in the mood

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A baby is born with baby fat, a little envelope of fatty tissue that protects him from accidental random bumps with the reality of the world; knocks against the crib, unexpected falls… and all through life, many of us continue to be protected by a little extra fat, plans and obligations, lust and desires, fantasies and aspirations.

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We go through life chasing one thing or another; worrying about getting up early so we can be at work on time; having enough money to make ends meet; doing the right thing for our children, being fair to our mate; and getting closer to our goals. Sometimes those goals are so insignificant that we’ve forgotten whether they were gained or lost just a short while later. But in the process… in the navigation of our vehicle through the traffic, in the negotiation of a business deal, while falling in love, we manage to avoid dwelling on our existential loneliness, or about the certainty of death.

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Getting old, for many, is a time of getting thinner. Not for all, but for many. There are varying degrees of exposing ourselves to the bare truth. There are those that bumble along unsure of where they are or where they’re going, just trying to stay out of harm’s way. And others, who try to savor the experience of living, taking risks, overcoming painful disappointments, all for the sake of being truly alive, and wanting to know as much as possible about the nature of this unique and infinite universe.

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Chuang Tzu the father of Daoism said: “I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” Sitting in a straight backed chair in my kibbutz home, watching fish swimming in the aquarium, I relived his experience, wondering about the limits of the consciousness of fish; were they aware of the room beyond the aquarium? Did they see me looking at them? The aquarium limiting their world to so and so many cubic centimeters of water… and at the same time a parable of that same bubble in which I lived.

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We could discuss cosmetic surgery and the insertion of Botox under the skin. That is one alternative to searching for wisdom as we grow older. I love Bob Dylan and have followed him from the time he first appeared in the beginning of the 60s till he won what I thought was a well deserved Nobel prize recently. But I beg to differ with the thesis of one of his most beautiful songs: No, I don’t wish my children to be forever young, but to cherish every stage as they grow older, and to explore the possibilities of the personal and individual evolution which is the potential of every human being.

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If the ‘birds and the bees’ are seen as an appropriate parable by which the child may learn of nature’s dictates to living beings, then the autumn leaves may be an example to us as we grow old, discard our fat, our skin getting thin and sensitive both to external objects in accidental encounter, and to the pressure of our bones when in the same position too long. Our faults which appeared as youthful folly once, seem exaggerated now by their continuous growth just as ears and noses are often more pronounced on the faces of the aged. And that sensitivity that spurred our curiosity as children may later lead us into melancholy moods and sadness as we contemplate our existential aloneness and our inevitable demise.

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And if, at moments such as these, we ache for relief, try to remember the power of the mood, which offers us the harmonies, the undertones and the overtones of thought itself. Regardless of where our thoughts may lead us, it is so important to remember. To remember that we can influence our mood. We know those places that uplift our hearts; those scenes that let us truly relax. It may be a eucalyptus tree for one, or a mountain ridge for another; the face of a loyal old dog, or of a friend who, when you are with him or her, you just can’t help smiling. Not so long ago, I was saddened by some news I heard on the radio. I had turned on the news at 12 midnight, to know what was going on before I went to sleep. And what I heard saddened me. I thought to myself, I don’t want to go to sleep now, with these thoughts on my mind. I’ll have bad dreams. And so I turned to my computer and chose a standup comedian I’d heard before from the huge selection offered me by youtube. This comedian has a political outlook of reverse polarity to mine. But I enjoy his sense of humor… even when he laughs at what I consider holy. I watched him perform for about a quarter of an hour, and I laughed. Not just smiled, I laughed out loud, and felt a lessening of tensions, and wind under my wings; uplift.

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Sigmund Freud wrote some very precious chapters on humor and suggested that it juxtaposes items in our consciousness, creating a different perspective which then allows us to reexamine attitudes that have grown stiff from constant reference within the same mental state. That is to say, that if we view something again and again with the same prejudice in mind (he used fear as an example), we will eventually be unable to see the subject without arousing that prejudice. But laughter can enable us to see the subject anew. English speakers are familiar with the famous saying, ‘laughter is the best medicine’. And it turns out that modern research supports this folk knowledge. According to biologists, laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving our resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

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39 responses to “in the mood

  1. Very beautiful reflection and very apt metaphors for growing old. I won’t look at a fallen leave the same again. Have a good day.

