The present residents of planet earth have experienced just over a year of the largest disruption of daily life ever to have challenged the world’s population.    Yes, there have been pandemics in the past.   There have been more deaths in the past.    However, I venture to state; never before have such a large percentage of the world’s population had their daily lifestyle disrupted on such a massive scale.

Around the world, we have been inundated with news stories initiated by a microorganism that has dominated our ability to live, work, travel, communicate and play.   Perhaps less has been written from a personal perspective.   So, I decided to do my own little bit of research.

Together with my friend Mary in Arizona USA, we convened a meeting:  9 of the participants were from South Africa, and 10 from America.   We asked them to speak for 2 minutes to the question, “How have the restrictions of the past year affected you on a personal level?”

Surely not a representative sample, as those taking part in this mini-survey were all in the second half of their life, and fall into the middle class.   Maybe this is the cohort that was least affected by the restrictions imposed by governments all over the world restricting the liberty of the populations under their control.

Introversion and Extroversion

Many of the participants mentioned their self-assessment of their personality on the introversion/extroversion continuum.    As would be expected, participants who see themselves less needy of social interaction adapted very well to the zoom room.   Many went as far as to say that their needs were met by the type of meeting in which we were all participating.

A Strange Surprise

Farzana is a medical representative who shocked the group when she told us that a few of the doctors she visited were in denial about Covid-19.   When I questioned her about this finding it turns out that two of those doctors hailed from Central Europe and the third one was Afrikaans speaking.   Maybe these personal details helps to explain their conservatism!

A More Universal Experience

Sybil lives in Sea Point, an upmarket coastal suburb of Cape Town.   She is used to looking out of the window of her flat and viewing scores of people enjoying the promenade and the swings, while they exercise on the beachfront.  She experienced a macabre feeling of loss when observing the quietness of this territory during the lockdown.   A great contrast to the usual hub of activity.

My Personal Story

Something that has been a positive for me.   As the owner of two Whippets who play a dominant role in helping me to maintain my emotional equilibrium, I was freed of one of my internalised feelings of guilt.   No longer did I have to worry about how long I would leave Blanco and Freddy on their own while I pursued my daily perambulations.    My activities have become far more home centred, as I now spend more time with my appreciative canine companions!

Do we Plan our Lives?

For me, it was interesting to note the variation people expressed regarding the degree to which they either plan their lives or spontaneously capitalise on opportunities as they arise.   Corel expressed the incentive she experienced to look at what she and her husband would be doing with the years that remain to them.   Whereas Duncan described himself as an opportunist who was happy to await events and then make the most of his possibilities as they arose.

New Initiative

Had it not been for Covid-19 this lively international group of seniors would not have met.  Mary and I who are the co-initiators of this group which we have named “The Curious and Inquisitive Wisdom Seekers,” would not have even imagined such a gathering just a year ago.   We met in a Zoom Room run by The Golden Civilisation, and have become friends.   Maybe the modern equivalent of the pen pals of old!  We have a warm and supportive relationship which has allowed us to form this novel group of awake and aware citizens from around the world.

Our First Meeting

It is said, “You should never allow a good crisis to go to waste.”  What are you doing to enhance your life during this unique and challenging time?”  This was the question we asked the participants to consider when we first met.    It was surprising the amount of positivity that emerged from this discussion.    Many contributors have forged new relationships with people and events.   Gratitude for what we have has been enhanced.   Appreciation of both our material benefits and natural resources were named as items for which we could be very thankful.

Some Comments from the Chat at this Meeting
  • I found this the most heart-warming, inspiring and energising experience.
  • Wonderful experience. Amazing people.
  • Great to connect with a wider group, interesting the similarities on different continents. After all; we are all humans!
Subsequent Meetings

A lively discussion of Roman Krznaric’s TED Talk on “The Good Ancestor” was the stimulus for the next meeting.   This philosopher’s research and insight into the habits of consumption and values of future generations formed the bedrock for us all to consider our long term priorities.

On another occasion, one of our American participants, Dave, led us on a deeply insightful discussion on our belief structures.   He made us aware that during these changing times we may need to re-examine our value system and introspect on whether our daily habits are dominated by conscious or unconscious beliefs and behaviours.

