I am not religious. Nor do I consider myself to be particularly spiritual. However, in January I found myself experiencing a profound premonition that this year the subject of Climate Change would be important in my life.

January 2020

In January 2020, there were vague rumblings about a virus in China. It was far away. Probably like MERS and SARS it was something that would affect countries in Asia, but there was no inking in my mind that this virus would initiate a pandemic declared by the World Health Organisation a few weeks later.

September 2020

Now in September, we have just memorialised the terrorism tragedy of 9/11 2001. Noted that it is 6 months since we went into stage 5 of a lockdown in South Africa. We are in a deep economic recession. An awareness of the malignancy of class and race has emerged as a prime consideration.

The World Economic Forum is telling us that capitalism, as it has been practised in the west since WW2, is unsustainable. And, there is a growing acceptance that Climate Emergency is the responsibility of each and every one of us.

Introduction to Climate Reality

My nine-day introduction to becoming an Ambassador with Climate Reality opened up a new vista to me.

This worldwide organisation, initiated by Al Gore a decade ago, has now trained thousands of people around the world with an understanding of the part each individual can play in reducing their consumption and encouraging their peer group to educate themselves on the dangers of unwise and excessive purchases.

I felt the Pressure

I felt somewhat overwhelmed two days ago when I received information that as a Climate Reality Ambassador I was expected to participate in 24 hours of activism on Sunday 11th October. I was feeling daunted by these instructions. I needed to prepare a one hour talk to be presented either face to face or online on October 11th.

It was hoped that 3000 presentations would be given on this day by ambassadors from all over the world. I needed to play my part. This was indeed pressure. Having participated in the free online course about one month ago, I was feeling more and more anxious that my journey to climate activism had not yet started in earnest.

Reaching Out

Now, I had this commitment. So I reached out.

When I had participated in the online course about two months ago, I was part of a cohort of representatives from Africa. We had a WhatsApp group to share the joint meetings, activities and interests of the participants. This means of communication had been vital during the training, but had become somewhat quiescent in the interim!

I put my pride in my pocket, and reached out to the group: “An appeal:Is there anyone (preferably in Cape Town) who would like to work with me to discuss how we are going to work towards our presentation in October. I would love to share my ideas and motivation with someone!”

Little did I know that within 15 minutes I would find two delightful, talented, knowledgeable young women from our group responding with their cellphone numbers and email addresses?

Welcome Farzana

Farzana Prior has written two books “The Blood Bath has Begun – are we too late to save Humanity?” and “Covid-19 – which is the worst pandemic?” During our Zoom calls, when we were on the course, I had been excited to learn about Farzana’s chutzpah. She is a regular participant on Twitter where she advises Cyril Rhamaposa on the way he needs to manage Eskom. She is outspoken, knowledgeable and experienced in the world of Climate Activism.

Now, she is encouraging me and tells me she is there to support me.

This was sufficient for me to make my commitment to 24 Hours of Activism, and here is the invitation to my presentation.

Welcome Jackie

I was equally excited that Jackie May reached out to me. I had wanted to chat with Jackie who is in the design industry and is actively promoting climate-friendly procedures within the world of fashion. She has masterminded a prize for the South African fashion manufacturers. Awards are offered for those businesses whose policies most profoundly demonstrate climate-friendly industrial procedures.

Visible Mending

Jackie and I got to talking about Visible Mending. For many years beading and patchwork have been two of my hobbies. When making my own clothes, or upgrading bought garments, I have been fond of adding my personal touch to these items. Adding beading, or embroidery, or tassels to my clothes has been a pastime for many years.

As Jackie and I discussed, invisible mending is out of date, it is now Visible Mending which demonstrates the wearer’s noble commitment to lowering their consumption of fabric. I was so excited when Jackie and I, discussed the possibilities to co-develop our ideas on enlarging this new creative pastime.

We would be able to creatively and constructively work on the art of extending the life of clothing.

Thanks, Jackie and Farzana – there is nothing to stop me now!

Read more about these endeavours on the Front Page of my blog!

 

 

 


Baking Bread and Bettering the Brain

My daughter Daniella who manufactures chef uniforms, did a deal with Jade who teaches Bread Baking.   Daniella would make Jade and her mother each a beautiful apron to wear at their bread making demonstrations.   In exchange, my daughter and I were offered a workshop on making Sour Dough Bread.

