5 days ago on Tuesday January 5th 2021, I witnessed a mob who supported Donald Trump, entering the Capitol Building in Washington and breaking through the police barriers which offered minimal resistance.  The most potent act of lawlessness seen in the USA for the past 150 years.

Just this Sunday morning I was able to view a scenario as ideologically distant from that tragic event as I could imagine.   A scene in which The Mind and Life Institute organised a dialogue between the young Climate Activist Greta Thunberg, and the compassionate leader of the Buddhist faith, The Dalai Lama.

The earlier experience displaying the worst of human nature, and today’s dialogue demonstrating the value of cross cultural and cross generational co-operation.   The timing of this beautiful display of unity is so much more refreshing because of its juxtapositioning with the former illegal and terrifying event.

Trump’s Presidency

The past four years have seen a dramatic whittling away of Democracy by the strongest country in the West.   The leadership of the country with the best institutions of higher education in the world, sophisticated and technologically advanced, nonetheless encouraged actions and words of divisiveness which demonstrate a degree of destructiveness beyond the imagination of any sane and moderate citizen.

10 Months of Covid-19

It is now 10 months since the South African government announced its decision to implement a Stage 5 lockdown in order to try and contain the pandemic of Covid-19 which had spread throughout the world.   It has become a time for us all to slow down.   Space has been offered for reflection.   An opportunity is granted for each citizen of this universe to re-evaluate their personal role in maintaining a sustainable lifestyle.

My opportunity to become educated on the realities of the dangers of the warming environment with Climate Reality in June last year, were further reinforced this morning by having the privilege of sit in my study and listen to Greta and the Dalia Lama articulating the urgent work that needs to be done.   They eloquently articulated a description of the Feed Back Loops caused by the continued augmentation of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.   And, they appealed to each and every one of their listeners to enhance their own knowledge of the urgency of reversing the heating of the atmosphere.   In addition they pointed out the role that everyone needs to play in spreading a message within their sphere of influence about the opportunities that exist for all informed people to ensure a reversal of previous destructive lifestyle habits.

Existential Threats of the Future

Late last night, I was able to listen to Yuval Harari describing two other hazards of which all responsible citizens of our planet need to be aware.    Climate change is not the only threat with which we are faced.   Civilisation is also endangered by unethical exploitation of artificial intelligence, as well as the hazards of nuclear power which is put to nefarious use.

So how reassuring it was to be informed today by media reports that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter had deleted Trump’s accounts.   The social media are just one aspect of AI which has enhanced the lifestyle of today’s population, whilst at the same time being the source of grossly destructive events.

Inter-connectivity of People, Animals and the Natural World

A few years ago when pursuing the philosophy of Buddhism in order to understand the concepts behind mindfulness and meditation, I became acquainted for the first time with the concept of the “inter-dependence of all humans.”   At the time this was for me a novel concept.   I did not really ‘get-it’.    Although now I realise this concept of inter-connectedness needs to include animals and the natural environment; as well as an awareness of our dependence on the freely given gifts of the universe.

My Personal Mission!

So now, I am able to encapsulate my personal mission going forward.   My work for 2021.   By continuing to blog and challenge myself I must look at ways in which humanity can give up short term goals in favour of long term interests.   An expanding economy which prioritises the rich and leaves out the poor is a recipe for disaster.    We need to re-educate humanity with the values observed by primitive societies.   Their founding belief was to retain the natural environment in its present format for seven succeeding generations.    If only our politicians could exchange their short term goal of self-grandiosity, and substitute an appreciation of the needs of the succeeding seven generations.

We are all dependent on each other for the continuation of a lifestyle that is sustainable.   The pandemic is helping us to realise that the future of humanity is dependent on the welfare of all.   The growing gap between the rich and the poor is a total anathema.     The Gini coefficient needs the immediate attention of all the decisions makers of our world, particularly politicians and business leaders.   Until poverty is eliminated, there will be no such thing as security.   And unless we concentrate on diminishing carbon pollution in order to escape a destructively heating planet, the civilisation which has evolved for the past millennium will gradually undergo an irreversible deterioration.

 

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”       Martin Luther King Jr.

 

It has often been in said, “You are dealt a pack of cards, and it is what you do with them that counts.”   A somewhat more sophisticated versions of this truism has been articulated by Johana Macey writing about Active Hope, Victor Frankl in his work on Logotherapy, and the Stoic philosophers of old.