Here are some of the topics we discussed:
  • What myth/story/map organizes your thinking, values, and behaviour?
  • What are some of your maps and how were they formed?
  • How does our age invite a paradigm shift?
  • How can we help others to identify the map/myth/story that organizes their beliefs?
Concluding Comments

I consider myself very lucky to be part of one of the least challenged cohorts during this pandemic.   I believe that single mothers who have to find time to work whilst home-schooling their children simultaneously have had a very stressful time.   There is no doubt that people from poor communities have suffered the most.    All thinking people have been challenged to re-evaluate their lifestyle.

Last year my zoom-online book club studied Valerie Kaur’s memoir entitled, “Revolutionary Love.”   This profound description of the author’s life challenges outlines the methodology she has evolved to deal with the social and legal obstacles presented by her Sikh identity.

And you may ask, “To what type of challenges do you refer?”   Whilst cloaked in the terminology of love, Valerie subtly offers her readers the tools to cope with the varying types of value systems within which each of us are challenged in our daily lives.   The social norms within our chosen economic perspectives, political orientation and religious outlook all carry certain subtle social expectations, many of which are beyond our conscious awareness!

How timeous was my introduction?

This book was written before the latest outpourings of “Black Lives Matter”, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It articulates the tools and process we can all utilise in order to navigate our way through the unconscious biases which are part of our emotional response to hearing things that are not consistent with our personal perspective. The responses we need when confronted by interactions with members of different social groups who are out of tune with our personal narrative.   How to cope with varying experiences relating to politics, caste, religion, culture or any other number of sociological categorisations.

Contemporary Extremism

It has become a truism that politics during the past decade has become more extreme.    The right-wing has become even more conservative, whilst the left could be described as more radical.   The theory around Revolutionary Love has the potential to help us all to understand a wide repertoire of different responses and tolerate seemingly paradoxical perspectives.    It provides a useful set of skills for negotiating our way through the widening of ideological viewpoints.

Theory of Revolutionary Love:  A compass

You will notice that the compass describing Revolutionary Love at the head of this article.  It is divided into three sections:

  • The study starts with the section labelled “Others” and suggests we develop an attitude in which we “See no Strangers”. To develop this capacity to see others as having much in common with ourselves we are enjoined to Wonder, then Grieve and ultimately to Fight
  • In learning to get to know ourselves we need to “Imagine our Birth,” which requires we Breathe, and Push and ultimately we Transition.
  • To come to terms with those who are different to us at this moment, our Opponents, we are required to “Tend to our Wounds.” This process goes through the stages of Reimagine, Listen and Rage.

10 Day Presentation

For each of the 10 days following the inauguration of President Biden, Valerie presented a daily program entitled the People’s Inauguration in which she explained the logic of the ‘Compass’ and its ability to offer insights into Revolutionary Love.   The recording of this rich presentation has been made available to the public as a permanent record of a unique endeavour to understand the contemporary dynamics of the human experience.   It creates a golden opportunity to give those who wish to play their part in creating a more compassionate and equal society, the chance to follow a finely crafted methodology.

The facilitation of ongoing educational opportunities for my age cohort has been an integral pastime of mine for the past 15 years.  During this time I have facilitated senior adult groups on Maintaining Your Brain, Emotional Resilience, I’m OK You’re Ok, Mindfulness and Conscious Ageing.

Maybe you would like to become engaged!

On hearing about this 10-day presentation, and the ability to purchase the recording of the program, I became inspired by an idea.   Maybe I could use this material as the basis of a program to offer participants from different cultures and various age groups an experience in emotional growth.  How about assembling an eclectic group of curious adults who would like to engage in discussion around examining their own unconscious biases?    Maybe I could recruit participants who enjoy a conversation around developing new perspectives on cultural norms.   Perhaps people would like to have a regular monthly conversation in which they could share their concerns regarding perceived prejudices in their local organisations.

I pitched this idea with a couple of my new “zoom-friends”.  People I have met in international zoom rooms, reminiscent of the outdated concept of penpals!  People with whom I have interacted since the migration to post-Covid methods of communication.   My ideas were met with positivity and enthusiasm.

Wonderful Co-0peration

And then, a problem emerged in my mind.   Potential participants would need to spend some time between the 10 monthly zoom meetings reading the material, and pondering some questions.   Would they be prepared to pay the $97 requested to purchase the program?

