I wish to introduce you to one of my favourite thinkers.   Matthieu Ricard holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the Pasteur Institute, in Paris.   He is a multitalented scholar who interrupted his research into cell genetics to become a Buddhist Monk. He not only translates Buddhist texts but also acts as one of the chief interpreters for the Dalai Lama.   In addition he is a prolific photographer and has done sterling work in raising money for the underprivileged in India, Nepal and Eastern Tibet.

Much of the information in this blog is culled from an article in Tricycle which you can either read or restrict yourself to my personal interpretation!    https://tricycle.org/magazine/why-meditate/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=a2f224650e-daily_Dharma_2019_2_28_NS&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-a2f224650e-307275697

Because Matthieu is immersed in scientific methodology I respect his capacity to interpret Buddhist texts and philosophy for the Western mind.   He has played an important role in the scientific study of Buddhism by being the first subject, who is a long term meditator, to be examined in an EEG machine.   I had read about this research about ten years ago and I was highly impressed when I learned about the results of his meditation on compassion when it was evaluated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   The readings, when measuring Matthieu meditating on compassion, were the most extreme that had ever been witnessed. The needle measuring the requisite brain waves went right off the graph paper!    I was so impressed by this overt demonstration of the power of meditation that when a new course was offered in Mindfulness and Meditation by our local Stellenbosch University, I was the very first person to enrol.

Matthieu, in conversation with a journalist from Tricycle Magazine, says that one of the main pursuits of Buddhism is, “To bridge the gap between the way things appear and the way things are.”   So often our suffering is caused because we interpret events or conversations unrealistically.  Buddhism helps us to understand that events and happenings are not always as they may appear to us.   Most of our perceptions are from the interpretation we place on our sensations, rather than an accurate portrayal of reality.   So, one of the aims of Buddhist practice is to determine the difference between reality and our interpretation of events.    The study of Buddhism precepts is a therapeutic route to our realistic interpretation of our experiences.

A newspaper headline describing Matthieu as the “Happiest man in the world” has been oft quoted, and he was asked how he felt about this description.    “Of course, it is better than being called the unhappiest man in the world,” he replied.  Happiness, however, can be over-rated as a personal goal according to Buddhist precepts.

He then went on to say, “Thinking that happiness is just an endless succession of pleasant experiences seems more like a recipe for exhaustion than it is for happiness. Happiness is a way of being, not a sensation. If you are only looking for pleasure, then you need to know that there’s probably no way that the brain could sustain pleasurable sensations forever.”   He believes that genuine happiness is related to wisdom.   Pleasure by itself is over-rated.   Whilst there is nothing wrong with pleasure, it cannot be equated with true happiness.   For true happiness, a person needs to be attuned to reality and free from mental toxins such as hatred and craving.

Matthieu has some interesting things to say about evolution.   If we need to wait for genes to change for people to become more altruistic and compassionate, we may need to wait for 50,000 years.   However, if the wisdom of Buddhist psychology and philosophy can be culturally acquired then there can be a major transformation towards more peaceful solutions to conflicts in just a couple of generations.

It would be great if the current major trend of seeing more and more people with a Western cultural orientation assume the skills of mindfulness and meditation,  could lead to the evolution of a greater understanding between all cultures, and ultimately we could achieve greater understanding and altruism between people of different social and political backgrounds.

“So the idea is to gradually progress from a state of mind where unfavourable conditions prevail, to another state that is characterized by stable attention, inner peace and clarity, confidence, courage, openness toward others, benevolence, the ability to deal with emotions, and other qualities of a vast and calm mind,” says Ricard.

For Matthieu in conversation view:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4QetA3ypdQ


It was Wednesday evening at 9pm and I received an email to inform me of a lecture being held at the University of Cape Town’s Medical School the following Thursday at 9 o’clock in the morning.   Alright, I would miss my usual Thursday morning game of tennis, because to hear a PhD student talking about her research into the neuroscience of meditation together with a visiting expert to relate the Buddhist side of the story – this was too good an opportunity to miss.

