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Monthly Archives: October 2013

This week I watched the DVD of the BBC One documentary The Young Ones. It follows an experiment in which six famous British seniors live in an environment which simulates 1975 to see whether re-living your youth can make you young again. The theory is  that being reminded of what they used to be like would increase their physical and mental well-being.

It was fascinating to watch the transformation of the participants, many of whom struggled with limited mobility and a reduced capacity to perform everyday tasks. In the beginning they had a lot of beliefs about what they couldn’t do because they were too old or frail. However as the week progressed each of them developed a renewed vitality and confidence.

Profession Ellen Langer who was the consultant for the study, which also she ran for the first time 30 years earlier, contends that the way that we age isn’t inevitable. It seems that we risk limiting our possibilities in later life by living up to social expectations of what ageing means. One area where this was evident was in rehabilitation from illness and injury. A number of the participants who’d had strokes or falls were tentative in walking and performing household tasks. However with encouragement, they were able to achieve a much better recovery and take on activities and hobbies they thought were behind them in a very short space of time.

Although living in a 70s house and wearing 70s clothes may have had an impact, it seemed like one of the biggest benefits of the study came from being in a stimulating environment. The participants had great fun joking with each other which lifted everyone’s spirits. They played a big part in the success of the experiment by encouraging one another to achieve their goals for the week. Many of them had been missing the stimulation of their working lives and it was clear that the free time and solitude we crave when we work full time can become a pitfall later in life if it translates to lack of purpose and isolation.

I am glad I saw this documentary in my early 50’s because it challenged me to rethink my attitude to what I am capable of. It made me aware that I need to get more serious about maintaining my fitness and flexibility while I am still able to do so, and nip the “I’m to old for that” talk in the bud. The participants in the study improved very quickly, which means that they were capable of more than they thought they were all along.

Putting what I have learned from this documentary into practice requires finding a balance so that I respect my genuine limitations, without holding myself back unnecessarily. This also applies in my dealings with others, particularly the seniors in my life. While its true that we may be more capable than we think we are, people who are not used to being challenged to extend themselves find it very confronting if they pushed to do things for themselves. They can feel that they are being bullied, disrepected, or abandoned which can be very discouraging. Hopefully I can fulfill the role of encourager and motivator, without turning into commando boot camp trainer.

Yesterday was unusually hot for a Spring day. I had good intentions for the afternoon, but gave in to drowsiness while trying to read, and had an afternoon nap. I was more than a nap. I was asleep for three hours and  kept busy with dreams.

In the last dream we were on holidays at a campsite in the country. The kind with old timber dormitories out in the Australian bushland. We were walking on a track in the bush when we noticed smoke in the air. We came upon a crew of firefighters. They were backburning in an attempt to cut off a fire nearby. They told us to get back to the campsite and pack, as the fire was coming close. We were being evacuated.

When I woke up my first thought was to check out the back windows. I expected to see smoke. The scent of burning bush was hanging in the air. This is what I saw:

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The low cloud in the distance is not cloud, but smoke coming from a fire in the southern highlands to the south of Sydney. I turned on the news, and heard that there were fires to the north, west and south of the city. Smoke from the west was blanketing much of Sydney. The line between dream and reality had blurred.

A quick look out the front revealed an ugly black carpet of smoke to the north. This explains the number of planes taking off over our part of the city – it was the only gap of clear sky between the smoke clouds.

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Its amazing the havoc created by one hot, dry, windy Spring day. There were 100 fires burning in the state, many of them out of control. Commuters who work in the city and live in the outlying areas were having difficulty getting home with roads and train lines cut.

I feel for the students finishing high school are who are in the middle of their final exams. They were being warned not to take risks to get to school, or to go to a different school. Thats pressure you don’t need!

From our high position the smoky sky created a dramatic sunset. Eerie to think that out there volunteer fire fighters are battling the blazes close up.

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We are fine here in the city, but thinking of friends with homes near fire outbreaks. Many homes were lost, and at least one man has died.

