Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some of who we ought to be.* Parker Palmer
The more learning older adults take on, the faster they seem to learn – the more they become like younger adults.** Tom Vanderbilt
Would you like to be young again?
Why not learn something new … And then keep learning.
Okay, It won’t reverse the ageing process that involves getting slower, with aches and baldness thrown in, It won’t reverse the decline in fluid intelligence and the need to make the leap into crystallising intelligence,^ But to see in fresh ways and understand new truths, And to be able to give these things to others with joy to the people we meet on our journey, Is to feel born again.
very happy people know a secret: a human being has a ridiculous amount of personal agency* Donald Miller
Which came first? Language or meaning?** Lynda Barry
As story-telling creatures, It’s critical to notice if we’re playing the victim or being the agent.
If our life isn’t what we want it to be, And yet we stick where we are, It’s likely we’re playing the victim in some way or other. Even to turn our curiosity towards the things that disappoint or stress or worse, Is to begin to act more like an agent.
For certain, To utilise our agency is hard because, Well, we have to do something we’re not used to doing or maybe have never done before; But to remain a victim is harder.
When travelling south from Scotland to visit our family in England, One route takes us past a small sign marking the source of the River Tweed. Looking across the moorland, There’s nothing to be seen, But a little searching would discover a trickle of water that, As it flows towards the sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Is slowly swollen by the contributions of many water sources, Until the Tweed must be spanned by some considerable bridges.
I mention all of this because to move from victim to agent, We begin with small steps. If you are curious about this then you have already begun.
To uncover what you have, To notice what you can give, And to identify the smallest ways of giving expression to these, Will not only identify your meaning in life – Life is about making meaning and our stories encapsulate what we create – But also swell your agency and carry you away from being the victim. (If I can help, let me know.)
The word for this is transformation:
What is the essence of heroic energy? A hero wants meting in life and is willing to accept challenges in order to transform into the person capable of getting what they want.*
A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. … At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.* John O’Donohue
Unlike cynicism, hopefulness is hard-earned, makes demands upon us, and can often feel like the most indefensible and lonely place on Earth. Hopefulness is not a neutral position either. It is adversarial. It is the warrior emotion that can lay waste to cynicism.** Nick Cave
I’ve just been trying to remember how to insert the # symbol on my iMac keyboard. I’ve done this plenty of times, but it had gone for a wander this morning.
No, not that way, Not that way either. I’ll google it – What do you call it?
Eventually, As you can see, I got there.
I can forget a lot of things; It’s one of the things I notice as I get older. I shared some days ago how we go into decline sooner than we think as we move from fluid intelligence into crystallising intelligence. Arthur Brooks likens trying to remember something to asking an old librarian to find a book. They disappear for ages, Finally returning not only with the book you wanted, But also with an armful of other books: “I thought you might also like to have a look at these.”
One of the funny things is how, With some arthritis in my fingers, I can misspell words because sometimes certain fingers work more slowly than others, And the first letter I want ends up being the second or worse – It’s like what used to happen to typewriters when you hit too many keys at once.
It doesn’t mean it’s the end of meaningful life; It can be quite the opposite, but first we must show ourselves some compassion, Or friendliness as Oliver Burkeman prefers to think of it, here quoting Iddo Landau’s reverse golden rule:
don’t treat yourself in ways you wouldn’t treat others^.
We need to embrace our flaws and weakness and mistakes – But don’t wait until you’re my age before you begin doing this:
you can finally relax a little. When you are honest and humble about your weaknesses, you will be more comfortable in your own skin. When you use your weaknesses to connect with others, love in your life will grow.^^
These are not boundaries that stop us in our tracks, Rather they are thresholds that lead in to something unfamiliar though hopeful, unnerving though invigorating. Onwards.
When I operated out of villain energy, I became more and more isolated. … We know we are surfacing villain energy when we dismiss other people’s comments or when we think of them as lesser.* Donald Miller
Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour.** The Apostle Paul
The rain was falling heavily, And around twenty of us were sheltering beneath a gazebo as we celebrated the sunflower festival on the little estate where we are neighbours.
Everyone one got a prize for the sunflower(s) grown: Tallest in a pot … Most beautiful flower … Making an effort (when the seed had failed) – Looking for a reason for everyone to be included in the prizes (daffodil bulbs to be planted for the spring).
It looked like we all enjoyed the hour or so, Despite the rain, As we shared prizes and cake and chocolates and drinks.
Giving up on being victims and villains, Humans can be heroes at finding ways to be neighbourly.
The most direct way forward is to default to more respect, simply because that’s what people deserve.^
transcend /tranˈsɛnd,trɑːnˈsɛnd/ verb gerund or present participle: transcending 1. be or go beyond the range or limits of (a field of activity or conceptual sphere).
