we need to be fulfilled mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Holocaust Compassion

I recently attended a presentation by Arthur Shostak.   He is an American sociologist and futurist, and former professor of sociology. The last few years he has been travelling around the world to promote the concept of “Holocaust Compassion”; a very different concept to “Holocaust Fatigue” when people become overburdened with the suffering of this period regrettable period of horrific events during World War 2.     Shostak has made a study of people who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save the life of others.

Guards who were threatened with death if they spoke to the new arrivals, would at the times of the selection process whisper instructions to them in an effort to save their life.   People younger than 15 or older than 40, would automatically be sent to their death at the gas chambers.  The guards would whisper this information to the assembled victims allowing those individuals just short of the lower age limit, or just above the upper one to claim on age between 16 and 39!

Compassion and You

If you have not considered learning the art and theory of Mindfulness and Meditation, it is a study which I heartedly recommend. Indeed, it will develop your capacity for compassion for both yourself and for other people.

And, if you wish to share your compassion stories, that would be great as well.   That is what the comments session on this blog is all about.