So this morning my starter was ripe, and it was time for me to put my new skills into practice.   The starter had been out of the fridge for four days, had been dutifully fed at 24 hour intervals and was considered ripe for the job.   Kneading bread in preparation for the rising before the baking, is a 20 minute repetitive operation.   I needed something to keep my mind busy whilst performing the kneading process.  The speakers from my computer were placed in the kitchen, and it was time to get to work.

Brain Science Podcast

It was some time since I had last listened to Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcast. “Brain Science features the latest books about neuroscience as well as interviews with leading scientists from around the world.”

I chose to listen to the presentation by John Medina who discussed his book:   Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp,  The podcast was switched on, and the bread mixing was started.

Brain Health: Genetics and the Environment

It was 15 years ago that I first learned about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to change according to environmental stimuli.   This podcast would offer me the chance to learn about some of the recent research on keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive reserve.   “Recent research,” quoted  Medina, “has demonstrated that the role of the environment is responsible for 66% of the ability to maintain the maximum performance of our brain.”

Social Interaction

Confirmation of the positive role of social interactions for preserving brain health was reassured by the speaker.  Spending time in congenial company helps to preserve both our cognitive and our emotional health.  Of course, we all know it is good to have friends.   However, there is a bit of a new spin on the friendship criterion.  “Welcome those friends that do not always agree with you,” say the experts.  “It is a good exercise to have an intellectual sparring match with your friends as long as one simple condition is observed.   You need to retain respect for each other.   Seek out people with different perspectives and challenge your latent beliefs.”  That was great news for me as I have been spending many hours of late in the zoom room conducting controversial debates on the role of the Covid pandemic, and its contribution to forcing us to re-evaluate our lifestyle and our value systems.

With the emergence of the pandemic, these meetings have offered wonderful food for thoughtful examination.   It is amazing that a topic as mundane as the role of a cloth mask in preventing Covid-19 can arose so much controversy.   Of course, it is not recommended for this discussion to result in the acrimony experienced between Republicans and Democrats!

Inter-generational interaction

“It is healthy to discuss our life perspective with those of a different generation. Contrasting values and ideas offer the brain a ‘work-out’, during which the synaptic connections can be retrained.   With computers playing such a dominant role in the life-style of young people, they are in touch with many ideas and opportunities that are unavailable to those who opt-out of interacting with social media,”  says our expert.   There is no doubt that learning from one’s grandchildren is a very worthwhile activity.   Let us offer them our wisdom gleaned from our long life of challenges, and further enrich ourselves by remaining current with the new ideas and original thinking of the younger generations.

The Mediterranean Diet.

The expert podcaster reassured me regarding my faith in the Mediterranean Diet, something which I have been practising for the past few decades.    The advantage of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is healthy for humans and also puts less stress on the natural resources of the planet.

My recent studies with Climate Reality has increased my awareness of the urgency of cutting down the carbon content of the atmosphere by at least 1.5%.    I have been made even more firmly aware of the fact that a plant-based diet is more environmentally friendly than one dominated by beef, chicken and lamb.

Exercise

I always knew that taking my dogs for a walk for approximately 45 minutes a day for the past 70 years was an investment in my health, so it surprised me to learn how little movement we actually need in order to gain the benefits of aerobic activity.   “All you need to do is a brisk half hour work for five days a week to show the benefit of exercise,” claimed the podcaster.

I now take most of my phone calls on my cellphone.   I have made it a rule to always walk around my lounge, or outside in the garden when I have longish phone conversations.   That must surely give me a further hour or so of walking per day!

Combining the Old and the New

It was satisfying to find that I was kept entertained by a contemporary podcast whilst simultaneously performing the bread baking which has been similarly practised for many centuries.   How rewarding it is to combine the ancient art of baking homemade bread with the contemporary capacity to enhance my learning.

The bread was indeed yummy!   Let us trust that my synapses will continue making new and stronger connections!

“But this is a time to gather the facts, then get quiet and summon our deepest wisdom — and let that wisdom lead us. For we have difficult choices to make in the coming days,” says Valerie Kaur in her memoir entitled “From Revolutionary Love.”