It would mean I would be involved in the rush hour traffic of office workers making their way into the centre of the city of Cape Town.  I decided I would need to leave home at 8 o’clock in the morning to do the trip which would usually take 10 minutes without the morning rush hour congestion   The Medical School has a large rambling spread out campus so I needed to consult  Google Maps to ascertain my route to the designated lecture theatre.

I was lucky. The traffic was not too heavy and I arrived at the campus at 8.30.   Just as well I was early because by the time I had found out where the visitors were allowed to park, had registered my car with the security staff, and reported the location of my car with the official on duty, a considerable amount of time had elapsed.

“Now where exactly is the building?” I enquired of the official in charge of security.  “Oh,” he casually responded, “normally you would have to walk around those buildings over there, but I will show you a short cut.   Just walk down those steps, turn left and you will see the building.”   Thinking it would be plain sailing from here, I jauntily prepare myself to follow his directions.   But, I land up on a roof top with an iron bar surrounding it on all sides.   No pathway to be seen!

5 minutes later finds me returning to the helpful security officer.   “No,” he responded to my query, “you took the wrong steps.”   This time he escorts me to the correct steps and tells me that I need to go into the revolving door ahead from where I will be directed to the Fuller Barnard Building

Having negotiated the UCT Medical Campus for the past 30 minutes, I finally arrive at the Moerat Room – the lecture theatre which was my ultimate destination.   Seated around a large table are about 30 students.   I take my seat somewhat self-consciously as the only senior person in the room, and am surprised by the announcement –   first class freshly brewed coffee is available in the foyer together with beautifully decorated and iced cupcakes.

Having enjoyed this  generous repast, I am ready to listen to a lecture on Buddhism and Neuroscience.  I was not disappointed.    Geshe Lobsang Tenzin was a worthy ambassador  of the Dalia Lama.   He has participated in a programmes developed by Emory University in conjunction with Tibetan institutions of higher learning in India.  His interest is in the role of meditation and its impact on positive health.   He outlined the work of the Mind and Life institute, referring to the annual dialogues initiated by the Dalai Lama with Western Scientists which started in 1987.    Since then there have been regular interactions both in the West and in Dharamsala addressing different topics at the intersection of science and contemplative understanding.   Wisdom at its very best!

The PhD student who hosted this event plans to form a group for students who are interested in meeting regularly to study the manner in which neuroscience informs the practice of Buddhism.   That is great – I have opened an opportunity to join like-minded people on a regular basis to gain further insight into the manner in which eastern and western thought enhance each other.    How satisfied I felt at having made the effort and ultimately successfully negotiated the challenge of changing my personal program and fulfilling the hazards of finding this elusive venue at such short notice!

Yesterday I was invited to give a talk to members of our local University of the Third Age about “Ageing and Sageing.”   This invitation resulted from the events of last year when I had the privilege of hosting Gary and Charolotte Carlson of Sage-ing International who live in Alburqueque, New Mexico.   They volunteered to visit Cape Town after their tour of the Kruger National Park so that we could share our experience and knowledge of the process of Eldering.  We had been interacting over the internet, but this would be the first time we would meet.   The Carlsons offered to facilitate some workshops to give Capetownians the benefits of their international experience and teaching.

In my presentation yesterday, I spoke about the pioneering work of Rabbi Zalman which he describes so eloquently in his book entitled  “Ageing and Sageing.”   The foundation of his philosophy can be summed up in the following words, “What is the point of an extended life, if we do not develop an extended consciousness?”   He further states, “Fortunately our culture’s limited view of ageing is undergoing a profound reconceptualization.   We are the first generation to apply the insights of humanistic and transpersonal psychology and contemplative techniques from our spiritual traditions to the ageing process itself, giving birth to what some people call the conscious ageing movement.

It so happened that yesterday was the first day that my new website called A Mind of Grace was ready to launch.  I feel this is propitious.   Whilst Zalman passed away at the beginning of the technological revolution, he could never have foreseen the possibility that the process of blogging may form an integral part of the “ageing and sageing” process.  I am looking forward to experimenting with this opportunity to blog and share ideas with an international audience.    I believe the process is intimately tied up to my intention of practicing the art of conscious eldering.