Bushfires are part and parcel of living in Australia, although they are not normally so early in the summer. So early in the summer that its still the middle of spring. Australian people are resiliant, and I have a feeling that this summer we will need to be.

Strange that I should dream about being evacuated from a bushfire, when around me other people  were being evacuated for real.

I just finished reading The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C Korten. It was recommended reading in Active Hope, and explores the concept of The Great Turning in much greater depth. This is an over-the-counter book, but I feel like it should come with some kind of warning – READ WITH CAUTION: This book could change your life. I am still absorbing the ideas and their implications, but I am going to attempt to share some of it with you.

The central idea is that we are at a critical time in human history which may be described by future generations as “The Great Unraveling” when out-of-control consumption overwhelmed the world’s resources and threatened the survival of the human population. However David Korten suggests that this time also has the potential to become “The Great Turning” if we can learn to live in partnership with each other and the earth. The main argument is

It is within our means, ..to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential.

The concept of Empire features strongly as representing a dominator model for human interaction which is  based on power and control for the benefit of a few, in contrast to a partnership model which nurtures cooperation and expression for the benefit of all. The idea is to more away from Empire towards an Earth Community which is more inclusive and life sustaining.

The idea which stood out most to me was the map of the developmental pathway from the least mature to the most mature orders of human consciousness which is a basis for understanding how to build Earth Community and to understand what is going wrong now. This has five stages:

First Order: Magical Consciousness – like a yound child who experiences the world as subject to the whims of magical beings. The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

Second Order: Imperial Consciousness – like an older child who can distinguish between real and imagined events, and understands that actions have consequences. Influences the behaviour of others for self interested purposes, but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude or justice.

Third Order: Socialized Consciousness: influenced by the norms of the group and able to feel empathy with others in their group, and act for the good of others within their reference group.

Fourth Order: Cultural Consciousness – The ability to recognise culture as a social construct and that there are many cultures outside of our own. There is a concern with justice for all people, not just ones own group.

Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness – an awakening to all creation as a complex multi-dimensional, interconnected whole.  It transcends the exclusiveness of group loyalties to embrace the whole.

The significance of this analysis is the premise that the past 5000 years or so of human history have been dominated by views and behaviours with reflect the Second Order, which Korten calls the Imperial Consciousness. He sees human history with is large scale wars, invasions and exploitation of people and resources as the acting out of an immature and selfish mentality.

The exercise before us then is to awaken to a broader appreciations of what it means to be human, which involves looking outside our own personal self interest, and the interests of our own family or social group, to appreciate the diversity of the peoples of the world, and the interconnectedness of life itself.

The construct of Empire as the dominant ideology is applied in detail to many of our human endeavours, turning conventional understandings of history, politics and religion on their heads in the search for a more humane and sustainable way of living. Although many of the ideas were not new to me, and many of the observations were similar to my own, I found the process of reading through the interpretation quite confronting. I am still thinking it through, integrating what makes sense to me.

My main hesitation about this analysis is the presentation of the levels of consciousness as a ladder on which we can place ourselves and others. Although the five types of consciousness described make a lot of sense to me, I feel reluctant to engage in labelling other people as being of an inferior consciousness. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that we all have the potential to act from each of the five levels of consciousness. It may be a slippery slope to label greed and ignorance as being wholly outside ourselves. It seems more helpful to identify the value systems influencing particular ideas and actions, rather than to brand people as the opposition in a ideological war of the enlightened against the ignorant.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for something challenging to read that extends your thinking and challenges your world view, you will certainly find it here.

I have decided its time to stretch myself. Not just in figuratively, in mind and spirit, which I have already been doing. I need to stretch my actual body which is feeling left behind.

The desire to do something physical flows from two observations. I am gaining weight, and feel as supple as a block of wood. My first thought was to fight against the increase in weight by going to a gym and banishing it with exercise, but something is holding me back. You see I am at a stage of life when women’s bodies change and a tendency to gain weight at the hips often results. Rather than declare war on weight, my aim is to embrace health and wellbeing and see where this change takes me.