It is now five months into the pandemic and I need to reflect on my thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of Covid-19 on humankind.

The Three Stages of Live

I have been a member of The University of the Third Age for the past 20 years.   Never before have I been so aware of the significance of ‘The Third Age.’    This senior group of people has retired.  Their concern is about their investments, rather than their capacity to earn.   By contrast, those in ‘The Second Age” are still needing to earn.   They are the most implicated in the slowdown of the economy and the insecurity of maintaining their lifestyle.   Those who are still in ‘The First Age’ are concerned about the disruption of their education because of the closing of schools and institutions of higher learning.

The Confluence of Three Crises

I am not alone in my conjectures regarding this pandemic having made me more critically aware of both the urgency of Climate Disruption and the injustice of Class and Caste all over the world.   In the USA many People of Colour have died at the hands of the police.   The way it happened to George Floyd a couple of months ago, the cruelty of this particular public act, and the fact that it was so widely reported on social media, has ensured a widespread awareness as well as the urgency of acting on this misappropriation of justice.

The awareness of the malevolence of the role of a carbon dense atmosphere has been intensified.  Pictures of cities in China which are usually bathed in smog are now photographed as being  exposed to the blue sky.    The birds are singing more loudly and wild animals are returning to their habitat.   There can be no place for the refutation of scientific evidence regarding the negative implications of carbon polluted air.   It has been reported that the reduction of emissions for 2020 are now in line with the recommendations of the Paris Convention.   Great news indeed.   It can be done.   Let us ensure regulations are promulgated to ensure the continued diminution of toxic waster products.

Interdependence

This is the first time in history that populations throughout the world are feeling the devastating effects, the gross implications of living in an interconnected world.   The virus knows no boundaries.   We are all in this together.   The only way in which we are going to save our planet from the gross injustices of the past is for people, of all nationalities, of all persuasions to work together.   Never before has the interdependence between humans, and animals and nature been so obvious.

Exciting News

The World Economic Forum is taking the lead.    This organisation led by George Schwab has been meeting fortnightly to brainstorm transformative ideas for a restart of the economy based on the needs of people across both the political and class spectrums, irrespective of prestige or belief.   In January 2021 the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos is going to have a new format.   Instead of inviting only successful business leaders, political heads of states and influential people, the decision has been made to have the voices of three generations present at Davos.  The concept of The Great Reset is truly inspiring

Reading of the plans of this illustrious body of thinkers, I detect a rejection of the neo-liberal model where gross economic growth is the most important criterion of success. The main objective of business.    There is an inkling of awareness that it is not only the shareholders that need to be rewarded with dividends.   All players in the organisation have needs that must be met, including those performing the most mundane jobs.    The selfish, short term motives of activities must be replaced by the long term goals to benefit all the players.  The benefit all needs to be incorporated into the business structure.   It is going to be today’s youth who come up with new ideas to manifest these progressive theoretical concepts.

The Biggest Learning of the Pandemic

The rules and regulations of the lockdown have transformed our lifestyle in the most dramatic manner.    This ability of the world’s population to regulate their day to day habits has been necessitated by the lethal capacity of a micro-organism.   It has been demonstrated that “Where there is a Will, there is a Way”    There must be a way towards a fairer and more equal society where the needs of all beings are treated with fairness and dignity.

In Conclusion
In Conclusion

“I can see how we could use this opportunity to design a better world,” says Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), “but we need both national and multilateral institutions to make it work.

Solidarity and sharing and deciding on how you protect people – both within nations and globally – is absolutely critical at the moment.”

 

Last Sunday my daughter invited me to breakfast. She had been telling me about the delicious pancakes she makes. They are accompanied by stewed pears, naartjies, and bananas then topped with nuts, seeds and syrup. This description was indeed enticing, so I accepted the invitation with alacrity.

The Challenge Starts!

Watching her preparing for the anticipated brunch, my son-in-law comes up with a question, “How do you explain your evolution,” he asks. Well.” I responded, “My evolution is not unlike yours. I do believe that both your ancestors and mine started on the planes of the African savannas.” “What I meant,” he explains, “How is it that you have adapted so well to the Covid pandemic? You seem to have even more of a zest for new experiences than usual!”