This morning I had a further opportunity to practice some ‘sageing skills’.   The process of transforming South African schools from the dynamics of the apartheid era to the more progressive approach of our new democracy is proving extremely challenging.   My domestic worker took a seat in my study when she arrived today to talk to me about her strong emotional reaction to a story that appeared in this morning’s Cape Times.   A local school, which under the apartheid system was reserved for white learners, now has learners of all races.   An unfortunate incident was reported in today’s newspaper about an altercation between a learner and a teacher which took place a few days ago at a local school.  It has involved a degree of violence by the pupil when she shoved her desk towards the teacher, who then retaliated with physical blows to the learner.  The events had been widely reported on social media.   Albertina has two daughters; a teenager, and another daughter in her early twenties.   She was particularly disturbed by this altercation, because of the violence involved and complains that today’s children have no respect for their parents, She perceives this problem to exist amongst her children’s generation of school goers.

I had recently watched the moving TED video entitled, “My son was a Columbine shooter. This is my story.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xfyN-yBZ7c  The mother’s poignant recount of healing during the past 20 years since this shocking incident, may help Albertina to realise that rebellion amongst school children is not a new phenomenon.    She recognised the pain that this mother had worked with during the intervening years.   That she had come to some degree of equanimity and acceptance.   I hope that my novel form of therapy may assist my employee to come to terms with the difficult relationship sometimes encountered between parents and their children.

I do believe that part of the sageing process is to keep in touch with the responsibilities of the mothers of today, as well as the current challenges faced by children of this generation

In Cape Town we have been adapting during the past few years to a severe shortage of water, and how with our public supplier of electricity Eskom, going through major supply problems we are having to cope with regular electricity outages lasting a couple of hours, twice a day.

It is Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2019, and I have just returned from a game of early morning tennis and a swim. On reaching my home, I find there is no electricity and this situation will only be rectified in about two hours time. Under normal circumstances, my computer would be my next port of call, but due to the lack of electricity that activity is no longer viable.  Alternative occupations need to be found. No cooking, because the stove is similarly out of action. So I have decided to write this blog with pen and paper and transfer it to a digital format later when power is restored.

February is the middle of our summer, and we have a Mediterranean climate which means rain falls in the winter. Last year our dams were 30% full, this year is better as they currently stand at 66% full. In the good old days when local rainfall had not been influenced by the new hazards of climate change, dams were frequently reported as 101% full.   The only watering allowed in gardens is with the use of a bucket.   This can be done on only two days a week and only within a two-hour time frame. Washing up the dishes happens once a day. Showers are a rare luxury and ablutions in the summer most often consist of a swim at the gym or in the pool at the residential village where I live. Toilets are flushed, only when needed.

Capetownians have adapted to using about 25% of the daily water consumption when compared to the days when no concerns existed about saving water. This is the ‘new normal’. I will never use water from the tap without being conscious of the fact that I am utilising a scarce resource which needs to be consumed carefully and with circumspection.  This new respect for a commodity which had been taken for granted until recently now feels deeply embedded in my current lifestyle.

Having adapted to minimising the use of household water, we now need to cope with daily outages of electricity. The political conundrums behind this most unsatisfactory state of affairs, I will not attempt to analyse, as that I do not see as my role. However my interest as an observer of human behaviour requires means I wish to comment on the capacity of the man in the street to alter daily habits which may have been practised for many decades previously.   In the past commodities like water and electricity were consumed without any consideration for their finiteness.   Necessity has dictated that we are now constantly aware of saving water. In addition, we need how to adapt to having no electricity for extended periods.  Many businesses have had to invest in private generators to ensure they have a constant energy supply.

The present situation brings back a memory of a conversation I overheard some forty years ago. This was between my children at play with the offspring of some American visitors. These children from abroad were talking about pollution and environmental degradation,  concepts which were new to me.   It was the first time I had become aware that one should not throw foreign objects out of the windows of your car.

