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.

 

It is just eight days before I am due to leave Cape Town and fly to Amsterdam for my grandson’s Barmitzvah.   Plans have been ongoing for some months.   Flights have been booked for the family. Accommodation at our destination has been reserved.   For the past few weeks I have been sewing – creating African style yarmulkes for the men to wear at the religious ceremony.

Acting on a Spontaneous Thought

It is seven o’clock in the evening, and eight days before our date of departure.  For some unknown reason, the idea entered my head that I should check the expiry date on my passports.   Having been born in London, I have both a UK Passport and a South African one in addition.     My local document is used for leaving and returning to my home country.   My UK passport allows me to travel freely in Europe without having to go through the rigmarole of acquiring visas, as most of my South African friends and family need to do!

I search for the pouch in which I store my passports and look for the place where the expiry date is recorded.   It takes me some time to locate the information for which I am searching.   What a shock I had when I realised that both my passports are out of date.   I had travelled overseas just over a year ago.   I should have immediately applied for new documents as I was aware of the expiry date of my present passports was very close.   But then I forgot.

Nothing could be done at that Time

You know that sinking feeling you experience in the pit of your stomach when you are suddenly shocked by the rude awakening of disturbing information?    What was going to happen now?   Would I be able to acquire both a temporary South African Passport and a temporary one for the UK in just one short week?

The only research I could undertake at that time of the evening was to do an internet search to see if I could find information about obtaining passports in an emergency situation.   Relevant information eluded me.  I had to give up my search and await the following business day to find out the possibility of acquiring an emergency travel document.

The Following Day

My travel agent Zeenat looked happy to see me as I walked into the Flight Centre to seek her assistance.  When I told her my tale of woe, it was clear she was presented with a problem which was new to her experience.  Probably not many of her clients have a UK passport, and most of them are better organised than I am.

Zeenat examined both my documents and announced some relief for me when she pointed out that my South African passport, in fact, expired only in October 2020.    In my state of anxiety the night before, I had clearly not been thinking straight.   However, the UK passport had expired in July of this year, 2019.

Her first idea was that maybe I could get a Dutch Schengen Visa for my South African passport.   However, the enquiry revealed that as a British Citizen I do not qualify for a Dutch Visa.   That solution was out of the question.

The next phone call was made to the British Embassy.   I listened patiently whilst Zeenat made the first phone call.   A new passport for the UK takes six weeks.   “And, what about a temporary UK document?” Zeenat enquired.   The polite British lady asked her to hold on whilst she made enquiries.

How will this end?

During the wait for her response, my mind was working on what possibilities existed if she came back with a negative response.    My flight ticket would be jeopardised.   My grandson and his parents would be bitterly disappointed.   My carelessness could put a damper on a celebration which had been many months in the planning.   This irresponsible grandmother living in Cape Town would have her good standing in the family tainted.   Maybe many negative vibes would be introduced into our family relationships.

Zeenat’s face started to come alight.    Her telephonic advisor had returned with the relevant information.   I examined her expression and noticed a glimmer of a smile emerge on her face.   Yes, indeed things were looking positive.   It seems that a temporary passport may well be possible.

A Positive Response

And it was with some relief that Zeenat reported to me the details of her conversation.    There is an online form to be filled in for an application for a temporary UK travel document.   We accessed the document on the internet and as we worked through it, my agent filled in the details whilst I supplied the personal information.

The form was filled in online.   Now I needed to pay online.   Yes, I did have my credit card with me.   I did have my previous UK Passport as well.   We can fill in the appropriate number on the form.   All that now remained to be done was to make an appointment online to visit the Embassy and take along my passport photographs.

The online form that we had filled in was ready to be printed.   Payment had been made.   The appointment at the Embassy was in two days time.    All that remained was for me to have passport photos taken – they had to be photos taken within the past four weeks.

The Challenge has been Concluded

Between 7 pm on Monday evening, and 11 am on Tuesday morning I had traversed through a range of emotions.   I had woken that morning thinking I need to acquire two new passports in one week.   And now I was in the position of knowing I would have two suitable documents for my trip that was to take place in seven days.

