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.

 

 

 

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.

 

“Your true purpose is found at the intersection of your greatest aliveness and the world’s critical needs.”  This statement was made by Frederick Buechner to define wisdom.

My Search for Wisdom

It was some years ago that I realised I had reached the stage of my life in which I was supposed to be wise.   However, I did not feel wise, so decided to make it my business to find out what this state of being was all about, and how I could acquire it.

I have always believed that it is easier to approach such a deep question in the company of others who have a similar mind-set.

Engaging with a group about Conscious Ageing

I approached our local University of the Third Age to let them know I wished to recruit members to explore both Wisdom and Conscious Ageing.    The group has been meeting now for the past decade, and has grown to incorporate new ideas as they become part of the present zeitgeist.

Wisely and Consciously Engaging with Today’s Existential Challenges

In the third decade of the 21st century, nothing is more important than coming to terms with the problems around climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.   Inspired by the clarion calls of Greta Thurber, Extinction Rebellion and other similar movements I have been researching what the present day elders are doing about these environmental threats.

Forest Fires in South East Australia

At the time of writing, uncontrollable fires have been raging in South East Australia for the past six months.    This spontaneous combustion has been caused by both prolonged drought and the raising of the temperatures.   Millions of acres of forest have been destroyed, vast quantities of wild animals decimated, as well as the considerable loss of homes and lives reported.   Despite international co-operation, there is little hope of being able to control this destruction until the rainy season.   This is a wake-up call which must arouse the wider public’s awareness of the potential devastation instore for Mankind.    There is no time to waste.   We urgently need to change our destructive consumption of coal and gas.

The Role of the Unconscious in Understanding Climate Change Denialism

Jeffrey Kiehl worked for 30 years studying climate change.  He noticed that when he gave public lectures, his audience would become very uncomfortable when he offered them factual information about the dangers of the changing climate. His well researched scientific evidence made his audience uncomfortable, so they tended to reject the quoted statistics and factual information.   Kiehl decided this denialism must be related to unconscious feelings.  He was so keen to understand this rejectionist attitude that he changed career to study Jung’s Theory of the Unconscious. Today he is a respected Jungian Analyst.

How does the unconscious operate?

Studying Kiehl’s ideas has offered me a new understanding of why it is so difficult for many people, business leaders and politicians particularly, to accept the scientific data.   There is a human predisposition to reject information which makes us feel uncomfortable.    No one wants to change their lifestyle.   The public is frightened by the realisation they may have to consume less in the future in order to maintain a healthy environment.

Crises offer us an Opportunity for Change.

I am reminded of learning about Crises Intervention at the Child Guidance Clinic many years ago.   A good time to create changes in the attitude of emotionally disturbed children is when they are going through a personal crisis.    Maybe the crises created by the present dangers of flood, famine and fire will help us to understand we all depend on each other to maintain conditions for sustainable life on this planet.  The Buddhists told us many years ago that all mankind was inter-related.   Ubuntu in Africa is based on this mutual interdependency.

In Conclusion

The Wise Elder needs to find avenues for co-operation with the younger members of the community to make progress in finding a way to work together to halt and reverse carbon dioxide

Shambhala Art

I have just returned from a week on a nearby farm where I attended a Shambhala Art Retreat.  The invitation stated,  “Shambhala Art’s purpose is to explore the creative process and the product we call art from the viewpoint of a meditative discipline. It is a viewpoint that encourages us to see things as they are, rather than just how we think or imagine they are. Shambhala Art does not teach a particular skill or technique such as painting, sculpture, or dance. It is about the source of inspiration, its manifestation, and how it speaks to us beyond the limits of its container,”   This multi-sensory opportunity was facilitated by two talented women who are steeped in the tradition of the Shambhala School of Buddhism.  They have trained in a unique mind-expanding process of enhancing the student’s perceptual abilities.

Shambhala Buddhism

Shambhala Buddhism is a comparatively new approach to interpreting the ancient texts.   It was pioneered by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1970’s.   He trained as a monk as a youngster in a local monastery in Tibet, where he was born.  He is believed to be a member of a traditional dynasty of leadership.   Trungpa came to the west as a young man to study at Oxford University.   He subsequently went to America where he created a contemporary interpretation of the Buddha’s thought and philosophy which is now taught in over 100 centres throughout the world.