I contacted the publishers of this material.   They were satisfied with my bonafide, and have made a generous offer.   Participants who wish to enhance their growth and understanding of “Revolutionary Love” may apply for a scholarship.    All they need to do is to notify Sounds True they wish to participate in the 10-month program I am offering, make their application for a scholarship, and they will be granted free access to the material

My Free Offer

Write to me at grace@amindofgrace.co.za let me know if you wish to participate in a program to study “Revolutionary Love”    10 monthly meetings are planned to commence in April 2021.   And let me know where you live so that I can be aware of your time zone!   Once you have notified me of your intention to participate in the course, I will forward the appropriate link so that you can gain access to this exciting material on “Revolutionary Love!”

 

 

It has often been in said, “You are dealt a pack of cards, and it is what you do with them that counts.”   A somewhat more sophisticated versions of this truism has been articulated by Johana Macey writing about Active Hope, Victor Frankl in his work on Logotherapy, and the Stoic philosophers of old.

Macy and Active Hope

Joana Macy, with her Buddhist, Structualist orientation has been investigating for the past few decades how we are to live with the knowledge that our present habits of consumption are leading to the destruction of the balance of nature on the planet.    And maybe, its destruction

The warming climate is resulting in a series of climate emergencies such as an increase in the number and strength of hurricanes hitting many coastal cities in America.  Additionally, a series of viral conditions have emerged in the past few decades.     Here are a few examples:  a new strain of Asian flu called H3N2, AIDS, SARS, H1Ni, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and ultimately Covid-19.    We are told by the scientists that as temperatures rise the number of mutations and the dangers of disease emanating from mosquitoes and ticks will increase.

Macey has been studying how we as a human species can best tolerate and reverse the reality of the damage that our present lifestyle is perpetuating.    Because the potential damages are so great, it is much easier to carry on ‘business as usual’; ignore the unpleasant reality.   For this reason she developed a way of taking action to cope with this depressing existential reality.

The Spiral

She uses the concept of the Spiral of Active Hope which involves the individual initially making a mental note, or a list, of all the items for which they can be grateful.    This is followed by an honest appreciation of the problems and challenges that confront us.

The third stage of her spiral suggests we look at the manner in which we can reduce the impact we are having on the environment.   We may not be able to reverse the unhealthy activities of the past, but we can all make small changes to stop the progress of environmental degradation and promote healthier ways of going about our life’s tasks.

The final stage is to Go Forth and activate our plans.   Each individual can reduce his or her carbon footprint.   Everyone needs to reduce their consumption of the use of one-time plastics.   We need to engage in eating locally produced food.  To cut down on meat consumption and to make our clothes last longer.   Haute Couture is now an anathema!

With our given potential for adjustment and change, we can find the ways and means to rectify the present emphasis on the growth economy and inevitable subsequent environmental degradation.  We can adapt and change our values to secure a future sustainable lifestyle

Victor Frankl and Logotherapy

Victor Frankl who endured the Holocaust, and yet emerged with a positive faith in the human condition, has done much to encourage his successors to engage in positivity.   With the horrors of the suffering still festering, Frankl as a psychiatrist emphasised the creativity of the individual to interpret their life’s hardships as challenges.   This positive outlook inevitably leads us to understand the potential of the present circumstances to transform to a healthy evolution.   His emphasis on the ‘search for meaning’ has allowed his successors to negotiate tough experiences with a positive attitude.

A major cause of depression is the predisposition to view life experiences in a negative light.    Logotherapy, as articulated by Frankl, encourages the sufferer to adapt his attitude from one of a victim mentality to orientating his thoughts in a more optimistic perspective.

Stoic Philosophy of Ancient Greece

The Greek school of Stoic Philosophy is undergoing something of a revival recently.    The sayings of Marcus Aurelius are prescribed literature for students of Psychology.   This school of thinkers suggested that it is important that you worry about the things over which you have some control.   Chronic anxiety is provoked by worrying about things which are beyond your control.

The suggestion is that we undergo a self-analysis of those things we can change and events that we have the capacity to promote positive change.   We reduce our attention of those things which we are unable to change, and endeavour to rectify those activities which are within our orbit of management.   It makes me think of Johana Macey’s third stage of her spiral where she suggests we analyse the problems with which we are confronted.   We then ‘go forth’ and do our best to change those things that are within our personal capacity to influence.

In Conclusion

It is indeed fascinating to look at three different schools of thought which are based on three very different sets of life experiences.  The ancient Stoic philosophy has so much in common with the outlook of Frankl who experienced the Holocaust, and with Macey who has been profoundly concerned with the dangers of climate reality for the past four decades.