Now I had to think quickly. What was the source of my resilience? How is it that I have managed to capitalise on the resources offered by the Zoom Room?

So I set out to think about the habits I have developed during the more than eight decades of my time on this planet. And so I came up with the following thoughts

Learning a New Language in my 30’s

“What I want to know is how it is that you have maintained the ability to learn new skills and keep in touch with what is going on in the world during this challenging period of climate change denialism, racial unrest and adjusting to the post-covid lifestyle,” Mervin reminded me

After a few moments of reflection, I managed to articulate a few possibilities. Because of the unusual circumstances of being reared in denial of my Jewish Identity, I had always felt inadequate when my friends peppered their conversations with Hebrew words I did not understand. In addition, it was disappointing, when I attended lectures and missed the nuances of the argument because of my unfamiliarity with the colloquial Hebrew terms that were part of the discussion.

When I was in my early thirties, I was unaware of the present understanding that learning a new language in your mid-life is one of the best ways of maintaining your cognitive fluency. It is by accident that I benefited from the motivation I had for social belonging.

The mastering of Hebrew writing, reading and speaking, by attending a university course in Hebrew, had an unintended and unexpected benefit. The rewiring of the brain that must have accompanied this course of learning, has allowed me to retain a better than average ability to absorb new information at my present advanced stage in the life cycle.

Knee Surgery in 1990

“But,” continued Mervin probing me further, “that does not account for the fact that you still play tennis twice a week with all those young ladies!” “That was also unplanned” I continued. It was three decades ago that I broke my anterior cruciate ligament whilst running for a short ball on the tennis court. The surgery that followed that injury necessitated a stringent rehabilitation program requiring me to cycle in the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week. This was usually followed up with some exercise on the various machines and then a swim. Not only did this work-out keep my knee strong, but it also offered me a level of fitness enjoyed by very few people at my stage of life. Retrospectively that injury, followed by a rigorous program of exercises, allowed me to benefit from an ongoing improved level of fitness.

Running a Business

Then I told Mervin how his wife, who was still busy making the breakfast, had inadvertently offered me the opportunity to gain a headstart in developing technology skills. It was 1995, a couple of years after my divorce from her father when Daniella suggested we go into business together and purchase a Futurekids Franchise. Something I would not have thought of doing on my own, but once she suggested we invest in this new business venture, my interest was piqued.

The five years that Daniella and I ran this business together, enabled me to master basic computer skills.

I qualified for the International Microsoft Drivers Licence or ICDL. This is an internationally recognised qualification providing practical training in each of the most commonly used software tools. Together with this knowledge, I managed to master the basic navigation of the internet, giving me the tools to become an independent learner.

The motivation to make a success of the business was a great incentive to master a wide range of skills, which have resulted in my ability to do research, design teaching materials and enrich my knowledge and understanding of the hobbies I subsequently developed.

The Mediterranean Diet

Mervin was not yet satisfied. “But what about your healthy diet, he enquired.” My adoption of vegetarianism, together with following closely the Mediterranean Diet, was yet another accident. I had developed an itch some few decades ago, on my upper arm. A casual suggestion by my father was that I tried cutting out meat from my diet.

Retrospectively it was a strange suggestion from a man who had no interest in dogs. However, he had heard the dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse saying that dogs who had itchy skin were treated by cutting down the amount of meat in their food. Today when there is a pressure from environmentalists to stop eating meat, I am grateful that I do not need to make any changes in my diet to comply!

Mervin is satisfied

Having offered Mervin a rationale of my accidental adoption of healthy behaviour and habits, he seemed to be satisfied. He had inadvertently offered me an inspiring opportunity to reflect on some of the positive incidents of my life. At the same time, I believe I was able to satisfy his curiosity

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

South Africa has been in lockdown since 27th March 2020 – that amounts to 13 ½ weeks at the time of writing.    What have I learned about myself, society and the human condition during that time?  How am I making sense of all these constraints on my personal freedom?  How am I coping with the anxiety of an ever more threatening future?