Warriorship

He was a multi-talented man who created the “Warrior” approach to enhancing our lifestyle.   “The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help solve the world’s problems.    This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East.    Rather, it is a tradition of human warriorship that has existed in many cultures at many times throughout history.”

Warriorship in this context has nothing to do with bravery, but embraces the concept of not being afraid of who we are.  The teachings of Shambhala helps its adherents to face up to their own challenges and those of the world around them using the multiple senses of the mind and the body.  Chogyam Trungpa realised in the 1970’s that a new way of thinking was required to tackle the changes taking place in the world.   And, how much more does this hold in the third decade of the 20th century?   I am hoping the insights of the Shambhala lineage, may play a role in helping me to come to terms with the contemporary challenges of environmental pollution and the degradation of our environment.

Activities

What fun it was to participate in this small group of Warriors to explore meditation, Japanese calligraphy, drama, yoga, and cognitive flexibility.   We underwent a training to understand the difference between a sign and a symbol.   We looked at objects to see that they could be used for multiple purposes, other than those for which they may initially appear to fulfil. We had time to meditate and walk aimlessly on the beautiful farm hosting this retreat.   The emphasis of this training is to get in touch with our thought sense, rather than our knowledge sense.

We were offered the opportunity to play freely with a wide range of tools, objects and materials in order to explore our own creativity.    Some of us created music with a range of authentic African musical instruments, combined these sounds with contemporary recorded music.  Others practised extemporaneous dance exercises.   There was also the opportunity to create art work with paints, crayons, scissors and multiple other paraphernalia which we last used when we were in junior school!

Co-creation Highlight

A highlight for me was co-creating the piece of art which is photographed at the top of this blog.   It took a group of three participants to construct this calligraphic rendering which was produced on a sheet of paper measuring 150 x 225 cms and placed on the ground surrounded by protective black plastic.

The participants had been exploring the concepts of Heaven, Earth and Mankind. Each member of the team was assigned the task of creating one stroke to represent each of these three elements.

The activity was performed with presence, slowness, dignity and unlimited restraints of time.    As the initial participant, I needed to create the stroke to represent Heaven.   My first job was to mindfully choose a tool – one of the five different types of brushes, ranging from a plant tied to the end of a stick, to a rag also joined to a suitable handle.   I chose the plant and slowly, yet meticulously charged my brush with black ink.  The superfluous paint was slowly allowed to drain back into the pot.   I then took up my position, stood erect in front of the paper to contemplate the single stroke I would use to represent heaven.    In this instance, it was my stroke which formed the reverse S flowing from the top right-hand corner and finishing at the bottom on the right.   Vocalisations were allowed so my accompaniment was an elongated sound, “whoooooooooosh!”

My contribution was followed by my co-creator who made the representation of Earth – the black horizontal line on the lower left of the work.

The third member of the team made the prominent mark red mark representing the Human.   She slowly and mindfully picked up the rag-ended tool and dipped it in the red paint.   Meditatively she allowed the excess paint to drip back into the container.    The participant then took up her position at the head of the page, gradually raised her mark-making tool above her head and with a loud gesticulation of “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” the marking instrument was swooped down onto the paper from the overhead position creating a loud bang as her tool met the the ground.   It produced the large central splatter in the artwork.   A spontaneous round of applause was rendered by the audience.

This brief sampling of the range of experience which accompanied my excursion into Shambhala Art is an attempt to share my impressions of a unique experiential journey.   I have tried to give a feel for the innovative, inventive, original opportunity in which I was able to explore my personal creativity.   How grateful I am to have enjoyed this wonderful space with two gifted teachers and a small group of wonderfully imaginative and creative co-participants.

 

I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab

History of the Baking Lab

Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.

Baking Bread Today

This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?

The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.

Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.

This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”

But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.

Offering Condolences

He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.

Forging my Identity

I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.

This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.

