Our Many Selves

The Tom and Dave discussions continue:

“Hey Tom, guess how many “self” words are in the dictionary?”

“Maybe about 50.”

“Wrong, my friend, there are over 100.”

“Amazing.”

“It is amazing, the term “self” is very important to us because it refers to our awareness of WHO WE ARE and HOW WE EXPERIENCE OURSELVES within our world. Self is our inner world, the flow of our thoughts, feelings and senses.”

“Dave, what are the parts of Who We Are and Our Experiences?’

“Good question, Tom, lets list them:

There is the Physical part, our body, the vehicle in which we experience life and make contact with the world.

The Emotional part, many emotions are experienced as we journey through life.

The Psychological part, our streams of thoughts, our social contacts.

The Sexual part and the Spiritual part.”

“Wow Dave, that’s a lot of parts!”

“Well Tom, we humans function best when all these parts are in a healthy state and flowing freely.”

“Someone once told me that I have an inspiring persona. What’s that all about?”

“Inspiring! That’s good, Tom. Your persona is the “mask” you put on for the public. Your persona incorporates your best qualities leaving negative traits to form the “Shadow Self.”

“The “Shadow Self”, what’s that?”

“It’s not as scary as it sounds, Tom. Our shadow self includes traits that we dislike or would like to ignore. The shadow self balances the overall psyche.

Where there is light there must be a shadow.”

“Sometimes, Dave, I feel so alone in this world. Why is that?”

“Well, my friend, when you discovered, in childhood, that you were a separate being, that you exist independently of anyone else, it was a sobering experience.

We are isolated in our own consciousness throughout life’s journey.

Hence at times we feel very ALONE.”

“I also feel very vulnerable at times.”

Tom was shaking.

“Relax buddy, we all were born into this world very vulnerable, with no defenses, in fact we didn’t even have a personality at birth.”

“So what happened then?”

“We soon learned that certain behaviors please people and some don’t.

So we form a self called the Controller, which observes our environment and determines which behaviors work best and please the most people. The Controller is an energy system that helps to protect our vulnerability.”

“Dave, these energy systems, do they make us stronger and more powerful?”

“Yes Tom, they make us more powerful in ourselves and that’s when we start to develop our personality.”

“I’m wondering, do we have a set of Power Selves that ensure that we are protected and successful in our lives?”

“Yes, we do Tom, lets list them:

The Power Selves are: The Pusher, The Critic, The Perfectionist, The Pleaser, and The Thinking Self.”

Tom and I pondered the Power Selves.

Then we both stared at the new picture on the pub wall. It was Dali’s “Persistence of Memory or the Melting Clocks. That made us ponder all the more.

After a couple of minutes, I spoke:

“The most important Power Self is The Thinking Self. We are thinking machines, constantly thinking and observing. We have to observe with openness and interest because the MOMENT IS FLEETING, alive only an instant.”

“I know the connection between your thinking and your feeling is formed in a split second and you don’t even realize it’s happening!”

“That’s right Tom, it’s the cause and effect relationship between thoughts and feelings.”

“We all have negative thoughts, now and then, which are distressing, but there is nothing holding negative thoughts in place BUT your thinking.”

“That conjures up the question, if negative feelings are caused by negative thinking, Then what good can it do to overanalyze the negative parts of your life?”

“No good at all! If you spend a lot of time thinking about problems and dwelling on what’s wrong, you will become depressed and your spirits will be low.

Negative thinking fuels the destructive fire.”

“So Dave, what’s the final answer?”

“Keep your Thinking Self in check by NOT thinking about or fearing the future.

Your PRESENT is the ONLY LIFE YOU HAVE. You can only live one day at a time.

Life can be difficult and sometimes you can’t change the difficulty, so you must go through the difficulty and this is all the more reason to live your PRESENT with a peaceful inner feeling, rather than being consumed by your fear of the future.

Today is all there is, so enjoy!

Don’t let anything take away your PRESENT.”

With that, Tom and Dave shook hands, left the building, and went their separate ways.