In each instance there is a common thread.   Spend time and energy on the circumstances which are within your control.    Make the most of those qualities with which you have been blessed.   Minimise your attention to things which are pre-determined.

Merely a short half year ago, the Zoom Room was foreign territory to me.   Now, it is an integral and important area of my daily attention, offering me many hours of challenge and entertainment.   It has been an amazing personal transformation.   New insights, new people, new conversations and new concepts have become part of my daily routine.   Never before have I felt so connected.

I now have two social circles; two sets of friends.   The group with whom I interact physically has become augmented with a new group of ‘virtual friends.’   You will be learning about a few of them later in this blog!

Friendship and Human Connection

In evolutionary terms, the earliest socialisations took place on the plains of Africa.   Other than one’s close kin, further contacts would be made by travelling to meet people on foot.    Subsequently the possibilities for human communications became wider with the introduction of varying transport modalities such as bicycle, car, ship and plane.  Social interactions would have initially taken place in caves, or primitive buildings and later in modern homes and offices.   Within the conditions of the lock-down necessitated by Covid-19, electronic digital communication has become an integral part of the day.   Whilst I sit in my private exclusive space my social life is enhanced, my educational possibilities are extended, and my entertainment opportunities have widened.

I am going to share with you some of the resources which have enriched my life during the past 6 months.

One World in Dialogue

This organisation was created in 2015 by Elizabeth Debold with her partner Thomas Steininger to develop a living global network of change-makers and activists committed to deep dialogue.   The aim is to create new approaches and collaborations to support positive social change.

During April they offered a free online course for people working in the field of counselling on how to conduct their work in the Zoom room.   During this 4 day, 16 hour course we examined the nuances of leading conversations in this new format.   How to optimally personalise our interactions in this exciting new space.   How to master the nuances of interacting with the screen image of our fellow learners and future clients

A Golden Civilisation

George Kinder introduced me to this unique methodology for leading powerful collaborative conversations.    His powerful imaginary workshop starts with an imaginary exercise.   Participants are challenged to imagine the conditions of a Golden Civilisation which exists 1000 generations in the future.  A society in which each individual can maximise his personal potential under optimal conditions.   How does it look and feel?   Imagine the ideal way of governing for such a group.    How would the economy be managed?   What type of social interactions would be encouraged?   And, what obstacles would stand in the way?   These Golden Civilisation conversations are taking place all over the world, enabling participants to take the first steps in moving towards a more inclusive society.

Ubuntu Labs

Weekly meetings with this organisation, over the course of two months allowed me to meet leaders throughout Africa and share ideas about the philosophical concept of Ubuntu.   We discussed in small groups how this profound concept can be used for developing our continent during the time ahead.

Ubuntu is essentially about togetherness, and how all of our actions have an impact on others, and on society. It is the common thread of the UN’s Global Goals, and the motivation in the mission to end extreme poverty — so that everyone, everywhere, can live equally.”

This beautiful concept is so important in a Post Covid Era.  Since the time of the Enlightenment, there has been an emphasis in Western Society on promoting individualism.  I believe that the time has come for this selfish concept to be exchanged for an approach which values the needs of each individual in society.

Climate Reality

My interest in Climate Activism peaked last weekend when I participated in 24 hours of activism promoted by Climate Reality In my presentation on Zoom, I explored my new passion.  The need to play my part in educating myself, together with my peers, on the new habits we need to adopt if we are to save the planet from total climate catastrophe.  This reduction in our consumption is urgent.  We need to change from an economy of maximum growth to one of sustainable longevity.  A society in which the Gross National Product (GNP) is not the criterion for success, but one in which wealth is far more equally distributed among the population.

Pass It On Network

This grassroots network allows older people all over the world to find ways to expand their interests whilst thriving with the challenges of longer lives.  I have interacted with this group over a number of years and made many fruitful contacts.

However this month, I participated in a mind expanding on-line course on Digital Technology.  I learned how to keep my passwords safe, deal with the false news of social networks and feel comfortable using the tools which allow me to share files and multiple other resources when working on line.

Ted Circles

I recruited participants for this initiative through the University of the Third Age.   We now meet on zoom for regular fortnightly discussions.   Together we analyse a Ted video recommended by the facilitators of Ted Circles.   This new set of virtual friends from Cape Town, the city in which I live, have allowed me to participate in rich conversations which have deepened my understanding of the TED videos.