I think this is something we intuitively understand – that as we mature we should seek spiritual growth in anticipation of an old age filled with enlightenment.* Arthur Brooks
If I haven’t figured out that human life is transcendent in nature, It is likely I’m done rooting around.
Arthur Brooks has just introduced me to Hinduism’s four ashramas or stages of life, Being in their most stripped-down forms: Brahmacharya: learning; Grihastha: career, wealth, family; Vanaprastha: spirituality, wisdom; Sannyasa: enlightenment.
These reminded me of Brian McLaren’s four seasons: Simplicity: the joy of beginning; Complexity: things aren’t as straightforward as we thought; Perplexity: there are things that will never reconcile; Harmony: we find a way of holding all that is together.**
And then there are Theory U’s four levels of transformation: Downloading: we are at the centre of our small world; Opening the mind: we move to the edge of our world and see there is more; Opening the heart: we move deeper into the worlds of others; Opening the will: we create together what is wanting to emerge.^
My point is not that these exist in some coincidence – They do not overlay each other neatly – Rather, Here are three understandings of transcendent life – Helpful to us on their own or together – Encouraging us to keep moving.
What a caterpillar is doing, in its self–imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar — a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).* Sam Anderson
They want the things that are truly worth wanting. They elevate their desires. The world tells them to be a good consumer but they want to be the one consumed.** David Brooks
We resist change. As Arthur Brooks writes,
Even more powerful than our urge for more is our resistance to less. We try even harder to avoid losses than we do to achieve gains.
He explains how this hard-wiring would make a lot of sense in the days of our ancestors when losing some of the little they had was more life-threatening than obtaining some extra.
David Brooks describes those amongst us who are willing to take a risk, Letting go of the life they have which they admit to be dissatisfying – Achievement, power, popularity, wealth (he calls these extrinsic goals the first mountain) – For something I imagine as life-in-all-its-fullness – What I often find myself reflecting on as honour and nobility and enlightenment.
You’ll have spotted why I put the opening quotes together. The caterpillar is totally consumed and yet experiences transformation; This is the nature of possibility the metamorphosising caterpillar teaches us:
What you experience in the universe outside you also exists in the universe within you. The universe literally flows though you. … The universe has one intention: to create life.^^
This may not be easy, Or even pleasant, But it is your nature of possibility.
As in the case of lines, you are likely to stop when you are no longer sure you should go further – at the rear edge of the region of uncertainty.* Daniel Kahneman
Ihave fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.** The Apostle Paul
You know you will always remember this moment, When the news arrives Where you were, What you were doing.
Yesterday was such a moment for me: The news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II – Though I am not a monarchist I’m probably and Elizabethist.
Only two days earlier, She had been carrying out her constitutional duties, Receiving the resignation of one prime minister, Appointing their successor.
We each have duties, Shaped by who we are and the constraints of where we are.
Erich Fromm reflects in his 20th century way:
When man is born, the human race as well as individual, he is throw out of a situation which was definite, as definite as the instincts, into a situation which is indefinite, uncertain and open.^
Through the abdication of her uncle, Elizabeth would one day become Queen. Who imagined in 1936 that she would still be reigning in 2022; We might conclude, constraints and skill can lead to something significant.
I cannot imagine myself making 96, But each day, I want to do my duty.
I like to think Queen Elizabeth had some fun along the way:
The way we store energy is through our desires, values, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and ultimately our greatest capacity is through what we love. … I have come to realise that people do not bring the same level of energy with them.* Erwin McManus
Satisfaction = What you have ÷ what you want** Arthur Brooks
Arthur Brooks holds that if our satisfaction depends on money power pleasure and honour then we’re in trouble.
Perhaps take a moment to reflect on his formula for satisfaction: I certainly feel its wisdom. How true has this been in your own experience?
Anna Katharina Schaffner, In reflecting on more than two thousand years of self improvement, Notices a change:
In the self-improvement literature of the past, the emphasis was placed on the virtues. Yet reflections on goodness have all but disappeared from modern self-help. Our focus tends to be on personality rather than character and our effectiveness in achieving successful careers.^
You may have spotted the transition in this sentence, How self improvement has become self-help, How focus on the inward is replaced by a greater concentration on the outward. Brooks reflects on the negative impact for us, how
Self objectification lowers self-worth and life satisfaction.**
Erwin McManus offers us plenty of starting places for noticing just how much we already have. Even grabbing two minutes to ponder these today will begin to make a difference:
May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you In worth and self-respect, That you may live with the dignity That presides in your soul.^^