 

 

 

The Importance Of Hope And Time

“Hey Tom, do you feel us oldies have much hope in the immediate future?”

“Well Dave, it depends on our present situation. If you have some semblance of health and still have energy and the inclination to do things, there is hope for the future, even for an oldie.”

“I think a lot about the past now that I am old.”

“I do too Dave, but they say the PRESENT is the most important time.”

“I guess you’re right, Tom. If you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into this world, and if you are okay with getting nowhere and taking one day at a time and if you can keep from growing surly, bitter and cynical, I guess you have old age licked.”

We both laughed.

“Some people say all the times are important, PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.”

“Why is that, Dave?”

“Well, my friend, although consciousness and reality are always in the PRESENT and the present is the ONLY life you have, the PAST and the FUTURE are also important, because the past influences the present and the future is essential for morale in the present. Your PRESENT would collapse if there was no hope for the FUTURE.”

“Wow, Dave, I never thought of the times like that.”

“Time is very important. It is part of the aging process.”

“Some say we age from the outside and the inside.”

“That’s right Tom, three items make up the universe, matter, energy and time. So aging is the effect of energy on matter over time. Erosion is an example of the outside effect of energy on matter.

But we humans age not only externally but inside as well.”

We both pondered that statement.

“Tell me more, Dave.”

“Inside us are the workings of chemistry, called metabolism which assembles chemical reactions which are needed for life, with one flaw—aging.

These reactions generate trash and waste products over time, called free radicals.”

“Oh boy, Dave, there’s trouble on the horizon!”

“Well Tom, we living creatures suffer wear and tear from external and internal energy. But we do some self-repair, some cells do renew themselves.”

“So, what does it all add up too?”

“It adds up to: Aging = wear and tear – some part repair.”

“Wow, Dave, that’s mind blowing stuff! Lets get back to our discussion on the PRESENT being called the most important time.”

“Well Tom, some say that your experiences in life should be exclusively in the PRESENT, because if they don’t experience in the present they are dwelling in the past and future.”

Tom scratched his head.

“So, Dave, do we need hope to attain our goals?”

“Absolutely Tom, we need to have some hope in the future to sustain our morale in the PRESENT. Hope is a need in itself.”

“Hope is more important than I realized.”

“Hope motivates us to work toward our goals.

Hope maintains morale in the PRESENT.

Hope maintains the immune system, it is the great energizer, we need health to work on our goals.”

“So, hope is looking forward to something and visualizing the future.”

“Yes Tom, now lets turn to the flip side of the coin, Hopelessness.”

“So, now we’re gong to look at the dark side of hope.”

“Hope is fragile, it can be destroyed in an instant. Hopelessness is the belief or knowing that what is desired will NOT be attained. We fear non-attainment.”

“Oh boy, this is getting scary.”

“When we age, the period before death, depression is on the horizon. We oldies may get depressed over diminished mobility, diminished health and diminished abilities and energy.”

“Dave, how do you fight this depression of hopelessness?”

“By becoming resigned to it. You accept the losses of aging. This act dilutes depression to bearable proportions.”

“How do we defend against too much anxiety in the meantime?”

“By simply avoiding thinking about the future and taking one day at a time.”

“Oh Dave, the passing time can be so cruel.”

“Well Tom, lets end this discussion by looking at the Nature of Time.”

“The march of time scares me when I think how relentless it is and we can’t slow it down.”

“Don’t panic, Tom.”

“I’m trying not to, Dave, but look at the clock, the second hand just keeps moving!!!”

“Time is moving forward constantly, a succession of moments that follow one another at the same rate.

We are lodged in time just like we are lodged in our skin. In five years we can count on having aged five years, no matter what we do or don’t do. Time carries us along but it is indifferent to us.”

“Another scary thing about time is that we can’t change what has happened in the past.”

“That’s right Tom, the consequences of an act can be modified sometimes BUT the act itself never can be recalled.”

We stopped talking for a few minutes to absorb all of the discussion points.

“Tom, our lives consist of many days, I’m working on 29,000, but they are fast moving.”

