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

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

 

When I heard that Anwar Mal was to give a lecture on, “The Gut – its Contents and Malcontents,” I knew I was in for a treat!

Whist the gut is primarily known for its role in digesting our food, I have some knowledge about recent research demonstrating the multiple function of the organs stretching from the mouth, to the oesophagus, including the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine and the rectum.     I know the gut had been called The Second Brain, and that most of the neurotransmitter called serotonin is manufactured in the gut.   So, here is my opportunity to extend my knowledge of the gut-brain connection..

Professor Mall

Professor Mall has been involved in researching the functionality of mucous at the University of Cape Town and elsewhere.   He has developed the understanding of how mucus was the ability to protect the internal tracts of the gut from the potent hydrochloric acid which breaks down our food in the stomach.

Mind/Body

Today I learned it may well be the organ which best encompasses the unifying relationship between both mind and body.   When I was at school some 70 years ago, the gut was solely an organ to be associated with food.   However research which has been undertaken during the past few decades makes us believe parts of the gut have an important role to play in our emotional and mental health.

The Language of the Gut

People have always spoken about having gut feeling.   Now we are starting to understand how the contents of your gut, which contains quantities of microbes and bacteria has a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing.   It is now said that to understand the workings of your gut is as important as your knowledge of what food to ingest.

Gut – Brain Link

Soon I discovered there was an entire branch of medical research investigating the links between the gut and the brain.   It is a rapidly growing field of study.   It has been said that research on the gut may ultimately be more promising than work on stem-cell research.

The gut accounts for two thirds of our immune system, extracts energy from our food and produces more than twenty unique hormones.

Research of Guilea Enders

One young woman who has made a contribution to the new understanding of the role of this medley of organs, is Guilea Enders who has written a brilliant book, simply  called The Gut

At the age of 17 she developed a mysterious skin condition which created sores all over her body.   Treatment recommended by her doctors was ineffective so she decided to do her own experiments. She knew that her delivery by Caesarean Section meant that her mother’s probiotic bacteria did not transfer optimally into her gut as a new born.  So, at the age of 17 Guilea was motivated to read up on the current gastroenterological research.   This led her to explore whether extra probiotics and mineral supplements to support her digestion may influence her skin condition.   Her self experiments were successful and she has now made it her life’s work to share her knowledge with the medical world.

The Kiss

To follow up on the concept of a mother transferring natural immunity to her new born child by exchange of body fluids as it exits the birth canal, I learned from Professor Mal of another exchange of fluids that can boost our immunity – none other than the intimate act of the kiss!

Role of Probiotics

I have been hearing for some time the danger of being prescribed antibiotics too frequently.   I also knew that it was advisable to take a probiotic at the same time as the antibiotic to overcome the unwanted side effects.   However the reason for these measures has now become clear to me.

Unfortunately antibiotics do not discriminate between the healthy bacteria in your gut and the unhealthy bacteria, resulting in healthy bacteria being depleted when one takes a course of antibiotics.  This problem can be rectified by ingesting the probiotics to regain the optimal levels. Ultimately it is a delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria which determines one’s state of health.

Gershon and The Second Brain

Michael Gershon is a neurobiologist, so one would imagine that he studies the brain.   However he has discovered the enteric nervous system which is present in the gut leading to him writing a book called The Second Brain.  Neurogastroenterology has become a highly specialised field which enhances the ongoing understanding of the mind and the body’s interactions.

It is now known that the ugly gut is more intellectual than the heart.   In fact it could be said to have the capacity for feeling.   What is more it has the capacity to mediate reflexes in the complete absence of input from the brain or the spinal cord.   Would you believe that there are more than a hundred million nerve cells in the human small intestine?   This number is almost equal to the quantity of nerve cells in the spinal cord.

Saliva and David Wong

David Wong of UCCLA has been working on the role of saliva as a diagnostic tool for the early detection of cancer.    “We were able to show that salivary diagnostics is just as reliable in lung cancer detection as traditional methods are,” said Dr. Wong. “However, our method is non-invasive, nets quicker results (minutes versus days).”    Dr. Wong never thought he’d be analysing spit when he pursued a dental degree, but now he can’t picture doing anything else.

What the Gut may tell us about Consciousness

As a layman it requires a certain amount of imagination to believe in the multiple role of the gut.   It  is an organ which acts as a digester of food, a second brain,  a potential for rich non-invasive research, as well as a vital source of knowledge of the interaction of the mind and the brain.   Because of these varied capacities it is hypothesised that this knowledge may give us some insight into the ultimate meaning of consciousness!