Being Subjected to Outside Disciplinary Measures

I live in a village for Senior Residents.   I was told by the Village Manager yesterday that I was not allowed to visit my daughter who lives about 15K from my home and has just returned from hospital after a surgical procedure.   I was somewhat stunned to internalise this restriction on my liberty, but realised that a protest would evoke unpleasant repercussions from my community

So my plans were thwarted.   Despite spending yesterday morning making vegetable soup and kneidlach, spring rolls, and stewed apples;  topped by homemade rolls and a fresh carrot and cabbage salad, my aspirations were stymied.    My intention was to share these symbols of my love with my two daughters over a celebratory supper.

However, when my younger daughter arrived at the security station to fetch me and the fondly made repast, she was not allowed inside the Village grounds.   Not even to collect the food.   Furthermore, I was told by the village Manager that if I left the village to visit my recuperating offspring, I would not be allowed back into my home again!   And, I did not even protest!

School Goers also have Disciplinary Features in the Daily Routine

Our local scholars have just returned to school after three months of home learning.   They are not allowed to play in the grounds during the break, but must sit in their desks to eat their snacks.   Teachers are not able to walk between the children’s desks, let alone hug them or shake their hands.   Standing in line to have temperatures taken and hands sanitised is the opening ritual on arriving at school.   So, I am certainly not the only person in the world whose activities are being thwarted.

Some Sanity from a Wise Psychiatrist and Environmentalist

I had the privilege of listening to Ian McCullum putting into perspective the anxiety-provoking circumstances of our present lifestyle.   He drew my attention to some profound new understandings initiated by the confluence of the Covid pandemic, together with the virulent reaction to the death of George Floyd.   There have been many demonstrations over the years when police violence in America has been out of proportion, however this particular event was witnessed all over the world with the 8 minute 46 second video, circulated by a bystander.  The unexpected consequences have been monumental.

Our Defence Mechanisms

Dr McCullum offered some profound insight.   He described the response to the present unique circumstances in terms of four “viruses.”  More traditional psychological theory might have labelled the qualities ‘defence mechanisms.’

  • Ignorance is manifested by those who do not have the ability to recognise that all humans and animals are interconnected. Many do not have the curiosity to internalise this concept of inter-dependency.
  • Entitlement is a quality possessed by many people who are in denial of their privileges. The present challenges have demonstrated clearly that it is the poorer and less privileged who are the worst victims of this scourge.    It is not true to say, the virus does not discriminate.   Statistics show that a lower socioeconomic status puts the individual at greater risk.
  • Indifference is displayed by arrogant people who think it is their right to come first, and are incapable of internalizing the significance of their privileges.
  • Defeatism is used as a tool for those who declare it is too late to do anything about climate change. They declare that to be optimistic is to be foolhardy.   However, active hope is an essential tool for humankind if we are going to find a “new normal”
Covid-19, Racism and Climate Change.

The confluence of the challenges of Covid-19, Racism and Climate Change has brought to my attention the necessity for each and every one of us to examine their personal values and beliefs.  We have just undergone a massive worldwide change in our behaviour.   All over the globe citizens of many countries have had their freedom curtailed by government regulations.

The threat of the virus is immediate, whereas the threat from climate change is long term.   There is no immediate repercussion for the individual if he or she continues to use plastic indiscriminately.   Racism has existed all our lifetime and the destruction of the spirit of those with darker skin hues gets condoned because their hurt feelings are not visible.

We can change our behaviour, turn our lifestyle upside down virtually over-night when potential death is on our doorstep.   What an amazing demonstration of the fact, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

My Hope

The unprecedented times through which we are passing allow us to slow down, feel our feelings, examine our thoughts, meditate on our actions and re-evaluate our belief systems.   My hope is that the wisdom bearers amongst us will be able to use the present circumstances to mobilise human resources to create a more fair and equitable world.   And, I predict that it will be the generation of my grandchildren who will come up with the necessary revolutionary perspectives and creative ideas to enable the transformation of human behaviour and its relationship to the environment.

 

It is 12 noon on a Friday morning, 22nd May 2020. I am feeling energised by three positive experiences. The first one totally unanticipated, and the following two planned arrangements that turned out to be extremely satisfying. It would not be exaggerating to say, “Beyond my wildest dream!”