“Dave, the other day I came across a line: “The river of time carries us along through life.”

“It’s true, Tom, when people die they are left behind on the riverbank but the river keeps flowing. They are cast outside of time. They never again will be able to get back into the river.”

“Well Dave, the days will go by and when they are used up (the average is 27,000) we will never again see even one more.

So, the moral is: Enjoy Today, while you have it.”

“I will leave you with two bits of wisdom:

One realizes the importance of time only when there is little of it left.

And, I have discovered the most precious thing on Earth, it is just “Being Alive”.

We must NOT waste a minute of it!”

Tom and Dave left the building to enjoy the day.

Fighting Quiet Desparation

 

“Tom, do you subscribe to Thoreau’s quote: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation?”

“Yes Dave, I do, but I’ve been fighting it all my life. I’ve been always looking for enjoyable things to do, but when I do find something I never do it.”

“Sad, isn’t it, Tom? My idea of quiet desperation is: our unmet desires, dreams unfulfilled. It’s the robotic movement through life as your dream of adventure is in the background.”

“Oh Dave, that’s a wonderful description.”

“Thank you Tom, I also think people never figure out what they really want to do in life, so they never do it. But you and I have found it, late in life, in our retirement! You with your amateur acting and me with my four books and blogs.”

“Right on Dave, so it’s the fight between heart and mind and our subsequent unhappiness by not listening to both sides.”

“So, how do we try to break out of our quiet desperation? We need to think about our longings and needs for meaning.”

“What are our needs for meaning, Dave?”

“Well Tom, to provide an answer to the longings mentioned, I would say that meaningful lives are lives of ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT in PROJECTS OF WORTH.”

“Wow! Dave, that’s a mouthful. What exactly is active engagement?”

“It’s when someone is so excited about something that they are completely gripped by it, things we are passionate about. You feel alive when you are actively engaged.”

“What projects then would be worthy?”

“Well Tom, I think it’s commitment to something of value that’s the key, such as your amateur acting and my writing. Your acting is enjoyable for you and it brings pleasure to others. My writing gives people information to act upon to live life better. Also, helping others would be a worthwhile project.”

“So Dave, a meaningful life must satisfy two things. First, there must be active engagement and second, it must be involvement in projects of worth.”

“And Tom, I would add, someone who is actively engaged may also lead a meaningless life, if the objects of their involvement are worthless, such as memorizing the dictionary or making hand written copies of War and Peace.”

We both laughed.

“In conclusion, a person asked me the other day: How can life have any meaning or worth if it must come to an END?”

Tom and Dave were silent for a few seconds.

“I answered this serious question: You fail to see that the opposite can also be proposed, if there were no end to life, life would have no value, it is the ever present danger of losing life which helps to bring home to us it’s value.”

Tom and Dave pondered that statement.

“Tom, have you read, The Hitcher’s Guide to the Galaxy?”

“I dabbled in it, Dave, but it’s a big book”

“Well, if you remember, Deep Thought, the super computer, was asked about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought’s verdict was “42”!

The builders of the computer were gobsmacked. They had the answer but they didn’t understand it. They didn’t know what it was the answer to.

If you want the right answers you must ask the right questions!”

Tom and Dave left the building vowing to look at the stars tonight.

Meaning Amongst Absurdity

“Hey Tom, have you ever thought about the joke our awareness plays on us?”

“What’s that, Dave?”

“Our superior intellect makes us aware of our inevitable death but we have an intense desire for continued existence and because of our intellect we recognize the futility of that quest.”

“Well Dave, what I want is to create some meaning in my life for as long as I live.”

“Yes Tom, so do I. We live in absurdity so we need some meaning.”

“What do you mean, we live in absurdity?”

“Consider this: Why do we stand in line at the store? To buy food. Why do we buy food? So we can stay alive and healthy. Why stay alive and healthy? So we can work at our jobs. Why work? So we can earn money. Why earn money? So we can buy food. The vicious circle is ABSURD!”

“That’s funny, Dave.”