It was with great relief that I went to the local confectioners to buy Zeenat her favourite Fabiola Tart, give her a hug, and return home with a much lighter feeling than I had when I left a couple of hours ago.

For many years I have been hearing reports from my friends about the ease with which they have coped with cataract operations.   For some reason or other no-one had suggested to me that it may be time for me to undergo the procedure. And, then it happened!

Lost Driver’s Licence

I recently had new glasses made for driving.   I had lost my driver’s licence and in order to obtain a new one, I needed to pass a vision acuity test.    In South Africa many people fail the official test offered by the traffic department.  They are then given a form and sent to a private optician to be retested.   I have never understood why it is that the test offered by the licencing department is not the definitive test.   The answer still remains a mystery to me.

It Happened More than Once

I tend to be somewhat careless when it comes to looking after important documentation, so have needed recently to replace my drivers’ licence on a couple of occasions.   I had on a previously undergone the inconvenience of having to visit the optician and then return to the testing centre with the required certification.   Yes, I had passed this procedure offered free of charge by the profession.

On receipt of my new driving glasses I was somewhat disappointed that my vision when driving was not as sharp as I would have liked.   I consoled myself that maybe I needed a bit of time to get used to the new prescription.   My eyes needed to adapt.   A couple of months later however, I mislaid this new pair of glasses   They were nowhere to be found!

Yet Another Time

Back to the optician, I go to purchase yet another pair.  When I communicated my dissatisfaction with the previous prescription, my consultant suggested that I have my eyes checked with the ophthalmologist for the growth of cataracts.     Maybe I was ready for cataract surgery.  After all, said the consultant, “It is no good making you another set of glasses if you were not happy with the previous ones!”

“Yes,” observed the ophthalmologist after examining the results of numerous mechanical eye tests, “You clearly are more than ready for cataract surgery.”   I wondered why it was I had waited beyond the ideal time to undertake this procedure.   How could I have neglected my vision in this way?    Who am I to blame?   Is it the fault of the medical profession?   Is it my fault?   How could I have been so neglectful?    I have not yet managed to answer that series of questions.

Surgical Ramifications

Surgery was set for the next week.  “It will be a piece of cake,” quoted all my friends and acquaintances.   Well, In fact the operation took 50 minutes instead of the usual 20 minutes.    On my check up visit I learned that due to the delay in my undergoing of the surgery, the lens had become particularly hard, and thus made it more difficult for the surgeon to remove.   Her instruments had to be used on their strongest setting to achieve the desired result!   The usual conscious sedation was not sufficient, and for some time I was fully unconscious during the procedure because of my restlessness.

Applying the Drops

As I live on my own, I had some concern about how I would cope with applying the numerous drops when I was discharged.   Three sets of drop medication were prescribed.   Two needed to be used at one hourly intervals.   I could not ask my neighbour to come in every hour.   Not even, could I expect the nurse from the clinic to come in hourly.   I had to work out how to do the procedure myself.

So sitting in a comfortable chair with my head held back, I used my left hand to form a space for the drop, by stretching my lower lid, held the bottle of medication in my other hand next to my eyebrow.   Using my tactile senses I awaited the landing of the drop in my eye.

Rehabilitation

It all seemed to work.   It is now four days post the operation and I am having fun comparing my vision in the post- operated right eye, with my vision in my non-operated left eye.   What a revelation awaited my experimentation.    The white wall outside my home looked white when I look through the eye which had already undergone the procedure.   Whereas the left eye, yet to have the operation, perceived the wall in a dullish yellowish colour.   A clear demonstration of the effect of the growth of cataracts.

I am optimistically looking forward to a couple of months hence.  I have been promised clear vision for both reading and driving with no need for spectacles!   A pleasure indeed, and much safer for me and all the other road users in this part of the world!

