On Elderhood…
My friend Julius Oosthuizen sent a link to the interview of Stephen Jenkinson with Andrew Wilcox (Exploring Wild Ideas by Orphan Wisdom). Jenkinson has a way with words, ordinary words. Like someone taking foliage from a garden and making the most striking arrangement, Jenkinson arranges ordinary words to extraordinary effect.
He talks quite a bit about “social media”, and how in fact it should be named “anti-social” media. The more time we spend on our devices, the more alienated we become from each other. The more we think we get to know each other, the more we learn that we hardly notice each other in real life any longer. This way of communicating is also about our sameness, our echo chambers of sameness. We have not only become indifferent to others, in fact we have become quite fearful around difference. Whether that difference is skin colour, age, opinion or sexual orientation, social media herds us together in creating a fear of the “Other”. And it provides all the answers. We simply have to think of something anywhere close to our so-called “smart” phones, and the next thing it will give us an advertisement or opinion on Facebook. Voila! No need to think.
We have become masters at formulating everything. We are in charge, science has proven, facts are clear and knowledge is king. Or is it? If this was the case, why are we so fearful? Why are we so defiant and angry? Jenkins points out that “men are so skilled in anger”, simply because it is a cover for sadness and loss. Never before in the history of the world have men felt so out of control, albeit only (for some) because they cannot walk into a bottle store, buy cigarettes or send their children off to school. Of course this anger phenomenon has been part of the male psyche since long before COVID-19, it is just shining very brightly under the spotlight at the moment.
The problem with formulating everything and being “in control” of everything, is that we have lost our sense of the mystery. We have simplified and dumbed down our being-in-the-world to only acknowledge that which science has proven. Well, see where that got us! A global pandemic, filled with conspiracy theories and angry people. And death… Well, let’s start with death – always a good point of departure. I have said this many times, and for the sake of not sounding like a repeat message when trying to phone Telkom offices, I will not embroider again. Well not in detail.
What are we so scared of? What – in our silly minds – is the worst thing that can happen to us at this time? The absolutely, ultimate worst thing? We will die. Well, I have news for you – we are all going to die, sooner or later. ALL. OFF. US. Yes, you too twenty year old masteroftheuniversemillenial. Jenkins says “you do not own the architecture of your own life, you are entrusted with it.” Take a deep breath, read that sentence again. And again. This is not YOUR life. It is not a personal possession. You are but passing through, in this form, for this period of time. It will end.
I do not really care what your beliefs are, nor what you think happens after you die. Quite often I think we dodge the reality of death because “ we do not believe in any life after death”. That is not the point! The point is death itself, and our absolute terror of it. What is it that makes us so scared? Maybe the mysticism of it? Perhaps the fact that we dare not contemplate our own mortality, because it does actually scare the living daylights (pun intended) out of us?
Jenkins does a beautiful semantic breakdown of the word AWAKE, as in the opposite of ASLEEP. Yet, it has little to do with SLEEP. The prefix A refers to “pertaining to..”, in other words “pertainingreferring to WAKE”. Now the word wake has two meanings that can be brought into this context – one being the wake after a funeral, the other the wake that we leave behind us in the surf when we ski or steer a boat through the water. (He jokes about the fact that one cannot be at one’s one wake…think about it!)
He then makes this statement, which I would urge you again to read a few times: “You have been gathered into the web of consequence that emanates from everything that you have done, everything that you haven’t done, everything that you are still going to do…” and so forth and so on. He carries on: “inhabiting responsibly this trail of consequence…to participate in it, not to control it so much…to participate purposefully with a high degree of conscience, as well as regret…”
COVID-19 is our opportunity to see ourselves within the context of the mystic nature of Being. To elevate our thoughts, and to contemplate our own mortality. I often think of the phrase “a God fearing man” – what does it really mean? I think it implies a respect, living in a way that shows deep consciousness of something bigger than me. Perhaps it is time to look our fear of death in the eye and let it be our Teacher, teaching us how to live. Teaching us that there is no such possession as ME, that there is only US. That we are bound together in a universe that is divinely connected by mystery. That this mystery is requiring of us a more respectful way to Be.
Because, ultimately, this too shall pass.