“Not so funny when you consider how we are like a hamster in a wheel cage. Round and round we go. The whole circle is a meaningless ritual rather than something coherent and self-fulfilling.”

“I guess another example of absurdity would be: We get up to go to work. Four hours later we have lunch. Then back to work. Then go home for supper and sleep.”

“Yes Tom, this cycle goes on Monday through Friday all at the same rhythm. But one fine day the “WHY” of it overcomes us.”

We both pondered for a minute.

“So, the absurdity of routine life hits us like a ton of bricks. What do we do?

We have to provide our own meaning in our lives.”

“What are some of the ways we can provide that meaning?”

“Well Tom, we all want to be happy, and I think there are 4 roads to meaningful lives which would create a happy background for us as an enduring condition.”

“What are the 4 roads, Dave?”

“I will list them and then we can discuss them individually. Helping others, becoming successful, seize the day, and freeing the mind. None of these elements is the last word on life’s meaning but they can be a framework for us to construct a worthwhile life. So Tom, what do you think about helping others as a means to meaning?’

“Well Dave, helping others would allow us to break free of the pointless cycle of eating to live, living to work and working to eat. We could escape the narrow concerns of our own private lives by helping people outside of our private existence. But, I wonder if there is something egotistical about it when helping others becomes a means of helping ourselves feel good.”

“Very good point, Tom. Altruism helps the person being helped and also it benefits the helper.”

“I think helping others is one way to give us a sense of purpose but there are other ways too.”

“ The feel good factor is indicative of a sort of claustrophobic life when a person is wrapped up in their own little world their horizons are restricted. When you help others it’s an escape from this narrow focus, to one which makes us feel good as well as the people we help.”

“Right on Tom, helping others is NOT the end all of the meaning of life itself. But it is tied to it because it’s one of the GOOD things in life.”

We both took a minute to savor our discussion on Helping Others.

“What about our desire to be successful and achieve as an element of the meaning of life?”

“Dave, I think we crave success because we think it will make us happy.”

“I think it goes beyond that, Tom. There are two ways of viewing success, one concentrates on the importance of having done certain things. Man is the sum of his actions.

The other view is becoming a certain kind of person. The outward signs of success are merely the visible evidence of a more important inner transformation.”

“I get it Dave, what matters is the becoming, the development of oneself to its full potential, not the job that goes with it.”

“There is a link between the doing and the becoming. What matters is to become who we become by doing what we do.”

“I think I have it Dave, to develop ourselves through achievement gives us some meaning. If you pursue your passion, no matter what recognition you get, should be seen as a success.”

“So Tom, what about, “living for today”, to give us meaning?”

“You’re talking about “carpe diem”, seize the day, aren’t you?”

“That’s right, my friend, you and I are mortal, we are trapped in the PRESENT and we could die at any moment, so we must try to make the most of our present.”

“The amateur philosopher’s version of seize the day is simple hedonism, party on, the pursuit of pleasure,” said Tom, soberly.

“Tom, if we interpret “living for today” as a call to party continually, then it is an inadequate law to live by, this is NOT the only way to understand what carpe diem means.”

“So Dave, what is the true spirit of carpe diem?”

“What we value in life: relationships, learning, creativity, food, travel, interesting hobbies—the call to seize the day is a call to appreciate these things while we can and not put them off. You don’t have to experience everything now, but we must make every day count.”

“I get it Dave, we don’t want to put off doing today what can be done today.”

“The wisdom of carpe diem is that our TIME is SHORT and we should not squander it. Carpe diem is NOT only about pleasure but having satisfaction in your present.”

Tom and I remained silent for a few minutes pondering what we had discussed.

“Now, my friend, we come to the last element of gaining meaning in your life—freeing your mind and losing yourself. What do you know about that, Tom?”

“Lets see Dave, I think freeing the mind means Chill Out and let go of your ego. This means that the “I” becomes unimportant. Attune yourself to nature and stop thinking so much about things.”

“That’s a good point Tom, but remember what Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”. If this is true then the idea of detaching ourselves from our egos is false, because the self is the most certain feature of reality.”