Generating Hope

My early morning checking of emails turned up an unexpected find.  I received a booklet from our local School Leadership Forum. Accessing the new publication from this link: and I was delighted to sample some of the short stories.   The rationale for assembling these tales was to assist in generating the positive mental health of our school-going children.

A member of the teaching profession had requisitioned stories from a range of educators. She had asked them to create tales which would ‘create hope’ for children needing to cope with their present challenges, such as being denied contact with their friends, or their fears around contracting Covid-19.  What a joy it was to dip into so many uplifting contributions! My exploration of these enlivening anecdotes certainly raised my personal ‘hope.’ I would have loved to carry on reading, but I had an appointment at 10.30.

Invitation for Six Participants.

In this day and age, the only social interactions freely available are those we have in our zoom room!  I had invited six of my contacts to do me a favour.  Something I would not have been able to imagine just two short months ago.

“Please,” I emailed them, “I would like you to attend a 45 minutes meeting in zoom so that I can practice putting you into Breakout Rooms.

Some things you can learn by yourself. Even a team sport you can practice on your own. Most challenges can be improved by solo practice. The exception is allocating Breakout Rooms while conducting a zoom meeting. I had read the online tutorials, and viewed the video clips on the Zoom Help Site, but there was no way I could practice without the help of real live people with beating hearts being online with me!

The Three Aims of the Meeting
  1. I needed to practice placing participants into either ‘planned’ groups, or ‘arbitrary’ groups which are generated by chance within the zoom app.
  2. As the facilitator, I needed to be able to notify participants when they have just 60 seconds to conclude their discussion
  3. I wished to learn how to join each group while they are in the Breakout Rooms, as well as testing my ability to move from one room to the other.

By 11.15 a wave of satisfaction wafted through my body.  I had achieved these three goals. Now when I conduct future meetings, I will be confident the participants will have a positive experience of intimate small group discussions in the breakout rooms. Finally, without needing to be tense, I will have the confidence to bring all participants back into the main venue to continue the large group discussion.

I Advise my Financial Adviser!

Chatting to my Financial Advisor yesterday on the phone, we were comparing notes on our adjustment to the lockdown dictated by the ongoing pandemic and which was now reaching the two-month mark.

He was telling me how well he was doing consulting with his clients in Zoom. “But,” he told me, “I do have one problem. When I want to refer my clients to their personal documentation, I am not able to do so.”

“Well,” I responded, “this gives me an opportunity to offer you some advice! You must join me on zoom so that I can teach you how to ‘share your screen’ with your client.”  I do believe that initially, he was a bit sceptical, but he did not wish to disappoint me.  So an arrangement was made that the meeting would take place on Friday at 11.30; following the earlier practice session which we had discussed.

How to ‘Share your Screen.’

This turned out to be my third event of positivity during this morning. Just five minutes into the meeting, Mark was enabled, by following my instructions, to ‘share his screen!’ He was initially perturbed because the format of the display was different from that which he had imagined. However, a few seconds later, the penny dropped, and I am not sure who was happier between the two of us.  Mark, who had learned a new technique. Or me, who had been able to share my skills with him.

The Moral of the Story

We are going through very trying times at the moment. We will continue to negotiate deprivations of all kinds going forward. Can we tune into the creative ways to enrich the lives of our friends and acquaintances during this stressful time?   As the Stoics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism would say, “We cannot do anything about the things beyond our control, however, we can use our creativity and imagination to change those things  over which we do have control!”

My Hunch

At the beginning of this year, I had a hunch. Life was about to transform. The present Neoliberal philosophy dictating our lifestyle had outlived its usefulness.

With some degree of discomfort I found myself predicting that humankind would need to adapt to new values going forward. My intuition was telling me that some massive societal change was in the air!

My Actions

As a Facilitator of Conscious Ageing for the senior members of our community, I opened the first monthly meeting this year on 10th February, with an announcement. In the past, our special little group had investigated methods of living an emotionally filling life while looking after our cognitive and physical health. I now announced that the time had come to look at how climate change was desecrating our planet, and compromising our future lifestyle.

Enter Covid-19

Very soon, news of a virus in China was making headlines. However, at this stage, it was still far away. Yes, it was someone else’s problem. At that time, the knowledge that the population of that vast country was going into a situation of limited physical contact did not seem particularly relevant.

