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

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

Friendship and Human Connection

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

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

One World in Dialogue

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

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

A Golden Civilisation

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

Ubuntu Labs

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

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

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

Climate Reality

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

Pass It On Network

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

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

Ted Circles

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

In Conclusion

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

New Feelings

I have shared with you in previous blogs the strong feeling that pervaded my consciousness early this year.   These meandering thoughts were around the need for me to become an active participant in promoting healthy habits of consumption to conserve our planet from immanent destruction.

But, in the Past

I had been actively sharing my ideas, my habits and my theories on successful aging for the past decade.   I had assumed that would be where I could make a contribution to the wellbeing of the human race during my lifetime.   So what was this about consumption and its implications for the health of the planet which was dominating my thoughts?

New Events

It was in the third month of this year that Covid-19 reached the shores of South Africa and the ‘Stage 5’ lockdown commenced on 26th March.   For the first time in the history of humankind, the occupants on this planet were forced by their government to give up their livelihoods.   If you were in the tourism business, the restaurant industry, in the world of entertainment, your means of livelihood were directly forbidden by government decree.

Imagine it is the beginning of December 2019.    You own a successful small restaurant which you have built from scratch during the past 5 years.   You have just paid off you debt.  The business is starting to offer you a livelihood.   How would you have felt if someone had come along to you and said? “You know Grace, I have some bad news for you.   Something unimaginable is going to happen in three months’ time which will mean you have to stop trading and close your business.   Maybe, you should think of preparing yourself for this eventuality.”   Would you have believed it?

I doubt if anyone would have taken such a pessimistic prognostication seriously.   Yet, thousands of businesses throughout the world have been directed by government decree to close down.  The knowledge that a deadly virus was threatening human life on the planet was sufficient to ensure that populations were compliant with government rulings.  Millions of people have lost their livelihood.  Such changes have devastated the lives of the vulnerable.   However, there is a tacit realisation that these changes are necessary for reasons of life and death.

The Psychology of Changing Habits

It is my belief, based on the scientific evidence which I have studied, that the implications of unwise habits of consumption, harvesting and energy production pose a threat to civilisation and the lifestyle we have known during the past few centuries.   Yet, business, industrialists and private people continue to follow habits they know are potentially destructive to our health and that of the planet.   The only difference between the scenario of Covid-19 and Climate Change is that the threat of the former is immediate, and the threat of the latter is long term.   It is easy to ignore the slow and gradual symptoms of Climate Change, but it is not easy to ignore an immanent death threat.

Since World War 2 the amount of noxious gas being spewed into the atmosphere has grown to such an extent that the carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere was caused massive disruption in climate throughout the world.   The number of droughts, floods, fires and hurricanes have increased in number of volume year by year during the past two decades.   We are assured by the experts of the relationship between the production of noxious gases by the use of both chemical fertilizers and the creation of power is a direct cause of these extreme weather patterns.

New Lifestyle

Our new lifestyle since the lock down has provided us with both challenges and opportunities.   I have always been an early adopter, and my migration into the zoom room was inevitable.   Yes, it did come with some teething problems.   The anxiety of running a meeting in zoom and not being able to cope with the requirements of the technology were quite over powering in my early endevours.   The blips in the ability of the participants to enter the zoom room caused me much anxiety.   Acquiring the skills of facilitating a dialogue with this new method of communication was a challenging learning experience.

However, I also experienced some great excitement with this new method of communication.    So many opportunities for learning new skills and information were enticing me to participate and explore areas of expertise which had previousaly been unavailable.   I learned that Al Gore’s Climate Reality was offering a free nine day course on line.   It was at no cost.   Here was my opportunity.   And, now I am entering this new field of activity as a Climate Reality Ambassador with this 24 hour challenge

“For 24 straight hours, Vice President Gore and Climate Reality Leader activists across the planet will lead digital presentations and discussions exploring the historic conjunction of climate change, COVID-19, and structural racism that not only threatens our lives and deepest values, but opens the door to truly transformative change”   It is hoped that 3000 presentations will be made either face-to-face, or on zoom.

Here is the link to my presentation which will take place at 16h00 South African Time

New Meetings

It would be such fun if this could provide me with the opportunity to meet many of my readers on zoom!   A great chance for us to get to know each other.   I encourage you to diarise this event, as well as signing up your attention to attend on the webpage.

The time is now. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to become aware of the role we can play to promote conditions which result in the health of the environment.  We need to co-create the conditions which will push back on the continuous climate devastation of recent years.   Please join me in this challenge.

 

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!