  2. I always enjoy your perspective of life – especially when you look back. This post should encourage readers to look in both directions of life – backwards and forwards. Yes, all stages of life have similarities and differences. To me, you just asked us to embrace the differences. Well done, Shimon!

    • It seems to me, as time goes by, that I have less and less to ask for… less to say… and more to wonder about. We walk along a path, and one of us sees a half hidden flower, and another sees a well camouflaged lizard. We point them out to each other, and we are each richer for the experience. Thanks for your comment, Frank.

  3. Such heart-lifting reflections, Shimon. And laughter shifting our stuckness. Of course it does. Which in turn relates to something I heard today about traditional Chinese medicine, and the view that ill health stems from stagnation – of energy flow in TCM thinking. And we know there is truth in such notions. Likewise in the turning of the soil which gives off its own brand of laughter-inducing substances. Aaaaah! Happy weekend to you, Shimon. You have brightened my thinking this autumn afternoon.

    • A few weeks back, I wrote a bit about my experiences of soul searching, Tish. And from the responses, I had the feeling that some were curious about the work itself… the thoughts that run through one’s mind in that process. And since then, I’ve been sharing some of those internal thoughts… those subjects that characterize the fabric of consciousness. Yes, it’s invigorating to turn the soil. And I do believe that Chinese medicine has much to teach us, as do other treasures of traditional knowledge, Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. Ahhhhh…..my beautiful metaphorical sermon for Shabbat.
    Thank you for this inspiring reminder to laugh. I tend to see the humor in the life experience and enjoy reading Thurber for a pick-me-up.

    • Thanks for the reminder of Thurber, Cheri. I hadn’t taken a look at his work for 50 years. But it’s so easy to find with the help of the internet. And looking at his cartoons, I was gratified to see that he hadn’t lost any of his wisdom or bite. How sweet for you, that you are able to see the humor in life.

  5. Humor, laughter, is indeed good medicine, and friends that can make you smile. Priceless.

  6. I so enjoy your thoughts, Shimon. Thank you for another fine post. Sometimes we do ‘get in a rut’ full of negative thinking and find it difficult to claw out. Living in the moment, surrounding ourselves with positive people, even making others happy will often be the perfect cure for chasing away the thoughts that would have us declaring ‘Oh, woe is me.’ Some say positiveness is a choice. Poor health, devastating events, dire losses and their effects aside, I believe that statement to be true most of the time. I’m happy for you that you chose to find a comedian who made you actually laugh. Laughter IS good for the soul. Blessings, my friend.

    • I mentioned in passing the thin skin that comes with aging. Along with it is an increase in sensitivity to all that surrounds us. And there is much in life that can sadden us… at all ages. So it’s not surprising that sometimes the mood stays with us even when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. That’s why it’s so important to restart now and then; to shake off the blues and look at life anew. What you say about cheering others, or serving others is so true. Very often that sort of activity brings a rush of good vibes and positive feelings. Thank you so much for your blessing, Myra

  7. If only One can remember what one is supposed to remember as We reach the autumn of our life, good and bad, joy and sorrow, life and death with grateful heart and sense of humour, we will remember our follies. I enjoy reading your introspective mind.

    • It is sad truth that we do have problems with memory as we grow older, and I have heard many explanations for this phenomenon. As we all know, there are some terrible diseases that can afflict us in this area too. But even without those diseases, there is a clear loss of memory. Some say that what is usual is the decrease in short term memories, which are based on a different system from our long term memory. The short term memory is thought to be held within the cellular communication, which makes use of chemicals within the nervous system to transfer thoughts from cell to cell. Some believe that this can be affected by a drying up the cells and recommend special care in maintaining body fluids by drinking plenty of water. Aside from that, we realize that there is a constant increase of memories both needed and unnecessary, and one’s head can be like a closet that is filled to bursting. As a young man, I encountered a theory in the Talmud, that studying refreshes mental order, and prevents or lessens the eventual mental decrease of old age. I spent much time with older people all through life, and noticed great divergence in the manner in which different people were able to function in old age. My mother, who passed the age of 100, seemed much the same in personality and capacity for communication though she did suffer some loss of memory. Thanks for your comment, Perpetua.

  8. Perhaps we should take lessons from the babies who laugh and giggle at every little thing that entertains them. No wonder they seem happy as they are definitely producing lots of endorphins. Find something to make you laugh today.