Macy and Active Hope

Joana Macy, with her Buddhist, Structualist orientation has been investigating for the past few decades how we are to live with the knowledge that our present habits of consumption are leading to the destruction of the balance of nature on the planet.    And maybe, its destruction

The warming climate is resulting in a series of climate emergencies such as an increase in the number and strength of hurricanes hitting many coastal cities in America.  Additionally, a series of viral conditions have emerged in the past few decades.     Here are a few examples:  a new strain of Asian flu called H3N2, AIDS, SARS, H1Ni, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and ultimately Covid-19.    We are told by the scientists that as temperatures rise the number of mutations and the dangers of disease emanating from mosquitoes and ticks will increase.

Macey has been studying how we as a human species can best tolerate and reverse the reality of the damage that our present lifestyle is perpetuating.    Because the potential damages are so great, it is much easier to carry on ‘business as usual’; ignore the unpleasant reality.   For this reason she developed a way of taking action to cope with this depressing existential reality.

The Spiral

She uses the concept of the Spiral of Active Hope which involves the individual initially making a mental note, or a list, of all the items for which they can be grateful.    This is followed by an honest appreciation of the problems and challenges that confront us.

The third stage of her spiral suggests we look at the manner in which we can reduce the impact we are having on the environment.   We may not be able to reverse the unhealthy activities of the past, but we can all make small changes to stop the progress of environmental degradation and promote healthier ways of going about our life’s tasks.

The final stage is to Go Forth and activate our plans.   Each individual can reduce his or her carbon footprint.   Everyone needs to reduce their consumption of the use of one-time plastics.   We need to engage in eating locally produced food.  To cut down on meat consumption and to make our clothes last longer.   Haute Couture is now an anathema!

With our given potential for adjustment and change, we can find the ways and means to rectify the present emphasis on the growth economy and inevitable subsequent environmental degradation.  We can adapt and change our values to secure a future sustainable lifestyle

Victor Frankl and Logotherapy

Victor Frankl who endured the Holocaust, and yet emerged with a positive faith in the human condition, has done much to encourage his successors to engage in positivity.   With the horrors of the suffering still festering, Frankl as a psychiatrist emphasised the creativity of the individual to interpret their life’s hardships as challenges.   This positive outlook inevitably leads us to understand the potential of the present circumstances to transform to a healthy evolution.   His emphasis on the ‘search for meaning’ has allowed his successors to negotiate tough experiences with a positive attitude.

A major cause of depression is the predisposition to view life experiences in a negative light.    Logotherapy, as articulated by Frankl, encourages the sufferer to adapt his attitude from one of a victim mentality to orientating his thoughts in a more optimistic perspective.

Stoic Philosophy of Ancient Greece

The Greek school of Stoic Philosophy is undergoing something of a revival recently.    The sayings of Marcus Aurelius are prescribed literature for students of Psychology.   This school of thinkers suggested that it is important that you worry about the things over which you have some control.   Chronic anxiety is provoked by worrying about things which are beyond your control.

The suggestion is that we undergo a self-analysis of those things we can change and events that we have the capacity to promote positive change.   We reduce our attention of those things which we are unable to change, and endeavour to rectify those activities which are within our orbit of management.   It makes me think of Johana Macey’s third stage of her spiral where she suggests we analyse the problems with which we are confronted.   We then ‘go forth’ and do our best to change those things that are within our personal capacity to influence.

In Conclusion

It is indeed fascinating to look at three different schools of thought which are based on three very different sets of life experiences.  The ancient Stoic philosophy has so much in common with the outlook of Frankl who experienced the Holocaust, and with Macey who has been profoundly concerned with the dangers of climate reality for the past four decades.

In each instance there is a common thread.   Spend time and energy on the circumstances which are within your control.    Make the most of those qualities with which you have been blessed.   Minimise your attention to things which are pre-determined.

I try not to let a good opportunity pass me by. I tend to enjoy being involved in controversial issues of the day. So, when Olu Temehin Adegbeye who is the ‘ Othering Correspondent’ of ‘The Correspondent’ a contemporary Dutch news magazine, requested her readers share with her examples of when they had been denied their own identity, I rose to the occasion! Whilst this journalist tends to specialise in sexual identity, I decided to volunteer my story of religious identity. And here is the story I shared.

It Started from my Date of Birth

Indeed my identity was denied to me from my date of birth and I have spent the eight decades of my life working hard on trying to reclaim my birthright!