In Conclusion

A new collaborative lifestyle is emerging.   It is exciting, vigorous and full of further potential.   Who would like to join me on the journey?    Let me know if you would like to participate in a group I plan to facilitate.   We will work together discussing ideas on how to build a carbon free and just society.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Having been a facilitator of Conscious Ageing for the past decade with members of the University of the Third Age as my participants, I felt a strong urge at the beginning of 2020.   It was the need to refocus my work from emphasising the personal growth of the individual senior and awaken my cohort to the dangers of continued climate disruption.

First Meeting of the year

So it was at our first meeting which took place at the beginning of February that I tentatively suggested to those present the proposed shift of focus.   My motivation emerged from some unknown inner forces emanating from deep within my body.   I was not able to determine why I started to liken myself to Joan of Arc, of all people.   I just felt this need to share with my friends, family and associates this intuitive feeling that each and every one of us needed to do their very best to come to terms with the dangers on our doorstep.  Civilisation which had progressed for many millennia was going to regress, and in the worst case scenario humankind as we understand it was going to undergo a major disruption.

Covid-19 comes to South Africa

It was the following month of March that the knowledge emerged that the Covid-19 virus was going to be a threat to life here in South Africa, just like the rest of the world.   It was now on my doorstep.  Until this time, it was something that was happening in China, far away from us.  So, it was just those few weeks after I had publicly announced my realisation of the association between the Covid pandemic and climate change, that this juxtaposition started to appear in the public domain.

As I look back from the present moment in July, just four months after the lockdown was announced in South Africa, I realise how my early hunches are starting to penetrate the consciousness of all around me.   I still feel a little alarmist when suggesting to people they need to take up a vegetarian diet, or dedicate themselves to a less consumptive lifestyle, or suggesting they should regularly be showing their gratitude for being protected by their comparative financial security.

Becoming a Climate Ambassador

However, I am now just one week into my global training as an ambassador for Climate Reality.   I have been exposed to the thoughts, philosophies and activism or people throughout the world who have enriched my understanding of the urgency of motivating my contemporaries to play their part in the revolution in thought and values that need to take place.

Emerging from the Social Sciences

I have always been interested in the social sciences.   I studied psychology and social anthropology for my Bachelor of Arts and subsequently was involved in education from many different perspectives.  Now I realise how all the knowledge and skills around teaching and learning, I have developed during my lifetime need to be invested in helping this disturbing transformation in climatic conditions.

Confluence of Critical Challenges

The confluence of Covid 19 with the callous death of George Floyd at the knee of the police has raised public awareness of the structural inequalities in our society.  I am starting to visualise how climate change must be part of the solution.   We need to revolutionise the thinking around our present brand of capitalism, and the manner in which our limited democracies are working.

And, a Silver Lining

For me personally there has been a silver lining to all the restrictions to which I have been exposed.    My facilitations in Conscious Ageing have been moved into the zoom room.   I have all of a sudden developed an international audience.   I have participants from South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland and America for the fortnightly discussions on Zoom   So, what a wonderful way to start working on sharing my understanding of the inter-relationship between human inequality, major discrepancies between the rich and the poor, unequal access to health and education, and denial of opportunities to the present disadvantaged group.

Moving to a Sustainable Future

Let us look at all these factors.   Ideally, they all need to be evolved and transformed to create a sustainable lifestyle on this planet.   There are models that have been developed over the last decade to show that these changes are possible.   Let us work on it together to ensure that humanity not only thrives but becomes more fair and equal going forward.

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

Life Changes Enforced by the Lockdown

It is the beginning of week four of the South African lockdown, the government’s response to the Covid-19 virus infection.

“How am I feeling?” I ask myself. And, then I respond to my own question: “If I truly consider the present moment, I am excited about the new challenges that have come my way.”

Courses run by international educators are now being offered freely online. This means I have the opportunity to pursue my interest in developing my wisdom with an electronically delivered course – something which has not been available in the past.

In addition, I have caught up with people I have not managed to fit into my regular schedule. So, my social and learning connectivity has surely been enhanced.

The Zoom Room

Everyone is talking about Zoom these days. In truth, this app has been my biggest challenge and the source of multiple experiences, both negative and positive.

New technology, new adaptations to online facilitation, and learning how to accept disappointments and failures due to my lack of experience have been a constant lately.

For the past 14 years, I have been holding monthly meetings around my dining room table where a small group of seniors gathers to investigate what I call Conscious Ageing.