“So, freeing your mind by losing yourself is NOT a satisfactory way of finding meaning in your life,” said Tom, scratching his head.

“If you stop to think about it, permanently losing a sense of self is otherwise known as Death!”

“Wow, that’s a sobering thought,” said Tom, wide eyed.

“Thinking is good, assessing ideas through rational argument, it is the best way of examining ideas.”

“Well Tom, in conclusion to this discussion, some of the elements we talked about might provide some contentment and satisfaction BUT there is NO last word on the subject.”

“So Dave, we can say that our life can be worthwhile if we have a balance of happiness and concern for others, where time is NOT wasted and we are successful in terms of pursuing our interests.”

“Right on, Tom, the sobering truth is that life is a continuing struggle and time is so fleeting.”

“I’ve often thought of how time flies and it sends shivers up my spine.”

“Well Tom, time carries us from a PAST we cannot revisit to a FUTURE we cannot know. It is the basic experience of our live. Time dictates the direction of travel, trapping us in our PRESENT as it takes us from the PAST to the FUTURE.”

“So Dave, we ask the question, “What’s it all about?” and we see that there are many ways in which life can be meaningful.”

“Well buddy, as a member of the “Oldie Club” I am worn out by this discussion and by the time we learn to make the most of life, the greater part of it is GONE!”

With that, Tom and Dave walked out into the sunshine SMILING.

Memories

“Hey Tom, do you realize our memory is resilient but also very fragile?”

“Yes, I’ve heard that is so, Dave.”

“It’s so scary though Tom, when you think that everything we do or say depends upon the smooth operation of our memory system. Any form of memory loss would be tragic.”

“It’s scary, alright, they say aging inevitably brings a decline in memory, just when I like to reminisce about the past.”

“Yes Tom, memories are about the past. That’s why time seems to speed up for us oldies, we have more past than future.”

We shifted on our green padded stools.

“I think we need bigger stools, Dave.”

We both laughed.

“They say memory is unreliable, why is that, Dave?”

“The past is fixed, BUT: Every time you recall a memory it is changed because every time you “see” the memory in a different light, a different perspective. It no longer means exactly what it meant at the time of the original memory.”

“That’s interesting Dave, I didn’t realize that.”

“Tom, here’s a curious fact about memory: In looking to the past, you realize you may NOT have access to the original memory because you cannot possibly recover the PERSPECTIVE you had at the time.”

“Very interesting, I’m learning so much today.”

“Let me tell you a story:

I remember a row with my father when I was 13 years old. He worked nights so I hardly ever saw him. I wanted him to go on the day shift so he could be a regular father to me like the other kids had. I also wanted him to show more interest in me. I looked at that dispute as a TRIUMPH for my arguments.

In looking back now, I feel SHAME. I had no feeling for my father’s point of view, what motivated him and what his aspirations were. Maybe he was dissatisfied with his life.

Now being older, my perspective on that event has altered, from TRIUMPH to SHAME!”

“Oh boy, Dave, that story is food for thought.”

“Tom, do you have any similar stories?”

“Yes I do, but it’s a long one.”

“Oh well, put it in a reply on my blog and I will read it later.”

“I was thinking, Dave, about how my mind flits from the past to the present to the future and back again. It’s strange.”

“You probably think more about the past because it has “pictures”. The present is so fleeting that you don’t realize you’re thinking about it because it’s significance is so fleeting.”

“Dave, here’s a fact I read, a 70 year old knows what it’s like to be 20, whereas

A 20 year old has no idea what it is like to be 70!”

“That’s the asymmetries of life. I like that word: Asymmetries.”

“Tom, did you know that Old Age is the longest life stage?”

“No Dave, I didn’t.”

“The stages of youth—Baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, approximately a 21 year span. But you are in none of these stages for long.

According to the actuaries, you will be old for 25-30 years.”

“That’s amazing, BUT: the thing that bothers me lately is forgetting.

