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I have been thinking and writing a lot about “connectedness”. When training our Care Staff, I always refer to two kinds of connectedness that are essential for humans, being our grounding connectedness with the Earth and our Spiritual connectedness with the In nite. Somehow, I realise now, I never really talk about our connectedness to other human beings. I know that socialising is very important, especially to prevent isolation, but somehow I have my doubts about the obsession with loneliness…

When speaking to Care Staff from African cultural backgrounds, there is always much debate about the exact translation of the word loneliness, and mostly there is no consensus on what the exact word is for this seemingly strange sense of being. This has made me aware of the possibility that loneliness is, yes bear with me, maybe yet another Western construct. Could it be that our obsession with individuation and privacy and the rights of the individual above that of society has created this monster called “loneliness”? That the condition is man-made and not an innate part of who we as humans are? It would seem that the phenomenon has become so common that it is now seen as part of the human condition – yet another part that needs to be cured, another dis-ease construct that needs medical intervention.

A friend sent me a beautiful video clip of the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”, now well-known thanks to the internet and the beautiful postings of broken ceramics being fixed with gold inlay, celebrating the beauty of imperfection. This made me think about how much time and effort we spend on trying to hide – not celebrate – our own perceived imperfections. We colour our hair, straighten our teeth, straighten/curl our hair, shave our body hair, botox our wrinkles, nip and tuck our wrinkles, and lie about our age. This perfection obsession takes up so much time, energy and money, driving us more and more into hiding our true Selves. We fight ageing with our obsession with eternal youth as if we can defy Life, make ourselves immortal… This I think is where loneliness is seated – in our obsession with eternal youth. Rhino horns and shark fins and elixirs promise to cure an existential ambiguity around ageing and passing through this life.

Growing older. Can we perhaps focus our attention on just the GROWING bit? We admire the age of a tree, the gnarled beauty of bark, the rings that mark time, mark the weathering of storms. We admire Notre Dame – and cry when it burns down, cry for the loss of something so old and precious. We pay fortunes for old paintings, cars, and jewels. We marvel at ancient cities and take endless photographs of rotten plaster and bricks. We walk ancient pathways to nd our true Selves. Yet, we hate our own growth into Elderliness. What is this dichotomy based on? Fear perhaps?

Wabi-sabi is about embracing our impermanence, our imperfect being, the rustic nature of age and the melancholy that becomes part of the growth towards our departure. Melancholy, “Saudade” – a beautiful state of being that we avoid at all costs, that we medicate out of existence to create a zombie-like floating through a meaningless life of disconnect.

Wabi-sabi urges us to appreciate the passing nature of our being, embrace our own fragility, come to terms with being broken, and modestly be in our own fragility. In our desperate efforts to escape this, we end up disconnecting from the Earth and the In nite, the very source of our growth. We end up like living dead people, hollow to the core. When Life starts pushing us gently (or not so gently) towards growing old, we push back with all our might, and the might of the medical and pharmaceutical world. When we start forgetting, we do everything in our power to remember, that which for many years perhaps we wanted to forget. When the marks of age start showing we cover them with the plaster of denial.

The reader on this youtube clip talks about Buddhism, not as a religion, but as a way of being-in-the-world, urging us “to make peace with our transitory, imperfect and unheroic nature”. And therein lies wisdom, grateful acceptance, celebration, solitude, and connection. Melancholy.

So next time you see an Elder just sitting quietly, don’t just assume loneliness. Rather move closer and explore their wisdom, learn from them what it means to Be. Create a connection that might just infuse you with the magical elixir of age.

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