With physical distancing being the new norm, those monthly meetings have been transformed into weekly meetings held in my Zoom Room. What a challenge it is to make the transfer!

Things Going Wrong

Because of my new busy schedule, brought about by our new enforced lifestyle, I have been juggling with planning multiple meetings. This has involved connecting with someone in Johannesburg, as well as holding meetings with friends from all over the world.

Since all of this involves calculating time zones and some knowledge about the app’s options, I managed to get myself totally confused. The result was sending a number of unresponsive links to one of my friends, Coral.

A Shot of Dopamine

When Coral’s husband taught me how to bring someone into my ongoing zoom meeting, I experienced the reward of a shot of dopamine surging through my system. “Just look at the top left-hand corner,” he said to me, knowing I was in my Zoom Room.

“Click on the little white spot, and you will find the dropdown menu. There is the link to your current meeting. Just cut and paste the link into an email, send that to my wife, and she will join you right away.” And within a couple of minutes, Coral and I were having our planned meeting! Voila!

Facilitating an Online Meeting

The psychologists are all telling us that we cannot multi-task. I have noticed that when an organisation runs a meeting, one person is conducting the meeting and a colleague will be dealing with the technology.

But, I am a one-woman show.

I need to facilitate the meeting whilst muting and unmuting the various contributors, letting people from the waiting room into the meeting, keeping my eye on the chat, answering my cell phone when I am getting incoming calls to help with a technology problem, and maybe allocating participants into breakout rooms.

If this does not call for multi-tasking skills, then I must have missed something!

An Important Quality

In all the sources, to which I refer for guidance into the psychology of ageing, I have never encountered anything about the ability to tolerate the state of “not knowing.”

In today’s changing world, there is a constant need to be upgrading our skills and our values. I believe that senior people who are unable to embrace technology are those who find the feeling of “not knowing” too uncomfortable.

However, we now live in a rapidly changing world. Do we know what our life will be like once this severe lockdown ends? No.

We can project and have our ideas, but there is only one thing of which we can be certain: “We will all need to adapt to a changed lifestyle with new challenges on the road back to a fully functioning economy.”

If we are to adapt to the inevitable future changing lifestyles, we will need to learn to tolerate the quality of “not knowing.”   With practice and perseverance, learning will take place, goals will be reached.

 

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but that does not mean that human beings are unable to learn new skills throughout their lifespan

The Science of Building New Nerve Connections

It was about 15 years ago that I started to come across the research which demonstrated the exciting discoveries of the new discipline of Neuroscience; the study of the structure and function of the nervous system.   When I was growing up I could never understand why employers tended to view people in their middle years as unsuitable for learning a new job.   The understanding of the growth of nerves throughout the lifespan started to reach my attention at the beginning of this century.   I was directed into a new lifestyle when I realised the growth of new nerve pathways are enhanced by both physical activity and cognitive challenges.

Some of my Challenges

Yes, I do sometimes at the age of 81 become frustrated when a new version of my favourite software comes out.   It is indeed a challenge for me to keep up to date with the necessary changes I need to negotiate in order to manage my own financial affairs.   And yes, it is hard work to remain fit enough to play tennis with people less than half my age.    However, I will share with you some of my routines which assist me in these endeavours.

Physical Fitness

It is only with hindsight that I realise that an accident on the tennis court thirty years ago has indirectly resulted in an enhanced level of physical fitness which is unusual for octogenarians!   In running for a ball which had some lethal backspin applied by my opponent, I lunged and fell on my right knee breaking my anterior cruciate ligament.    Being in my early 50’ at the time, the doctor was reluctant to offer me surgery.

Strenuous post-surgical exercise was necessary for the operation to be successful, and there was some doubt in the surgeon’s mind about my ability to pursue this challenging route.    Since that surgery, nearly 30 years ago, I have continued to ride the stationery bicycle at the local gym twice a week.   This ritual not only ensures that I have free membership of the gym, (offered by my medical aid because of my consistent use of the facility) but my ability to run around on the tennis court with women far younger than myself.

