Sunday, March 20, 2016

Living in THE ZONE

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Who really knows what goes on in the mind of an octogenarian? A few evenings ago we settled down to watch the late CBC news and Peter Mansbridge was interviewing Dr. David Suzuki who is about to turn eighty. He said fifty was nothing, seventy was nothing but eighty is special. On the one hand, he referred to his emerging octogenarian years as the 'death zone' and that he thinks "about death a lot".

Canadians have come a long way since I was born in 1929. That year the average lifespan of the Canadian male was 60 years. According to Statistics Canada (2012), the average is now 81.24 years. So Dr. Suzuki is correct when he says we octogenarians are 'in the zone'. On the other hand, he said, it is the best of times as he no longer had to worry about getting a job, a promotion or a raise. In other words, he was free to speak the truth.

In line with his thinking, he pointed out that the human race in general no longer sees itself as part of the biosphere and yet realistically, we are entirely dependent upon it! When the native peoples around the world speak of Mother Earth they don't mean it metaphorically or poetically, he said. Rather, they truly understand humankind is totally determined by it.  Thus, the idea of Mother Earth.

 'Penance' or Death?
 This general shift in thinking, Suzuki says, has not yet been made. It harkens back to my boyhood days when on Ash Wednesday, ashes was smeared on my forehead and the priest said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return". I probably did not understand the full implications of those few words. Besides, he probably said them in Latin anyway!

Suzuki is correct when he says the 'zone' years are the best of time although I am sure many don't agree. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be in good health, have a loving home and time to enjoy "living", what more is there?

Yes, as an octogenarian I do think about death frequently, I would worry if I did not, for that would mean I have lost touch with life itself. Thinking about the end, like the runner in a race only spurs me on to be aware of each moment of each day, and the people I admire and love.

 I have decided to stop writing a weekly Blog. The novelty has worn off and it has morphed into a weekly chore.  True, it has forced me to examine my way of living, but that has now become habit anyway. Hence, the plan is to abandon the disciplined weekly blog and move to an occasional one instead. In the meantime, I owe many thanks to my readers, your support has been wonderful. I will be in touch when the time is right in the future.

And that's Dicks View of the World this Week

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Are You a Happy Camper?

I was fumbling around on the computer the other evening and I came across TED Talks on YouTube. I think TED might stand for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is also a good English word that means to spread or scatter, like a farmer turning over the hay to dry. TED is a non-profit foundation with the slogan "Ideas Worth Spreading". This particular episode was presented by Dr. Robert Waldinger, a Harvard psychologist. His topic was on 'the one thing everyone needs to be happier.'

Probably every culture has its own idea as to what constitutes a happy life. I know there is an emotional component when we experience a good time or a streak of 'luck'. As a bonus, we also are awarded a marvelous shot of dopamine (a neurotransmitter)!

It is March Break Week in Ontario and, in spite of the low Canadian dollar, thousands of my fellow Canadians are heading to the warm and sunny south. I am sure those who have been looking forward to their vacation were feeling 'very happy' as they boarded their plane at Toronto Pearson International Airport on the weekend.

But in life, we need more than an occasional chemical release in the brain to make us a happy person. Our culture suggests ideas that supposedly lead to long-term happiness. They include financial security, a well-balanced life, good health, chutzpah, a great golf score, nice feelings, a sense of humour,  and even dying and going to heaven!

On the other side of the coin, a large group of people were polled and asked to identify their greatest fear in life. Would you believe the majority answered public speaking! And their second greatest fear - of dying! As someone wrote recently the mourners at a funeral would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy!

The Harvard Study on happiness was started over seventy-five years ago and Dr. Waldinger is the  fourth person to manage it. The study originated with students, including President John F. Kennedy, but later added families and wives. A similar study followed young men from inner-city Boston tenements. It began around1940. More recently the study added genetic testing to the research.

Now comes the big question? What do these longitudinal studies show? " Those satisfied in their relationships were happier and healthier. It was that simple". The Washington Post.

However, it is important to emphasize that it is the quality of the relationship that provides the psychological and social well-being. Since each one of us is different and unique, relationships are not always easy. They require constant care and attention. I am sure there are dozens of books and articles outlining the 'do's and do not's' for building such relationships.
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But this octogenarian is not a psychiatrist and has no advice to give to others on this matter. I leave that to the experts. I simply know from experience that my efforts to be open with those I love and care for has given me the greatest pleasure and security any man could possibly desire. I was so happy to learn that the Harvard study confirms my experience. Thanks TED for a great and encouraging presentation. In the end, love really does matters.

And that's Dick View of the World this Week

Did you know? 
I don't like debts any more than anyone else. But the  Canadian debt still remains among the lowest (31%) for the Group of Seven nations. We will soon learn if that is to change!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Your Own Room?

Last week, we decided to watch a movie on T.V. and were lucky to find the movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue's book The Room. We were happy to hear soon after that actress Brie Larson won an Oscar for her performance.