It Affects All of Us

Some three months later, Covid-19 has become everybody’s problem. Listening to an online symposium from the Jung Platform  I realised in no uncertain terms that the world needs to work together to find a solution to this devastating virus. Maybe the first time in history that 187 countries around the world have the same challenge confronting them.

Within this unique situation comes an opportunity. We are in a crisis of unknown length and proportions. I await the cohort of my grandchildren’s age to take over the leadership roles which will initiate a transformation from the present economic dispensation which benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. The discrepancy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has grown unconscionably during the past couple of decades. Critical changes need to be addressed in managing both the wealth and the power structures.

The Implications

In South Africa, the lockdown started on Thursday March 26th, just seven weeks ago. This lifestyle restriction started with what was called Stage 5. Schools were closed, only essential work in the supply of food and pharmaceutics was allowed to carry on business as usual. All other commercial activity was to take place online. Of course, all sport was curtailed, exercise was allowed only in your private property, and no dog walking at any time of day or night!

This regime was originally mandated for three weeks. Then it was extended for a further two weeks. Now we are living in Stage 4. The only item that has changed for me is that we are now allowed to exercise within 5K of our residence between 6 and 9 in the morning.

Some of my Predictions

Educators in charge of teaching at both the level of school and university, tell us that teaching and learning will undergo some radical transformations, even when lockdown conditions are terminated.  Senior students will not have to go to school every day as they are sufficiently disciplined to work on their own at home one or two days a week.

Under-graduate work at the university level will receive at least 30% of the curriculum online. It may be that schools will have to embark on two sessions a day to offer the pupils the necessary degree of physical space.

Many businesses will sanction a percentage of their workers to work from home. Maybe that will be for a couple of days a week or more! Office blocks may well be short of tenants. What I am looking forward to is the easing of congestion on our roads when parents do not need to take their children to school on a daily basis, and many employees will not need to travel to the office.

During the last couple of years travelling to adjacent suburbs in Cape Town had become a most prolonged and more stressful undertaking. I am hoping that at least that situation will be eased!

Mental Health

There are many adjustments that need to be made to cope with this period of lockdown. When more freedom of movement is allowed, our values, attitudes and mindsets will require some degree of recalibration. Novel remedies will be required to assist in the development of the flexible mindset required for changes of both routine and evaluation of values.

Mindfulness and meditation which have been growing in popularity the last couple of decades will, I believe, become an essential tool to assist people in adjusting to the new conditions of post lockdown. A greater awareness of the necessity to eat well, exercise regularly and have enough sleep will be required.

I wonder if more controls will be implemented to monitor the information that is allowed to be published on social media! The possibilities of false news have become so widespread and havecaused a great deal of unnecessary stress. As a senior, I am grateful that I do not need to participate in the news circulating on either Facebook or Instagram. Sadly, young people become victims of false information that is so freely published on these platforms.

Climate Change and Covid-19

A couple of months ago, when I recognised the relationship between Covid 19 and Climate Change, my evaluations were shrugged off by my peer group as illogical and alarmist. Today I already note a change in this response. I am detecting a growing acceptance that this enforced break in our habitual lifestyle has been thrust upon us for a reason. It has given humankind the opportunity to demonstrate the damage done to the environment by our free-wheeling industrialised society.

Since the curtailment of much economic activity, the birds are singing, fishes are returning to rivers, pollution levels are dropping.

It is sobering to reflect that this is the first year that carbon emissions throughout the world have diminished rather than grown. This is a superb demonstration of the malevolent implications of our lifestyle. The change in our pattern of living over the past couple of months has enhanced the air we breathe, as well as our natural environment.

My Mission

I am continually asking myself, what can a solus blogger achieve? I believe that the time of a crisis creates an opportunity. It is my resolve to use this space to learn about the philosophy of people like Joanna Macey who has worked so tirelessly educating people on the implications of industrialisation and climate change. In the simplest terms, I believe we need to move from a mindset of abundance and growth to one of modesty and sustainability.

And, Going Forwards

Maybe the methodology of that transformation will be the subject of my next blog!

 

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.