Cognitive Fitness

About 13 years ago I met Dana Stenova of the Czech School of Memory Training and Brain Jogging.   Amongst other things she taught me to remember the digits of phi up to 100 places 3.14159265358979323….…. https://www.piday.org/million/   as well as the 42 American Presidents https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States.  I followed up this early training with researching various online skills as well as MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Learning) https://www.mooc.org/

In order to ensure exercise my attention span I have been practicing Mindsparke http://www.mindsparke.com/ for the past 10 years.   My intention is to perform a daily practice of 10 minutes.   Whilse this ambitious schedule is not always fulfilled, I do perform this task on a regular basis ensuring my nerve paths for concentration and attention are regularly exercised!   Another lovely exercise is offered on a daily basis by the New York Times: https://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle

Mindfulness and Meditation

Some time ago the merits of Mindfulness and Meditation started to appear regularly in the local presss.   When I heard how the esteemed monk Matthieu Ricard https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/    had meditated on Compassion whilst being scanned by an MRI machine, I was motivated to study Buddhism, and to practice Mindfulness on a daily basis.   Ricard who had thousands of hours of meditation under his belt allowed himself to be studied in one of the earliest scientific endeavours to quantify the effects of meditation on the working of the brain.   His compassion was so profound that the needle recording his activity ran out of space on the paper!

So now, the first thing I do when I wake in the morning is a 20 minutes meditation.   That is followed by a 10 minute walk with my dogs in the village where I live.

Croquet as a Game for Seniors

I was fortunate to discover the game of Croquet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquet  about four years ago, and now this pastime has proved to be a wonderful outlet for my energy and passion for the outdoors.    Not only does this sport get you out in the open and onto a beautiful green lawn:  it offers gentle physical exercise.  In addition it ensures you learn some mental strategy to enhance your cognitive skills, and gives the player an opportunity to socialise at the same time

In Conclusion

Maybe you would like to research some of the links I offer you to enhance your physical and cognitive well-being.    I do believe that my disciplined lifestyle has allowed me to maintain a level of fitness which would not have been possible without the effort I make to maintain a health enhancing routine.

 

 

 

Man’s Footprint and its consequences

Do you believe there is a connection between the appearance of the virus that causes Covid-19 and the disturbance of the natural environment?  I posed this question recently in a meeting which had been transferred to an on-line app,  because of the current lockdown. The suggestions was met with silence other than the response of one participant who said, “Grace, do you believe there is an association?”    I could determine through the sound of his voice he was totally sceptical of my perspective.

“Yes,” I responded tentatively.   And then I found myself launching into my understanding of the present predicament. “I believe that because of our destruction of forests and savannahs, wild animals are venturing into populated areas, bringing us into the orbit of viruses which cause deadly diseases.”

Habit of Consumption

My comment was met with a deathly silence.   It is now one week later and I have been listening to some enlightening presentations in a range of on-line meetings.   Consistently I am hearing about the detrimental effects of the selfish habits of consumption perpetrated by the human species.  Whilst this tendency was recorded for the first time over a century ago, consumerism has seriously escalated during the past couple of decades, accelerating the deteriorating conditions of our environment.

Early Warnings of a Pandemic

Bill Gates in his TED talk of 2014 predicted this outbreak.   He lamented the fact that so much attention and money was being put towards the deterrence of a nuclear attack, but yet little was being done about the probability of a major attack by viruses in the near future.

Now, my concerns are around how we are going to live our lives when the period of quarantine is behind us and we find ourselves having to adapt to very different circumstances.    Those who are resilient and who welcome change will cope much better with the psychological and economic challenges of the immediate future.   We need to be prepared to have our value system challenged.  It will be a decade in which a major adaption of both life style and attitude will be demanded.

We will all Need to Change our Life Style and Values

I believe that the largest adjustments will need to be undertaken by those who are financially stable at this moment in time.   For some years I have been suggesting to my family and social circle that I believe that a key disconnect in our world is the acceleration of the size of the Gini Index.   That is the statistical measure of the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor.    The larger the index, the greater the inequality.   I believe it is a crime that the 10 richest people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

I predict that the role of the professionals who deal with mental health problems will be very much in demand.   It is one thing to survive the present ordeal physically intact, but another to cope with the stresses of the situation and emerge without the effects of this traumatic experience embedded in our psyche.

Role of the Internet going Forward

There is no doubt that the role of the internet will be crucial in terms of future health and future business.   Being a boomer, and having learned the internet in my late 50’s, I am pleased that I did not grow up in an era that the internet formed a major part of my entertainment.