My lack of balance and flexibility is a bigger concern. I want to protect myself from injury and feel at ease in my body. I needed a solution that was wholistic and respectful of my bodies changing needs. Rather than go to the gym at the end of my street, I am catching the train a few stations south to an Iyengar Yoga School.

I have done Iyengar Yoga before. It’s very precise in it’s instructions. It’s all about awareness. It uses the body as a vehicle to learn how to extend yourself, how to grow in skill and meet challenges. That’s the kind of approach that I need. I am moving away from the mainstream culture towards alternative ways of living and behaving. I am seeking out ways of doing things that foster balance and harmony.

After 10 days I am happy to report a noticeable change in my body. Thanks to yoga it now feels like a block of wood with wiggly toes. Hopefully the rest of my body will be similarly liberated in due course.

I have returned from a brief holiday in Melbourne and am trying to settle back into a routine. We were on the move so much on the holiday that it wasn’t viable to keep up the posts, apart from a few pictures that found their way onto Facebook. It was good to get away and be a “traveller” absorbed in the basics such as working out how to get to places, find food and drink, and locating our beds for the night.

Before I went away I had embarked on the task of learning more about a few issues that are of concern to me, such as climate change and the refugee situation in Australia. The experience of working on a polling booth handing out “how to vote cards” taught me that although I understand what I think is  important and why, I’m not able to explain my position well to others, particularly if they are coming at the issue from a different perspective. I couldn’t quote facts or direct people to resources that would explain the issues, and I wasn’t adept at parrying questions and deflecting jibes. It seemed like a good idea to get better informed.

What I quickly found is that while there is a lot of information available on these topics, its impossible for me to approach this as an intellectual exercise. Reading about threats to biodiversity and the risks of climate change is very confronting, and can be really discouraging. Engaging with the problems faced by refugees is also very troubling. Having seen the pendulum swing back towards a more conservative government in Australia, there is a feeling of discouragement and dismay amongst those involved in the environmental and social justice movements that can be overwhelming if you aren’t feeling strong yourself.

Rather than brave this onslaught of seriousness head on, I decided to take a side track and read something by Joanna Macy. Joanna is an author involved in the movements for peace, justice and ecology who approaches her activism from a Buddhist perspective. I had tried to read one of her books before, but abandoned the attempt because I wasn’t ready for it, and found it too heavy. This time around I came across a new book “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone which provided some encouragement that its possible to use a spiritual foundation to steady yourself while facing up to some of the big issues of our time.

In Active Hope, the authors acknowledge that we are facing major problems due to increasing human population and patterns of excessive consumption which are overwhelming the resources available to us. Rather than being overwhelmed by discouragement, the book encourages us to act to bring about what we hope for, even while the future is uncertain and we don’t know what is possible. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”

One aspect of the book that I found helpful was the Three Stories of Our Time. The first is Business As Usual, which assumes that there isn’t a problem with the way we live.  This includes the belief that economic growth can go on forever without any consequesnces. The second story, The Great Unraveling, points out the disasters that Business as Usual is leading us towards by ignoring and abusing the finite resources available to us. It tells a story of the collapse of ecological systems, changes to climate, and the potentially disastrous consequences. The third story is “held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word”. The book is about how to get behind that third story and work towards a life sustaining civilisation.

This book was the right thing for me, because it acknowledges that we have a problem while offering a hopeful way to cope with the situation and be involved in working towards a positive outcome. Barraging people with frightening facts isn’t successful, because its just too much to take in. Most people, myself included, need a more positive picture that they can embrace that makes change seem not only necessary and possible, but desireable and meaningful.

P1060353I was in the tour bus at Werribee Zoo in Melbourne, driving through an open range area where the large animals roam. We could see other visitors staring in at us from the viewing area. The tour guide pointed to the human visitors and said “look, there’s another endangered species”. I don’t think he was joking. Jokes like that make me sad.

Its a weird feeling to be contemplating the future of humanity whilst going about my own form business as usual. I am enjoying the warm sunny days, knowing that it is not normally so hot this early in the Spring. Its hard to know what to think and how to respond. Yet it seems important to be open to what is going on around me, while at the same time remaining grounded and take care of myself through the process.