    • You’re very lucky, Bev, if your experience with babies is mainly laughter and giggles. I have known babies that cried and yelled a lot (and later grew up to be fine men and women), and it seems to me that it is more a question of personality than circumstance. Unfortunately, the baby is limited in communication, and terribly dependent on those around him. The same can be said for many oldsters who are incapacitated in different ways. But as you say, I do search out pleasures and laughter, and a little goes a long way. Always good to hear from you.

  9. A lovely perspective. The challenge of aging gracefully…….an ongoing challenge that requires a strong sense of humour. It is good to be reminded! Thank you.

    • Thank you for coming by and joining the conversation. Humor does help, as well as listening to music, interchanges with others as well as breaking loose from routine which can get dull. Thanks for your kind words.

  10. Its a blessing to be able to read and feel your thoughts, Simon. They hold much wisdom. Hugs and Xx for you. 💕

  11. I don’t know if I imagined this or heard someone say it, but I’ve always liked the proposition that, as we age, we become more truly who we are, with certain traits that characterized us as children becoming more pronounced. For example, the curious child becomes the aged person still given to exploration. The kind person becomes more kind; the curmudgeon more irritable and grumpy.

    Of course the curmudgeon can learn kindness, and the bored adult can be enticed into curiousity, but I don’t think that explains it all. Despite the changes we experience, there is a constant — an “I” — that engages with the world. Coming to recognize that essence — to know ourselves as we truly are — may be the final gift of life.

    I smiled at this: “it is so important to remember… that we can influence our mood.” I have to remind myself of that constantly. As an older woman who still has to work to support herself,i t can be easy to give into gloominess from time to time: particularly when the inbox is filled with posts written by people who are retired, traveling, and secure. But finding a way to change negative thoughts certainly can lift the spirit, and besides: no matter the details of our journeys, the destination is the same. That doesn’t bother me at all.

    • From what I’ve seen through life, we stay pretty much the same person all the way through, but there is the ability to learn, reinforcement, and denial. In learning, we develop our natural talents. There are basic talents that most people have. And then there are exceptional talents that are sprinkled through the entire population, and rare talents that belong to just a few. Those who like to learn (and enjoy work), can develop their talents to an exceptional level. It takes quite a bit of self discipline. And with that same discipline we can overcome a lot of our character flaws. However, there are those who deny their talents and their faults. Through reinforcement, we can learn to make the most use of our talents or ingrain our faults. As we become old we grow weaker and have less control. Many of the talents we have developed stay with us, but the faults that we have denied stay with us. Learning to accept ourselves for what we are is certainly an enlightening experience, and lightens our load as well. It’s always a pleasure meeting you Linda, and trading thoughts.

  12. Good morning dear Shimon. I thoroughly enjoyed this and can say that I have so many of the same thoughts that you have expressed. I had family from Seattle in London this weekend with their six year old son, Nicholas, an absolute delight. Everything we did was an adventure to him – and I might add to me as well, and there was no cynicism, no worrying about the stuff of life that does seem to inhibit we humans as we age.

    I really liked the analogies you used, especially that of the autumn leaf. It always reminds me of the natural passing of time…..and like you I agree that each part of the ageing process should be celebrated in its own way…rather than trying to either ignore it or change it, which of course is impossible.

    I was one of the 700.000 marching in London this weekend for a ‘People’s Vote’ re this ongoing nightmare and mess of the Brexit issue. There were people from both sides of the debate involved – all of us simply wanting to have a new vote on all the information that has been uncovered since this began two years ago. The point I want to make is that every age group was there, from babes in the arms of their parents to people even older than me!:) and everything in between. The sun was shining, and the mood was really good – an example of we humans of all ages coming together with a common goal in peaceful and positive ways. I am still smiling from it all….and feel completely uplifted. Yes, laughter, smiling, acceptance of where we are in life are some of the things that do make it a wondrous journey.