Again, in those days there were few cars on the roads, and traffic jams were unknown in this country. Today I am aware on a daily basis that more and more vehicles are on the road and I must budget for more and more time to reach my destination. Time, electricity and water are all in short supply!

My grand-daughter who is in her 20’s is doing her bit for the preservation of the environment. Whilst she has a post-graduate degree in the History of Art, she has decided to put her energy and idealistic tendencies into doing her bit for diminishing the amount of plastic that pollutes the environment. She is manufacturing re-usable cotton bags for shoppers for use when they go about their regular purchases of fruit and vegetables. By providing these bags for the temporary storage of their purchases, she is helping to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  Her range of products is sold at local markets and she is making her mark as a young person who is not only environmentally aware, but actively doing her bit to preserve the balance of nature and the natural ecology. https://www.instagram.com/kare_bags/

Much of my recent thought time has been devoted to wondering about my own personal motivation.    Have you ever speculated about how many thoughts you have during a single day, or in an hour, or a minute?   Your ‘default mind network’ is responsible for many hundreds of thoughts each minute.

My meandering mind is frequently devoted to understanding my own personal needs in this, the 9th decade of my life.   Why have I made this monumental commitment to articulate my thoughts and ideas into a weekly blog?   Why do I need to make myself vulnerable by exposing my writing for judgement by the rest of the world?    What is this urge regarding challenging myself to write a regular blog?   Why is it that I require myself to play croquet competitively and am not content to play ordinary “social croquet?”   These ideas have been in the forefront of my mind recently and maybe have influenced my interpretation of some recent on-line reading

Loretta Breuning of the Inner Mammal Institute has recently revamped her website  When I read about the roles of the neuro-transmitters which are necessary to give us human a feeling of well-being, it made me feel that maybe it takes me more effort than most people to boost my positive hormones!   The general theory behind Loretta’s work is that the human is not built to be happy at all times.  The main goal of the individual is the transfer of our genes into the next generation –a further development of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

Breuning states that the primary need of us humans is to be constantly on the lookout for danger signals.   If we think about the danger of one lion, or one gunshot wound; we realise that a single incident or event can result in a life threatening situation.   The danger of these potential threats to our life means we need to be constantly on the alert.  The production of cortisol is the internal warning of a threat to our well-being.

When succeeding in a challenge we receive a spurt of dopamine, when we bond successfully with another human we stimulate oxytocin, and serotonin is added to our blood stream when tasks are accomplished successfully.   Part of the human condition is to be on the alert to promote these neurotransmitters in order to elevate our mood.    Opportunities for achievement and for bonding will give us our next dosage of a happy chemical, according to Breuning.

Today I was reading the regular week end post from Jules Evans.    This British philosopher’s weekly report of happenings, meetings and cultural endeavours never fails to stimulate my interest.   He has come up with a new theory of motivation – something rather novel which comes as a surprise to me.    “ People who get bored easily need more stimulation and activity as this helps them to overcome the lethargy of a depressive mood state”, states Evans.    He describes how during the past week he watched Free Solo – a documentary about 33-year-old Alex Honnold’s attempt to free climb El Capitan in 2017.  Evans describes his discomfort as he watches the apparently foolhardy rope dangling activities of the protagonist whilst solo rock climbing.    Honnold participates in ongoing dangerous solo expeditions for many years without having an accident.  Things change however, when he accidently falls in love and after making a commitment to the young woman his accident free record is shattered.   In the following year he has two climbing accidents.  These events give rise to the hypothesis that to be successful in this fear enhancing activity you need to be totally dedicated to your craft with no external distractions.   You need to be bored!

Evans follows up with the story about Time Ferris who has written five best-selling books, has a successful on line presence and a lucrative interest in such companies as Uber and Facebook.   To round off his achievements he is a word champion of the tango, a polymath and a body builder.  Whilst it would seem that someone who is such an achiever would be contented and worry free.  In fact Tim admits in a recent podcast his intense need for achievement, as he is motivated by a feeling of not fitting in or being worthwhile.   This appears to me another variation of the ‘boredom hypothesis.’

