Full Circle

It’s evening. The day has taken its toll. The aches and pains have accumulated over the day’s (relatively) strenuous physical activities. I’m exhausted. I can do little right now but convalesce. Maintaining the mantra: ‘use it or lose it’ is becoming increasingly difficult to voice with enthusiasm. Like others in my aging community vigor and flexibility are diminishing. The unable to perform list awaits and is never empty. Common medical knowledge informs us to cut back our physical (and mental) expectations, don’t push so hard, accept limitations if you wish to maintain your earthly existence.

Morning now. I feel invigorated, competitive again, ready to face any adversity. Age, after all, is experience, an equalizer against youthful exuberance. Bring it on. I’m more than ready for challenge.

Evening again and the cycle continues.

Mumbo Jumbo

In these divisive times of disparate beliefs and alternate realities it seems reasonable to weigh with care one’s personal offerings on subjects of controversy. Strong opinions will arise inevitably in all of us paying attention to the political narrative these days, our chosen news feeds providing us with sound bites of ‘logical’ support for our irrefutable truths. Voicing opinion may best be tempered in the interests of momentary calm, but such a stance seems rarely practiced.

I’ve been reading about the concept of Mumbo Jumbo, an adaptable personage in the traditional cultures of Central Africa. When conflicts emerge, often within the polygamous harems, Mumbo Jumbo may appear with masked face, top hat and staff to gather the community and then single out the most egregious disruptor for punishment.

I’m wondering if a similar sort of magical thought may be creeping into our thinking these days.

I Recently Discovered that My Brain is Shrinking

The science section of the Sunday paper often has an unsettling item or two, usually involving reports by researchers who have determined the dangers of various common behaviors that will likely shorten one’s life. The article that caught my attention most recently warned that alcohol consumption will shrink the brain. Researchers apparently measured brain sizes of some several hundred people and determined that as little as one drink a day will cause one’s brain not only to stop growing but to actually reduce in size.

As I think about this and being aware, as I am, of my forgetfulness as well as the consistency of my inability to come up with the word I want in a conversation, I’m led to believe the researchers may be on to something. The fact that I’ve been consuming alcohol for probably fifty years has me wondering whether dementia may be just around the corner. After all this time it probably wouldn’t make any difference if I quit my daily glass of wine or not; how much smaller could my brain get?

I guess I’ll just have to add alcohol consumption to my other life-shortening behaviors: too much coffee will give me cancer and I can expect diabetes from the sweetened sodas I drink. Such thoughts dim the brightness of the generally healthy lifestyle I see myself living. I guess the realization of life’s fragility will keep me reading such reports even though I won’t be thinking about them too long: shrinking brain, you know.

A Meaningful Existence

It occurs to me that although a majority of people look forward to being relieved of the responsibilities (and tedium) working for a living entails, that, after a while, maybe a few months or a couple of years an existential void may very well appear in the retired person’s psyche. A certain guilt that one is no longer a contributor may have the thoughtful retiree wondering about what constitutes a meaningful existence.

Most, I suppose, find things to do: necessary activities of social support, volunteering where needed. And most everyone of sound mind will be cognizant of one’s impending mortality as physical health inevitably declines, knowing every moment must be embraced, valued. Eat well, exercise, stay healthy, experience life to its fullest.

So, along with the afternoon dances at the VFW, the early bird specials and retirement community life in the southern climes, life proves to be good.

The Impending Demise of Old White Guys

TV ads these days have made me aware the country’s demographic is changing. Savvy advertisers are using more people of color and those living alternative lifestyles to sell their products. It only makes sense of course; old white guys are dying by the droves due not only to covid but to natural life span.

One doesn’t have to look too hard to see the desperate war of resistance the aging white population is waging. The political realm is rife with frenzied folks upset about the changing status quo, opposing the surge of youthful, socially and racially pluralistic energy, which is slowly, steadily driving the conventional beliefs of a previously white cultural dominance into extinction.

There are aspects of the new tolerance for fluid gender identity and sexual lifestyles that are difficult for me, given the social structures I have grown up with, to integrate. I firmly believe, though, change must happen. I sense in the young a positive life force asserting itself; one necessary to overcome the difficulties maintaining life as we know it will require.

Imaginings

I’ve been reading in the news lately political pundits and others in the know are suggesting, warning in some cases, that we are in danger of experiencing another civil war. The crux of the concern seems to be that with large numbers of us polarized as to what we perceive to be true, supported as we are by our chosen information sources, contradictory one side to the other, finding common ground seems unlikely. We find ourselves living in alternate realities and the more firmly we embrace our beliefs the more we fear the other. It’s common these days to see opponents demonized and violence perpetrated.