Musings on the Mind

Dear readers,
Join us for a conversation on dementia and matters of the Mind. Every second Thursday at 14h00, starting on Thursday 30th of July 2020.
Rayne Stroebel is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom conversation:
Join Zoom Meeting us02web.zoom.us/j/3733944342
Meeting ID: 373 394 4342
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Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za

A new normal

A new normal?
It would seem that things are not about to return to “normal” (whatever that was) any time soon. From what I read in the news and between the lines, we are in this for the long haul. One of my most interesting observations to date has been the reaction of people to this new status quo. Kicking, screaming, shouting, crying, moaning, bitching, swearing, more moaning and more bitching. At one point I had to stop engaging, as I could not bear the vitriol, the “hard done by-ness” of people who in fact were not hard done by at all. For the same token, it has been incredibly rewarding watching the mobilisation of support, positive engagement and outpouring of compassionate support to those who are really hard done by the COVID-10 pandemic.
Of course I cannot help drawing conclusions and comparisons. I listen to “why can we not play golf? Why can I not visit my children, why can I not go on holiday, why why why?” Talk of infringements of human rights (often misguided) and civil liberties abound. We have become an angry bunch of whining and winching individuals, as we sip away at our contraband wine. Somewhere deep inside me I get a feeling of “lekkerkry”. I know that none of us can actually contemplate our own ageing, but mabe, just maybe, COVID-19 is bearing the gift of downward compensation. Perhaps, just maybe, in a brief moment of insight and self-reflection, we will have a glimpse of what it must be like to be old, dependent, and perhaps living with dementia.
I know this is the last thing anyone wants to hear or think about at this point. We have more pressing issues to contend with. But, in all of the frenzy there is perhaps the most significant gift, forcing us to become quiet, to contemplate, and to reflect. To look further than our own reality, to see the type of person we will be one day when we are no longer fully in control of everything in our environment. Perhaps we can look in the mirror now and see the type of older person we will be when we truly have no control over something as mundane as our own bladder, let alone our cognitive abilities.
I believe that life up to 60 or 70 is simply a rehearsal. It is our opportunity to train for what is supposed to be the best time of our lives. Wellbeing and “the good life” does not happen by chance, it is the result of a long-term investment, the dividends that will pay off in our 60 to 80/90 years of Being. It is the investment of good friends, good health, eating habits, exercise, exploring hobbies and interests and so forth. These are the investments that pay off in the later years of our lives. And of course kindness. Kindness is the compost that we dig deep into the soil, the nurturing of friendships through kindness, the kindness to our own bodies, to those that will pay off dividends with their visits when we can no longer drive our own cars or use public transportation. The friends (and their children in my case) who will bring us our favourite food or drinks when we can no longer go shopping, who will share our silly and simple pleasures with us when we can no longer go to the bottle store, who will listen to our stories even though they have heard them a thousand times.
All our talk of agency and power and citizenship and rights will mean nothing when we get to a point where we can no longer use the toilet on our own, dress ourselves or make our favourite sandwich, much less so when this is due to cognitive decline. If we are out of sorts now because of COVID-19, imagine how out of sorts we will be when we do not understand what is happening around us, when we are told what to do by people who truly only do their job to keep us safe, when we are locked up with other people whom we don’t know, don’t care to be with and absolutely do not like.
Maybe we should take a long and hard look at the older people in our lives – I know that the ones in my life are teaching me about gratitude, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. I chat to Tannie Hermien who has now been in her little flat, locked up, for weeks. There is no anger, no vitriol, no hatred. Instead, the conversation is an inspiration to me. Maybe it comes with age. Maybe it comes with investment.
I am deeply aware of the fact that mental health issues are very real during this time. People are truly suffering, and I am not making light of this. I am however also aware that COVID-19 is shining a very bright light into the dark corners of our Selves, giving us the opportunity to look at our long-term investment. If COVID-19 is freaking you out, I suggest you better start thinking of how being old and perhaps living with dementia is going to freak you out…it is not too late to change your Mind.