Now that I am busy internalising the writing of Loretta Breuning and Jules Evans I need to think about whether I have learned anything about my own need to achieve and compete.

My week-ends for the past five or six years have been highlighted by Maria Popover’s Brainpickings – her weekly blog of musings, readings and philosophical insights which include a potpourri of miscellanea.   In December 2018 Maria announced the publication of two original works of literature.    Not only did she promote her new book Figuring that was 12 years in the making, but she also had a live presentation at the The New York Public Library of A Velocity of Being, subtitled Letters to a Young Reader

Maria together with her friend a publisher of children’s literature, invited over 100 writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and philosophers to reflect on the joy of reading. https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2018/12/15/velocity-being-maria-popova-and-guests   These contributions have been lovingly compiled into a beautiful book, with each essay being uniquely and artistically illustrated.

I was riveted whilst listening to a number of these contributors reading their testimonies to the joy of reading before an audience at The New York Public Library.  These wonderful tributes describing the role of reading, crafted by a range of talented and eloquent consumers of the written word, additionally provided a wonderful listening experience.  How timeous is this contribution to literature when paper is being replaced by screen.   The luxurious and lazy time spent reading and meditating is being exchanged for the instant gratification provided by social media.

As an introduction to Maria’s forthcoming publication “Figuring” which will be published in February 2019 I will offer you the author’s own words, “All of it — the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band, the underbelly of the clouds pinked by the rising sun, Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde, every grain of sand that made the glass that made the jar and each idea Einstein ever had, the shepherdess singing in the Rila mountains of my native Bulgaria and each one of her sheep…………..”    Ultimately she makes the point regarding the interconnectivity of all beings and all matter.   I am confident that this quote will titivate your interest in finding out more and help you to make the decision to invest in this opportunity to grapple with the author’s originality and erudition.

So, why not visit  www.brainpickings.org and sign up for your weekend treat.   Maria, will keep you enthralled by her web of interlinking ideas culled from writers, philosophers and artists.   Her ability to weave together ideas and relevant strands of data is multi-faceted and engaging.   I wish you much joy and pleasure whilst familiarising yourself with Maria’s musings.

I have decided to take the “bull by the horns”, the “bit between the teeth” and expose my day to day musings with my cohort who are endevouring to develop some meaningful understanding of the human experience.

The motivation to start a blog arose after an eight-day Memoir Writing Course on the Isle of Lesbos which I attended to celebrate my 80th Birthday.  I was sufficiently inspired by this immersion experience to record 40,000 words of autobiographic reminiscences, as well as create a potential title for a memoir.  “The Curious Octogenarian,” seems to encapsulate who I am at this stage of my development.  What I now need is a framework into which I can immerse my recollections and experiences, in order to add meaning and depth to the story.

I am anticipating that the weekly writing of this blog, in which I plan to share my day to day mind excursions, will assist me in making some worthwhile connections between my life and a contemporary rationale of the human experience.   As I have been acting as a facilitator of Conscious Ageing for seniors during the past 10 years I have been investigating the art and theory of maintaining my physical, cognitive and emotional well-being.    I will be sharing with you my insights, and hoping that in turn you the reader will give me some feedback, maybe some direction or other input.

I have recently pursued a study of Buddhist philosophy from whence the theory and practice of contemporary mindfulness and meditation has emerged.  The interest in meditation has grown since a number of Westerners travelled to India to explore these ancient practices and brought back concepts to guide us in coming to terms with our everyday experiences.   On their return, in the ’70s they transposed these concepts into a format which is palatable for professional people in the West and are now of interest throughout the world.

I visualise developing some mutual benefits for my future blogging community.   Those advantages would be in the form of the examination of the best life possible in our senior years.   I have no fixed or firm concepts of where this verbal interchange will take us – I enter the challenge with an open mind and the naïve belief that a mutual conversation will enrich us all.

Join me in this exciting new venture by signing up to my newsletter here.   I am looking forward to interacting with you.