Every once in awhile I struggle to find the right word. The worry is not so much being unable to find the right word as the knowledge that I know it!”

“I know, it’s frustrating but I’ve learned that autobiographical memory is the most susceptible to disruption, distortion or loss.”

We were silent for a minute.

“Hey Tom, my mouth is getting dry, lets order another beer.”

We both drank a quarter of our pints at once, we were so dry!

“So, lets recap: No matter what the cause of memory loss, the consequences are a disaster, much of what has been acquired and learned is gone. The person with anterograde memory loss, loses the ability to store new experiences in a way that can be recalled. His future is wiped out while he is alive.

A person with retrograde memory loss, the past has been erased or rendered in accessible, the person they once were with abilities, talents and character traits has vanished!”

***

“Hey Dave, do you live in the past? This question was asked of me. It implies that my present is so impoverished that I must take refuge in the comfort of my idealized memories. In other words, I am a “poor thing.”

“Maybe Tom, us oldies should embark on a review of our lives. What do you think?”

“Sounds interesting Dave, because as we age, one becomes preoccupied with “Who One Is” rather than “What One Does.”

“Yes Tom, with the life review you want to recap what themes and events helped to define you as a UNIQUE person. It’s a reminiscence-based process of coming to terms with one’s life.”

“Hey Dave, I remember a lot about my adolescence and young adulthood. Why, I wonder?”

“Well Tom, my friend, it’s because the events in these two periods define us, our identity, our place in the world. These two periods provide us with our CORE adult story that we carry around with us, largely unchanged, for our life.”

“Dave, do you look at old family photos?”

“Yes Tom, my old photos serve as cues to my autobiographical recollections. My photos allow me to make contact with, and even relive, parts of my personal past.”

We finished our beers.

“In conclusion, I maintain that memories of our past make us “poor things” into story tellers. And the stories we tell are potent determinants of how we view ourselves.”

“Well there’s certainly lots of ideas to mull over:

You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”

Tom and Dave have left the building!

The “Someone”

“Tom, the other day someone called me a surly curmudgeon atheist.

“What did you say to that, Dave?”

“I said, “Well everyone has to be something.”

“Then this someone said:

“Why is it so difficult for you to believe in God? Don’t you know he cares about you?”

“I bet this someone was starting to get under your skin, Dave.”

“Too right, Tom.”

We both shifted on our green padded stools.

I responded to this someone:

“The world is uncaring. The cycles of life come and go. We individual living creatures are just along for the ride, tossed about in the surf.”

“I have faith,” said the someone.

“What I have difficulty with is the concept of faith, because it isn’t based on logic, experience or evidence.”

“I put my faith in God to get me through the day.”

“When you cross the road, I bet you look both ways.”

“Boy oh boy, Dave, you really hammered home the point that faith might make some people feel good BUT practical matters require reason and evidence.”

“Right on, Tom”

We pondered for a minute.

“Oh, and Tom, this someone also said:

“If you don’t believe in God or Eternity, then what you do in this life is irrelevant.”

“I disagree,” I said, “Your acts here are all that matters.”

“So this someone thinks if this is all there is, what’s the point?”

“That’s what he was trying to put over BUT I contend if this is all there is, then what we do here is the ONLY thing that matters. In fact, it makes it matter all the more!”

“So Dave, how do we feel about our actions in life?”

“I say if a person feels that they are accomplishing their goals, they should feel good and feel that they have a meaningful life.”

“What about other people?”

“Well Tom, you know what Sartre said, “Hell is Other People”. And we do encounter lots of irritating people.”

“I have mixed feelings about lots of people I meet,” said Tom.

“Some people try to block our goals and take away our sense of control. Others have their own agendas and they don’t share our beliefs or our sense of what is important. So they take away our sense of primacy. We resist and this reinforces our identity.”

“What’s the message then, Mr. Curmudgeon?”

“The message is, my friend, that we need others physically and psychologically. Others can create anxiety in us, but they also define who we are.”

***

“And finally, Tom, this someone started attacking my character by saying I couldn’t be a good friend and I wouldn’t have many friends because of my beliefs and surliness.”