If you want to find out more about cataract surgery, look here

 

Not all of us are the owners of vast financial fortunes. We may not consider ourselves to be wealthy. Some of us may have limited monetary resources. However, each and every person needs to protect their family members by drawing up a Legal Will. Also, more recently, a Living Will has become an essential ancillary document to be considered. It acts as a directive for our families if we should develop a long term terminal condition. A Living Will can save a great deal of emotional turmoil if we should be in a state when we are not of sound mind to make our own decisions.

Making use of Opportunities

So when I heard that a local Care Organisation was offering a presentation from an attorney who specialises in this area of advice giving, I decided it would be a good idea to go along and enhance my awareness of these two relevant documents.

Unexpected Insights

While I have drawn up a will based on the counsel of my Financial Advisor, I had not sought the advice of someone who is professionally trained in the rules and regulations around the drafting of a will, so decided to attend the meeting to enhance my knowledge on this topic.

As it happened, I learned something profound from a member of the audience, Kate Brown of Fiscal Private Client Services, who is a financial planner.  She is particularly focused on tuning into the emotional needs of her clients From Kate I gleaned a thoughtful lesson.  It is so important for professional people who are giving technical advice to be tuned in to the nuances of family relationships.

The South Africa Reality

Many senior South Africans have been called geriatric orphans.   They may have middle aged children who have traversed continents and live together with their offspring all over the world.   The apartheid era which started in this country in the later 40’s was the predominant political perspective for the next 50 years.   Many people growing up during this time were pessimistic about their future in this country.    As a consequence many senior South Africans have their grown up children living in different parts of the world.

So, our senior population may have had three or four children, but because of the prevailing political insecurity most of their offspring may have left the country.   Frequently just one of the children remains behind and this person’s job becomes caring for the ageing parents.

When paying their regular visits to their parents, these ‘overseas’ siblings may well question the ‘local’ sibling who has the caring role.   This could be in the field of finances, or health or any other meaningful supporting function played by the remaining child.

Sensitivity or Role Players

This local sibling is playing the numerous roles which, in different circumstances, may have been shared by all the family members.   The home resident, may feel exploited and becomes hyper-sensitive to any comments made by their visiting relative.    A casual suggestion can easily be misinterpreted as being a criticism of the single overworked care person.

It was in this situation that Kate, as financial planner, pointed out the role played to ease the situation.  This potentially hurtful scenario can be anticipated.  The caring professional can offer a warning to all concerned about possible comments and questions so that each player can be sensitised to the possibility that a casual, well-intentioned remark will not be unnecessarily received as a criticism.   In this case a warning offered in anticipation may be of great assistance.

Living Will

There were many questions asked about the validity of a Living Will. Each country will have its regulations regarding this document.  However, if you live in South Africa then a model document is obtainable on the internet from this site

There are five good reasons why a Living Will has become important for all senior citizens to consider in this era of advanced medical knowledge.

  1. It allows everyone to make his or her intentions known at a stage when they are still lucid. A statement as to whether or not you wish to be kept on artificial life support may well be appreciated by your family if you should in the future lose your ability to make decisions for yourself.
  2. You will save your close relations from having to debate whether or not to prolong your life artificially. This document may protect them from many emotionally straining discussions.
  3. It will ensure that excessive expenditure is avoided to extend your life if this is not your wish.
  4. You can make your own decision as to whether or not you would like your organs to be offered for saving the lives of other patients.
  5. Making a Living Will protects you from worrying about what may happen if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. This document can bring you peace of mind.

The Role of Professionals

A chat with the attendees at the end of this productive session of current advice left me feeling more confident of making plans for any potential end of life scenario I may experience.

I felt grateful to be in the company of some wise professionals who can offer guidance in a caring and non-judgemental manner.

 

Chantell Ilbury is considered to be one of Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers.    This modest and attractive young woman spoke at a meeting under the banner of the Cape Town University of the Third Age, at our local Baxter Theatre.

Scenario Planning

What a treat it was! Chantell is consulted by major companies all over the world, who seek her advice on the possible happenings in the realm of scenario planning. In this role, she makes predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour. She is consulted by major businesses all over the world to advise them on the way forward.