    Loved the photographs of Nechama, the baby and family…Thank you so much for starting my week on a very positive and good footing. Janet xxx

    • I’ve had many adventures in life, Janet, and looking back, the richest of them all was teaching because I always learned as much as I taught. You know, when a young person dies we say, he or she will always stay the same age for us. But that is no great blessing because all of the potential, and the aspirations stay at the same place too… without development. We who’ve been blessed with a long life have had the opportunity to realize a lot of the potential and hopes we had when young. To want to stay young is to relinquish the positive changes as well, and to try and defy nature, which is usually a great disappointment. I’ve taken part in a number of demonstrations, and a few protests too, but I prefer now to leave that to the younger generations. I’m glad to hear that your recent participation was an enjoyment. It’s very seldom I post a picture of a baby. They bring to my mind, sober and painful thoughts. I prefer to relate to grownups. But I do have hope, and that brings inspiration at times. So glad you find the positive in what I say. That’s the mystique of friendship. Though we’ve never met in person, I have a strong feeling we’ve shared a lot of similar adventures. xxx

      • I am quite sure that you and I have shared many similar experiences in life. I was thinking recently that I met you through blogging about 12 years ago…..a testament to the positive elements to this amazing medium. I am so pleased we met and have become good friends. I will think of you and Nechama enjoying a quiet day together. Janet 🙂

  13. I had to reflect upon this post. It’s dense in terms of life, love and moving on to the end of life. It evoked an enormous range and conflict of emotions within me.

    As always, your photo montage was very apt. Nechama is a very elegant soul.

    • Hi there menhir. In that post after the day of atonement, there were two readers who felt I had left something unsaid. And taking that response to heart, I tried to add a few post scripts, so to speak, regarding the issues that I try to deal with when soul searching. You were one of those two, so in a way these thoughts were meant specially to be shared with you. I hope this filled in a bit of what was lacking in the earlier post. Thanks for your comments always.

  14. Wise words as usual Shimon. I have been looking at those autumn leaves for some time now myself.

    • Thanks for coming by, Peter. Good to see an old friend. Hard to get up in the dark, on a winter morning… still using daylight savings tme… I fear I’m losing my patience.

  15. A profound reflection on growing old and changing awareness – thank you, you’ve caused me to revisit some of my assumptions too. I’m just reading a novel about an anthropologist who deconstructs social assumptions. It’s very thought-provoking as you wonder what will be left. In the end, it seemed, he did not want anything of himself left, either in life or in death. That raises a lot of challenging questions. I hope I can go on thinking and learning until my dying day!

    • I too, like you Gill, hope to keep on thinking and learning as long as I live. I’ve learned a lot from anthropologists. But a critical history of anthropology reveals that more than once, they were influenced by personal or popular agendas. When hearing new ideas or information, we try to integrate that into the body of knowledge we’ve already acquired. Occasionally it’s challenging, but it is rare that a new body of knowledge invalidates all we’ve learned before. Thanks for the comment.

  16. You write about aging in such a beautiful, sensitive, moving and thought provoking way. Very few of us like to dwell on our demise. As I age, the world seems stranger, at times I suspect we may be living in a computer simulation. Aging does come with challenges for sure, yet to me it brings peace too, with the ability to accept who you are and be ok with that, humour though, where would be be without that!I loved the pictures of family and friends sharing meals and of the wonderful Nechama. I did enjoy the Chuang Tzu quote, as usual, you provide much to reflect upon. xxx

    • No, it’s not a pleasure to dwell on our demise. It goes against one of our most basic instincts. Just because of that, we push it to the back of our minds (and sometimes out the door of consciousness). All the same, that important bit of information can really help us find a good perspective when choosing alternatives or attaching values to events or material things in our lives. I’ve had similar thoughts about life as a computer simulation. And like yourself Dina, I have found peace to be an important feature of aging. Don’t know whether it’s because of hormonal changes or accumulated experience, but there seems to be less tension and struggle as we grow older. Thanks Dina. xxx

  17. Thank you for reminding us that we need to cherish every stage as we grow older rather than worrying about, wrinkles etc. Laughing is the best medicine, and is wonderful to laugh with friends and family. It is getting harder and harder to tune in the daily news, say the least.
    “in the mood” is beautifully expressed. Thank you so much, Mr. Shimon.
    Have a wonderful day.

    • As a young man I had a desire to hear what anyone had to say… and maybe because I wanted to know what was going on in the world, I listened to the news knowing that it didn’t represent all the truth, and listened to the advertisements, waiting to get on with the program. But after a while, I got the feeling I was being manipulated by the communications media, and slowly became more discriminating about whom I was willing to hear. I try to remain open, but I’m much more choosy now. Thank you for your kind works, Amy.

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