But, on the positive side there have recently been those on the political fringes calling for state secession. One can imagine a red state/blue state divide although I suppose there’d have to be some voluntary resettlement in order to consolidate realities. Once everyone was on their chosen side of the new international border it would seem peace would be obtainable. Narratives would evolve reflecting relative realities. There will of course be differing perspectives: a democracy on one side, totalitarianism on the other; one state operating according to logic and reason the other embracing the dictates of authority; basic trust in the peace and goodness of humanity on the one hand, paranoia driven preparation for armed conflict on the other. Family get-togethers will be difficult for those on opposite; sides of the fence and given the opposing opinions of the efficacy of science I guess another pandemic will not be good for the red staters.

Imagining a red/blue divide could produce a modicum of peace is hopeful, I suppose, but what is more likely, the mistrust inherent in such a philosophical chasm will feed the human need to demonize each other further.

It’s hard not to imagine mankind’s self-destruction.

Existential Angst

I’ve been thinking lately about the mechanisms we put in place to insulate ourselves, act as buffer between our daily existence and the uncertainty of what’s next. I’ve been reading that Hindus who have the means acquire the services of a seer, a guru who will foretell a personal future, what karmic fluctuations one might expect in one’s present incarnation. According to the Hindu cycle of time we are presently in the Kaliyuga, a period of immorality preceding catastrophic social upheaval, which, I guess, is why the Hindu faithful seek the advice of a guru.

Most everyone, I suppose, seeks to avoid confronting the unknown without a plan. Western religious dogmas pacify the faithful by promising an obtainable after-life. Stoics prepare themselves against psychic annihilation by keeping in mind worst case scenarios. The most secular among us lose themselves in all manner of distractions from doing good to living large. Those who recognize such distractions for what they are may rationalize non-existence will involve a peaceful transition.

I suppose if I had to pick a mechanism to ward of fear of the unknown, I might lean toward Hinduism which is pretty attractive at least from a cultural distance. It’s more exotic, less familiar than traditional western religions and the statuary and temples of and to the pantheon of very interesting gods and goddesses is spectacular. I’ll keep Hinduism in mind the next time I’m in the market for a mechanism to deflect existential angst. I realize such flippancy might seriously deplete my karmic capital. I could find myself a minor insect next life.

Cognitive Biases

I’ve been reading that cognitive biases interfere with nearly everyone’s decision making. There are quite a number of ways that clear thinking is undermined by personal prejudices, intuitive imaginings, simplistic assumptions, unrelated beliefs or refusal to accept information inconsistent with previously accepted knowledge.

The idea of cognitive biases explains, it seems to me, how those of us sharing a fairly common reality can arrive at such diverse opinions about the political, religious and social issues we find ourselves facing daily. There’s a considerable discrepancy as to what constitutes fact. Sometimes our sources gain such credibility we allow their ‘truth’ beyond questioning; makes me think of the Groucho Marx line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

I guess in many cases biases aren’t a serious problem but there are issues needed to be faced these days that mustn’t be denied, cast off as fake news. And to be fair, there are indications many are beginning to look toward the future: carbon sequestration projects, carbon credits for CO2 reductions, a move toward recognizing citizenship for future generations all point to a growing awareness of the importance of maintaining the health of the earth. History and human nature do suggest it takes a blatantly obvious impending doom or maybe even actual devastation for humankind to come together and act. It appears we may be closing in on such an event.

Balancing Risk and Desire

I’ve been reading about balancing risk and desire when the desire is fed by the risk. As I think about my wayward college days when smoking marijuana was as much about defying the man as it was about enjoying the effects of the drug, I realize ‘toking up’ made me feel like a solid member of the anti-establishment, anti-war hippy crowd even though inhaling was about as far as my social protest went.

Now, as I age, my desires are tempered, more thoughtful, I’m less inclined toward risky behaviors. But then I think about why risks are taken in the first place. It’s because risks successfully taken are life affirming, adrenaline pumping, provide a glimpse of (imagined) immortality, experiences sorely lacking in my present daily existence.

So, today I did something I’ve never done before. My mother always warned me about thin ice, so I tried some early season skating anyway. I fell through the ice. The experience was fairly unpleasant but it did alter my usual mundane routine.

A Dystopian Future

I’ve been thinking, lately, of dystopian futures. Such story lines aren’t difficult to find in science fiction, are actually pretty common the best ones being those that are most believable. Common narratives spin a future Dark Age resulting from nuclear disaster, perhaps, or, more believable still, the collapse of civilization due to lethal pandemic. Catastrophic loss of life usually results and those few souls remaining revert to animal behaviors in order to survive. The loss of basic needs collapses moral imperative: theft, murder even cannibalism become the rule.

The abundance of such stores has me wondering about the human psyche, how inclined we may be to expect existential disaster. The reality of global climate change increases our psychosis, the nightly news feeds our discomfort and keeps immanent disaster fresh in our minds.

It’s pretty easy to see why some of us seek solace in spiritual endeavors that promote belief in a worry-free afterlife. As for me, I’m inclined to refocus on the mantra ‘right here, right now’ and celebrate the natural beauty immediately before me.