Chantell shared with us some of the ‘flags’, she and her partner Clem Sunter study in their role as scenario planners. They make predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour.

The Flags 

  1. The Religious Flag: The biggest danger to watch is Iran. If this country should follow through with any of its aggressive threats to attack Israel or the USA, then the price of oil will be heavily implicated.
  2. Trade War Flag: They need to watch what is going on between the USA and China, each of whom wishes to dominate in this arena.
  3. Environmental Flag: We are already seeing dramatic floods, heatwaves and droughts, yet the denialism of President Trump needs to be monitored. The role of young people is proving significant in this area.
  4. The Ageing Flag: This is described as a ‘clockwork’ feature – it moves steadily in one direction. The proportion of aged in the populations can be monitored and is becoming greater, and this creates a burden on the younger generations
  5. Anti-Establishment Flag: We are going through a stage of Populism, where the elite are being maligned. The role of President Trump in the USA  and Boris Johnson in Britain are taking the Western World into this somewhat regressive posture.
  6. The National Debt: Today this figure is increasing, and many of the world’s leading countries carry a foreign debt of over 60%

What about Africa

Chantell informed us of the aspirations of the African continent. I learned about the African Union Agenda for 2063, which envisions an integrated and prosperous merger of member states during the next couple of decades. This bold aspiration is planned to commence with an economic merger. It is hoped that the warring factions will be silenced and the 54 countries of Africa will have initiated a range of co-operative ventures across the board.

In fact the front page of today’s daily newspaper Cape Times carries news of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) which opens for a three day conference in Cape Town today.   Over 1000 delegates, global leaders in government, business and civil society, have gathered to explore the creation of inclusive sustainable growth for the countries of Africa.

Education

Chantell Ilbury, together with Clem Sunter are in the process of visualising an educational strategy for high school students. They feel that too much attention is given to learning factual material, and not enough to encourage the thinking strategies of today’s young people.

Isiah Berlin was a prominent philosopher at Oxford University when Clem studied there in the 1960s. He wrote a book which he called The Hedgehog and the Fox. This title was based on a quotation of the Greek poet Archilocus nearly 2700 years ago who realised, “The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing”. Scenario planners fall into the category of foxes. They are able to adapt their preferences according to prevailing conditions. Surely this demands a fresh educational perspective! This is what this talented duo are fostering in this rapidly changing world.

Charles Darwin spoke about the “Survival of the Fittest” This does not refer to the strongest members of society, but to those individuals who are able to adapt to changing circumstances. The species who were able to make rapid changes in a competitive environment are those who will stay ahead of the game. Our world is changing faster and faster as each year passes. I remember being fascinated by a course I studied in the 1950s about Social Change. We were told even then that technology changes faster than our ability to absorb the changes. How much more significant is that concept today. Social media influences need to be monitored by citizens with flexible minds who can adapt to the ever-evolving technological innovations.

Karl Popper divided the world’s phenomena into ‘clocks’ which could be analysed according to the parts which move and are relatively predictable, and the ‘clouds’. The latter category tends to be random events which follow no rules. Children need to understand the relative effect of both these types of events

David Hume is remembered for his 18th century postulation, “Reason is the slave of passion”. The earlier that children understand the difference between our conscious and our unconscious motivation, the better their chances of thriving in today’s world.

The partners in scenario planning have already introduced this program called “Growing Foxes” in a private school in London.  They are now negotiating for their program to be introduced into South African Schools.

It was indeed encouraging to learn about this relevant and creative approach to emphasising contemporary, relevant criteria within the field of pedagogics. It promises to assist our youngest generation to make better decisions about their own lives. In addition, they are helped to make well reasoned decisions regarding the ecological impacts of today’s lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It was most reassuring to learn these two progressive thinkers are prioritising a sustainable educational policy for today’s youth. May there be more practical and academic participants performing this crucial role of educating the youth, and advising on future scenario planning.