Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time to go home . . . ?

I wonder if you enjoy online seminars?
Do you value, as I do, this incredible sense of a worldwide community . . . a sense formed in the knowledge that, although it may be dawn in Los Angeles, mid-day in London, and evening in Melbourne, people throughout the world are united at a meeting-point outside time and space.  All of us linked in discussion in a way that was never before thought possible.

Whilst participating the other day, I was brought down to earth by the speaker's comment.  It was wonderful, she said, that we could gather in this way, wonderful that our minds could communicate in space, but, she added, she always felt a little flat afterwards.

Minds might have been united through the internet, but, when her computer was switched off, there was no-one there to share a cup of tea.  Physically, she was on her own.

It was true.  Do we over-value these powerful links?  After all, no matter how many friends you have on Facebook, it's no comfort if you feel in need of a hug.

It may seem an unlikely connection, but I'm reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Do you remember?
It's the story of the younger son who left home, lured by the attractions of the world.  Years later, sadder but wiser, he returned to his waiting family.  Here he received what might be considered an undeservedly warm welcome, complete with a fatted calf.

Surely there has never been a generation which has travelled more than we have?  We are constantly on the move.  Families no longer comprise three or more generations living in close proximity, they are widely scattered.  Many people live highly mobile and, in consequence, often solitary lives.  But what when we switch off the computer, the iPad or the smartphone  . . . what when we want to share a cup of tea?

Like the Prodigal Son, have we had enough . . . has the time come to go home?

To go home, wise in the knowledge of what we've encountered, and recognising just why we need, and value, what it was that we left behind.

This is the belief of a large group of people in Oregon, as they put it, "We Need Each Other".  They speak of 'a maturing humanity where values move from transaction to trust, from consumption to contribution, from scarcity to abundance . . . and from isolation to community'.
Go to their website and see for yourself.

Nor is the United States alone in fostering this concept.  In Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, they have what is known as a Gift Economy:

' . . .  a culture of constantly giving to their neighbour, with no immediate expectation of return.  Their cultural belief is that by giving, you will also be given to and be taken care of.  Hoarding is frowned upon, so people avoid it. Medical care, education, Social Security and other things that many Westerners think are supposed to be provided by the government, are handled on a personal basis and somehow, everybody gets what they need.'

Is this African country wiser than we are?  Watch this link and judge for yourself.

We've had fun since leaving home.  Disowning the natural world that reared us, we've been enticed by the concept of competition, seduced by the glamour of individual success, bedazzled by the pursuit of wealth . . . although proof is still lacking that you can actually buy happiness.

But all this has been typical of adolescent self-indulgence.
Isn't it time we grew up . . .  time that we followed in the steps not only of the Prodigal Son, but also of the people of Oregon and Mali?

It's time to go home.
Why?   Not because we want the welcome and the fatted calf, it's far simpler than that . . . it's because we need each other.

Monday, November 10, 2014

We that are left grow old . . .

It's been a time of remembrance . . . a time of honouring the fallen . . . a time of reflecting on the tragedy of young lives lost in warfare.
"They shall not grow old," we've been reminded, "as we that are left grow old . . . "

It's true.
But let's switch our minds for a moment from that heart-wrenching moat of poppies to 'we who are left' . . . we who are left to grow old.

Surely we owe a debt to those who died?  Surely we owe it to them to make our old age a time of celebration?  A time to of fulfilment, passion and positivity?

Sad to say, all too often this is not the case.  But it seems timely that, in Remembrance Week, I should have learned of an Australian initiative, the 'Men in Sheds' movement, which aims at doing just that, and which was recently introduced to the UK.

It can be forgotten that, at heart, we're creative beings.  Without the incentive and urge to create, in effect we cease to be.  What's more, age does not diminish this creativity.  Which prompts the question, why are so many elderly people deprived of an outlet for their abilities?

Men, in particular, can find retirement very hard, unless . . . yes, you've guessed what's coming next . . . unless they have the opportunities afforded by a garden shed.  A shed, or a workshop, in which they can hone their skills and promote the flow of their natural talents.

Since its inception in Australia in 1995,  'Men in Sheds', a movement which fosters friendship as well as activity, has extended its beneficial work worldwide.

Here in the UK, over a hundred and forty flourishing Sheds have already been established.  Stretching to all corners of the kingdom, their imaginative activities range from growing moustaches as a charity fund-raiser, to building a Viking boat!

I must admit to a personal interest in this venture as it endorses my own experience.

Every week, on behalf of the Pets As Therapy charity, I take Chloe, my cat, to visit our local care home.  It's a very good care home.  The elderly residents are well looked after, in-house activities and entertainment are provided, the individual rooms are immaculate.

If any of the newcomers express the desire to see Chloe, I take her to to meet them shortly after their arrival.  At this point, with few exceptions, the men and women are articulate, self-possessed and confident . . .  happy to chat and circulate.  But, as the months pass, almost invariably I observe this individuality and self-confidence being eroded.

Why is it eroded?  Quite simply because they have little say in their own lives, no responsibilities, no major decisions to make, no work to undertake, no outlets for their abilities.

Although physically fit, they often spend the greater part of their day on their beds.  There's no point, as they see it, in getting up.

It's not enough to be alive.  It's not enough to  be mentally and physically fit.  There's a vital need for a sense of purpose, for the knowledge that our talents are contributing to the welfare of the whole, that we are each of us a vital and unique piece in the evolving jig-saw of humanity.

So, as we honour and remember the young who died, let's celebrate the work of Men in Sheds.
Let's honour an older generation whose members are fired by an ageless sense of purpose.

And, should they need an example to guide them on their way, there's a shining star in Iowa who can offer them limitless inspiration!

Yes, it's true, 'we that are left grow old' . . . but wouldn't you agree that we owe it to the fallen to make this a life-affirming process?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Jungle Games

Forgotten jungles fired those blazing eyes,
Whilst from the throat an ancient memory
Gives utterance to low, staccato cries.
Attention that before roamed wide and free
Now centres on a point. All consciousness
Is focussed, clear and still - no time but now,
No aim in mind but this.  With suppleness
Of liquid steel the crouching limbs allow
Their tension to escape through twitching tail.
No worries drain the body's energy.
No idle thoughts of failure can prevail
To blur that cloudless mental clarity.
At last, with lethal, calculated spring,
The kitten pounces on the ball of string.