I have been using my computer for at least 6 hours a day for the past couple of weeks since I have not been allowed to leave my home except to shop, or to visit the doctor.   During that time I have not played one video game, nor have I visited my Facebook Website.   But I have discovered two outlets for my curiosity and my edification.    Chris Anderson or TED has been interviewing thought leaders on how best to navigate the present challenges of the lockdown.   And Elders for Climate Action have been running some beautiful seminars to help people to adapt to a life style which is more sustainable.

Yes, we are all going to need to adjust to a very new world.   We need to work on our resilience.   Maintain our physical health despite the confinement.   Ensure that our entertainment is directed toward finding healthy outlets rather than mindless pursuits.

Let us Hope a New and Better Era Emerges

We will come out of this with a greater understanding of the human condition.   Mankind has survived many challenges of the past.   After World War 2, new international organisations like the World Health Organisation were formed.   So, despite the hardship and the loss of life, let us be optimistic that mankind will find more sustainable ways to co-operate with each other and the planet on which we depend.

 

Two days ago, I witnessed the death of the man with whom I have had the longest friendship in my life! I have known this man as a husband for 32 years, and as a friend, admirer and supporter for 28 years.

Joe passed away at the age of 94, and it is a source of much pleasure to his survivors that he lived a full and motivated lifestyle until the day he died. A retired General Practitioner, Joe had followed many different dietary regimes over the years. As medical knowledge increased and new theories of nutrition became public knowledge, so his eating patterns would change.

Dietary Regimes

In the early days of our marriage some sixty years ago, it was pilchards and sardines that formed a large part of his diet. Then came the days of a low salt regime. This was followed by a period of low fats and low carbohydrates. More recently, he explored the Banting Diet, and his latest routine was starvation! The past year Joe and his wife Felicity eat but one meal a day and that repast was in the evening. For the rest of the day, only fluids passed their lips.

Working Out

Not many people manifest more discipline than Joe did in his senior years. Until a couple of days before his sudden death, he was maintaining his routine of the past 50 years with a daily two hour workout at the local gym. He was the most senior member of Virgin Active who hosted his 90th birthday at the club as a tribute and gesture of admiration for their loyal client.

I well remember when we were still married and living in Parow in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, and the first Health Gymnasium opened on the Cape Town Foreshore. It involved a 25 minute drive from our home, and Joe together, with his friend Bill used to occupy their lunch hour with a work-out at Discovery Health. This regime was maintained until a couple of days ago.

Our Changed Relationship

I was privileged to share a very special relationship with my ex-husband. While our association as a married couple was characterised by some sense of competition when it came to my endeavours, as a friend, he was my most sincere admirer. He always encouraged me in my strange and varied missions! He was often the first to comment favourably on my blog posts and was always there to guide me in my numerous challenges, whether medical or personally motivated.

Trip to Amsterdam

Earlier this month the family was privileged to accompany Joe to Amsterdam where his thirteen year old grandson celebrated his Barmitzvah. He managed the flight, the social interactions as well as the loud music of the post Barmitzvah celebrations with good humour and aplomb. His family have been left with the fond memories of revelling in the achievements of a young man. We all danced and celebrated to mark this traditional milestone. As a raconteur, Joe did his bit by delivering a magnificent toast to Noam. A flawless tribute recounted without the use of notes.

Change in Sources of Information

During the last year of his life, Joe was challenged by deteriorating eye-sight. However, he did not allow this setback to cut him off from literature or contemporary ideas. By combining the resources of podcasts as well as using audio-books from the local library, he was able to maintain contact with both the news and the literature which were two of his lifetime interest. What might have been a setback became a further point of sharing for Joe and Felicity. Listening to audio-books became a combined activity, instead of the more traditional solo action of reading a paper book.

Regular Visits to the Library

Not only did Joe enjoy keeping up to date with local news, but he loved assisting friends and family members to pursue their interests. The local library allowed him to borrow ten books at a time. He was a regular visitor to the library and loved to take out books which addressed the interests of family members. He would pass on books about cooking to his daughters, advances in the social sciences to me, tomes on mountain climbing or cycling to his son in law.

More recently, when reading books requiring some concentration beyond his capacity, those books would be given to me to read. My job was to glean the essence of what was offered, and report back to him for discussion purposes.

Reajustment

I now have to become accustomed to living my life without the loyal and dedicated support of a man who always had my best interests at heart. I am grateful to have had this wonderful relationship for such a long time and am bracing myself to become more independent as I become accustomed to his absence. He will be missed not only by me but by his many friends and close family.