Table Tennis saved the Day

It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.

Meeting my Children’s father

It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!

For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”

So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.

My Road to Embracing Judaism

Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.

While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.

Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.

Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.

 

During my school days, I was reluctant to participate in many of the activities offered. However, I was elected to be the proposer in a debate entitled, “Travel Broadens the Mind and Stimulates the Intellect.”

Having just returned from a trip to Amsterdam, and being forced to endure certain unplanned experiences, I am thinking that there may be more to travel than postulated in the title of this debating topic.

Amsterdam via Istanbul

Last week, I was travelling with my daughter Daniella who has given me permission to blog about this recent episode in our life. In order to save about R1000, we decided to take the route to Amsterdam on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, instead of taking the direct flight offered by KLM.

We arrived at Istanbul at about 11 pm with our scheduled connecting flight listed as being three hours later. I knew that Dubai was a massive airport, but was surprised to find the distance between disembarking from the plane and the transit lounge at Istanbul was also a considerable distance.

As we had been sitting on the plane for about 11 hours, I decided not to take the escalators when walking up and down the stairs. After all, I had been sitting and needed the exercise. So, by the time we arrived at the transit lounge, I was really tired and very surprised to see there was limited seating. Most of that was already occupied.

After some searching, I found a spot to sit and rest until I felt it was time to move to the gate from which the next stage of our trip would leave. I looked around to find my daughter. She was nowhere to be seen. “Well,” I thought, “She is an able-bodied, sound of mind middle-aged women, with her own passport, her own seating ticket, and her own luggage. She must have made her way to catch the next flight.” I presumed she had spent the time looking at the shops and made her own way to the following stage of the journey.

The Unexpected and Unanticipated Reality

When I arrived at the relevant gate, I was mildly surprised to find that passengers had already started to enter the plane. There was no sign of Daniella. I was looking forward to seeing her when I arrived at my seat. But the place was empty.

Some mild anxiety started to arise in my mind and my body. I went to find out from the cabin crew when the plane would be leaving. “In about 25 minutes,” was the answer.

You do get one hour of free wi-fi at Istanbul airport, but I had not been successful in applying the code and achieving connectivity, so I asked the cabin steward if I could use his phone. He was most obliging, and I could feel my heart pumping as the phone was ringing, and I was awaiting a response from my offspring. But there was no answer.

“Could they make an announcement?” I asked the steward. That was out of the question. What could be done? Was I to fly off to Amsterdam without my daughter? I had heard of a young woman who had been offered drugs in that part of the world and had never returned home. Was I to lose my progeny in the Middle East due to my negligence? “Should I be looking after my daughter? Or, should she be looking after her octogenarian mother?” I asked myself.

And as I went back to my seat, the adjacent passengers started asking me questions. I felt humiliated in having to admit I had lost my daughter. Maybe they thought I was totally irresponsible. Or maybe they thought she was totally stupid. Which is better? Which is worse?

And then the doors started to close. The plane began to taxi. Here was an empty seat, and no daughter. I had to gather together all my theoretical knowledge on how to cope with this trauma. I was grateful for my practice of mindfulness and set about turning into my feelings while meditating. Realising that there was absolutely nothing I could do in the present situation, I concentrated on calming myself down.

I Arrive Alone in Amsterdam

On arrival in Amsterdam, I was relieved to find a WhatsApp message from my son who lives in this beautiful city. He had received a phone call from Daniella. Yes, she had missed the flight! He had booked her on the following flight. She would be arriving in a couple of hours.

This information was vaguely reassuring. Now I needed to find Daniella’s luggage. I waited and waited for it to appear, but it did not arrive. In fact, it only arrived the next day. But worse was to come!

Because she did not turn up for the flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam, Daniella’s return flight was automatically cancelled. She booked and paid for an alternative return flight via Nairobi. On her return, her flight leaving Amsterdam was delayed. She missed her connection to Cape Town and spent 5 hours as a guest of Kenya Airways in Nairobi, thus missing a day of work when she arrived home.

The Bonus

Travel does indeed broaden the mind, and it does teach you lessons on how to look after yourself at the same time!