The story is about a young woman, and her five-year-old son Jack, prisoners for years in an 11'x11' backyard shed with  only an empty skylight. Old Nick, the rapist has lost his job and Jack's mother is afraid he will kill them as he can no longer afford the house and property. But Jack has been taught that the only reality is 'the room' and its contents. Ma has been protecting him from the harsh truths of their existence. The rest of the world was the imaginary one on T.V.  Without any social contacts, his 'friends' became the lamp, toilet, bed, sink, and the wardrobe where he slept when Old Nick made his nightly visit! Now her son is in danger and she wants to teach him about the outside world before she executes a plan to set him free. But Jack strongly resisted!

We all live 'alone' but together with others in the world. Many people build their nest and form their beliefs and, like Jack, stay fixated in that spot the rest of their lives. That is their choice and they have the right to do so. But as Jack slowly discovers once 'freed', there can be so much more to experience and enjoy. I often wonder if, like Jack, we experience what we expect to experience? Do our beliefs, knowledge and understanding of the world alter what we see and hear and not the other way around? In other words do we see and hear only what we want to see and hear? That's what Ma taught Jack under the skylight and that is why it was so difficult for him to adjust to his new reality.

It is gratifying to remain safe and secure in an obsessive world but it could also mean the door is shut to personal growth and discovery. I notice that when two people are upset and engaged in an argument they often do not listen to each other. How many times have I heard, "He/she does not understand". People have certain expectations and they let them override their observations. We all have our experiences, beliefs, and values and when we speak we are not just another Apple android! History has known for years that language is inherently vague and that people talk 'past' each other. Think of the recent 'he said, she said' court cases our poor judges have had to resolve! Locked in their world (room) of beliefs and opinions they are unable to 'hear' what the other is saying.

At times, it is also easy to fall back on willful blindness to protect ourselves from becoming involved. Granted we can't  absorb everything, but what we choose to leave out sometimes could be crucial. Just think of the rise of Hitler and the results of his regime because people did not speak up in time! I am truly concerned about the recent state of politics in the U.S. What is happening is an excellent example of closed minds and the subsequent deadlock it creates. There are things we should know and could have known, but we choose not to see. 'Why to bother!' or, " I really should have said something!' Examples abound.

Jack, in The Room, had a difficult time adjusting to his new reality. Perhaps it is the constant adjustments demanded of us today that keeps us from challenging our own beliefs and thoughts. Jack made it. So can I!

And that's Dick's View of the World this Week

Did You Know?

At the original Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin was asked what sort of government did the United States have. He replied, " A Republic, madam if you can keep it." Wow!!!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Porcelain Throne

I must admit that there are many advantages being an octogenarian. When one is holding down a full-time job and looking after family duties it is often difficult to find the time to pursue other interests. As an octogenarian, the door is wide open and there is no excuse not to think about life and enjoy, more than ever, every moment of every day.

However, there is a small downside to  pushing the boundaries. I hate all those 'old people' cartoons that find their way into my inbox. Damn it, they are funny in spite of my objections.

As I perch on my porcelain throne each morning after breakfast I tend to review my plans for the day.What firms up my resolution is a very serious test. It will be a successful day when I can rise from the throne without having to lean on the tub rail, pull on a towel rack or press down on my knees! If that exercise bodes well, so does the day.

Like many others in our culture or milieu, I was taught the 'ideals' to live by (The Garden of Eden!) and the reward awaiting me at the other end (Heaven!), provided I practice those flawless rules. I learned on my own that life is dangerous, sometimes confusing, unpredictable at times and even disappointing. But no one taught me about getting old!  It was a phenomenon I observed and ignored.

Most of us are encouraged to prepare financially for our retirement years. Not easy to do with so many part-time and 'sessional' jobs! But I have to ask: Are there preparatory measures one should attempt prior to finding themselves labeled old? If a college or university was to offer GETTING OLD 101 to first-semester students the registration office would not be jammed with applications!

It becomes quite obvious to this octogenarian that getting old is arriving at a place quite different from what it was for my parents. It is not the way I thought it would be. We live in a rapidly changing world and being prepared for the unexpected requires preparation.

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Many of the things we do throughout our life are not recognized as contingencies for old age when in fact they are. We know them in another context. The list is long and includes behaviors such as: working to stay physically and cognitively fit, eating right, enjoying music, and  having a purpose that reaches beyond life's unpleasantries. I once read that good muscle strength in midlife may protect people from old age disability.

The very first sentence in Ferenc Maté's book The World's Best Sailboats reads, "Few things are as exhilarating in life as learning." I might add, it is always good to have an interesting book while occupying the porcelain throne.

And that's Dick's View of the World this Week

Did you Know?
Proctor & Gamble have discovered a new and growing market. 'Babies grow out of diapers, incontinent adults usually don't.' Did I read that somewhere?