I was born in 1938 in London, England. It was just before the outbreak of World War 2. Anti-Semitism was rife in Britain, and my father wishing to protect me, did not tell me I was Jewish. I was told by the live-in housekeeper at the age of about 6 that I was lucky I was not living in Europe. She told me stories about how Jewish people were being murdered in Europe and burnt to death. I was forbidden by her to tell my parents that she had shared these stories with me.

Feeling Alone

I endured a state of great confusion as I had no one in whom I could confide. When I was seven years old I remember secretly saying this prayer to myself every evening before going to sleep, “Dear God, please do not let the Germans come into this country and take me away to a concentration camp.” I did not have a concept of God, and a limited idea of the conditions in a concentration camp. My only source of information was the lady employed by my parents to help with the housework and looking after my elder brother and sister, as well as myself.

War Memories

My memories of the war are of food shortages, rationing, standing in queues, and my mother having to get some extra coupons to buy me a pair of shoes. Then there were the planes crossing the English Channel, flying over our home in Brighton en-route to bomb the city of London. We had to rush into the air-raid shelter as they frequently dropped bombs as they passed over our home.

Arrival in South Africa

My confusions were heightened when the family came to South Africa in 1947, two years after the war had ended. I was sent to a posh Anglican School and given the false identity of belonging to the Unitarian Church. My father explained to me that if he told the school authorities I was Jewish, they would not give me a place in this desirable educational institution. Of course, this was due to post-war anti-Semitism.

Confusion Reigned

I nominally knew I was Jewish but had only a very hazy concept of what that meant. I somehow sensed I needed to hide this information from the children in my school. However, I had no conception of the deep meaning of being a Jew. If I asked my father any questions regarding my identity, I was told, “Do not worry your pretty little head. I am protecting you by making it public knowledge you are a member of the Unitarian community.”

I was totally confused.

I had no extended family in this country with whom I was able to share my feelings. My nuclear family was one in which there was little verbal interaction, and the family dynamics were centred on not upsetting my father.

It is only with hindsight that I realise he was a narcissist who ruled the roost as a dictator whose comfort zone was protected by my mother. My father’s whim dominated the interactions of the family. My sister, my brother and myself were trained to respect him, obey him, listen to him, and forget about our personal wishes or needs.

Attending the Great University in Cape Town

On completion of my school career, I attended Cape Town University and studied for a BA degree.

I had always played table tennis whilst growing up, so decided to take part in this sport at UCT. I became a member of the table tennis team and for the first time in my life met some young Jewish people. They were part of the same team and we went to different venues together to play matches. At the end of my first year of study, I was encouraged by the members of this team to participate in a group holiday excursion to Europe.

Tour of England and Europe in 1956

There were about 70 participants on the tour – students from all the Universities in South Africa. We went on a six week trip to England and Europe travelling both ways for 10 days on a ship. This proved to be a further opportunity to be in contact with Jewish people of my age. Whilst they had many joint experiences of which I had not been a part, surprisingly I was absorbed by osmosis into their lifestyle.

It was on this excursion that I made my first friends who belonged to the Jewish faith, and they taught me about the customs and lifestyle of this 2000 year old people.

Later this group of friends introduced me to my future husband and father of my four children. He was a Jewish doctor and started educating me into the richness of my heritage.

Becoming a Mother

One of my earliest resolves as a mother was that I would not allow my children to suffer from a lack of knowledge of their identity. I would have to learn about Jewish customs and history to allow my children the advantage of reclaiming the identity I had been denied. I felt that if my children wished to opt-out of their Judaism as an adult, I would be fine with that. At least they would have the choice of knowing their family’s true history.

My Re-Education

I pursued many courses in Jewish History and the Hebrew language when I was in my 40’s to compensate for the education I had been denied during my early years.

Gradually I absorbed my birth right and became more and more comfortable within the Jewish community in Cape Town where I live. I still feel a bit like a convert as I only became familiar with my Jewish heritage as an adult, unlike my friends who grew up learning Hebrew and attending synagogue from an early age.

Overcoming being an Outsider

I remain a bit of an outsider. I am not a fully integrated part of the local Jewish community as I only arrived in this country at the age of 9. I emerged from a British heritage and most of the South African Jews are of a Lithuanian lineage.

So, that is my story in brief. It helps me to understand ‘the other’ better than if I had grown up with a secure identity.

I know what it is like to be an outsider.

Thanks for your wonderful reflective journalism, Olu. You are a brave young woman. I wish you strength in your ability to describe the outsider experience.

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