“He didn’t say that, did he?”

“Yes he did. I guess we have to conclude this discussion with the concept of Friendship.”

“You, Tom, are my friend. Am I your friend?”

“Yes Dave, you’re my friend.”

“Ok, so let the discussion begin with Aristotle, he said that some friendships are based on utility, what people can do for on another, others based on pleasure and yet some others on virtue.”

“Our friendship is primarily based on pleasure. I love your blogs!”

“Well, thank you, Tom.”

We both laughed.

“And Tom, what I like about you is that you’re a good listener and once in a while you come up with some very pithy statements.”

“Well Dave, thank you, we are like a mutual admiration society.”

We laughed again.

“To keep with Aristotle, he also said, a solid friendship is between good men who are alike in virtue.”

“He must be suggesting that there is NO friendship among the corrupt!”

“Aristotle also suggested that good people are not just morally good but they are also good at something.”

“Oh, oh, Dave, I feel a kicker coming.”

“Yes Tom, here it comes, a friend must have skill, ability, be thoughtful and have defining attributes of EXCELLENCE.”

“So Dave, you and I have to be well-rounded, morally and intellectually. According to Aristotle, the best life is fulfilling your duties as a good citizen.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“Hey Dave, by the way, who was that “Someone” that attacked your basic self?”

“Well Tom, I didn’t want to say before… but I was on a woodland walk, my constitutional, you know, when in the misty distance I saw a figure approaching.

The figure was wearing a long black hooded cloak. I couldn’t see his face, but he was carrying a farm implement, I think it was a scythe. He did all his talking from a distance and when he finished he disappeared.

Scary, right?”

“Yes Dave, but he did inspire a good discussion.”

We left the building in a hurry!

The Big Question

“I feel my age today, Dave,” said my buddy Tom.

“I also am feeling my age today, my friend. I try to be cavalier about it but it’s a serious subject. You can’t joke about loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk and failing cognitive faculties. Then there’s the unavoidable matter of the end of consciousness and the self—death, in other words—that’s drawing closer and closer.”

“So Dave, what’s our topic to discuss today?” said Tom, squirming on his green padded stool.

“How about: What makes people act the way they do?”

“Okay Dave, you start us off by answering that question.”

“I think it’s the fear of death, that is one of the primary driving forces of human action.”

“Anything positive about that grim thought?”

“Well Tom, the thought of inevitable demise can be a motivation to live life, while you have it, to the full. But the bugaboo at the core of the human condition is inevitable death.”

“I don’t think about death very often,” said Tom, soberly.

The barkeep brought our beers and we both took a sip.

“Tom, whether you are conscious of it or not, you are aware that we humans will die and this has a profound and pervasive effect on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.”

“So we are aware of many things because we are the smartest creatures in nature.”

“Right on Tom, because of our intellect we are aware that we exist, but we also know that someday we won’t exist. Our intellect makes us aware of the joys of being alive but the downside is the awareness of death.”

“So Dave, I guess that’s our predicament.”

“Being self-aware is wonderful BUT we pay the price because on the one hand we have an intense desire for continued existence but on the other hand we recognize the futility of this quest.”

“How do we manage this existential terror of death?”

“Two ways, Tom, cultural views and personal significance, known as self-esteem.

Cultural views are beliefs we create to explain the nature of reality to ourselves.

They are religious belief in immortality and symbolic immortality, the belief that our life works will last past our death. Ex- your writing or painting or in the memories of the living.”

“Wow! I am a good actor maybe some will remember my artistry on stage.”

“You never know, Tom.”

“What about the second way, self-esteem?”

“Our self-esteem, how we feel about our accomplishments, enables us to believe we are significant beings rather than just material creatures destined to be obliterated.”

“Thank goodness for our confidence in our self-worth.”

“That’s right Tom, we would all be quivering piles of biological protoplasm on the fast track to oblivion if it wasn’t for our creations of reality.”

“So we create effective terror management beliefs that we are valuable members of society and this helps us through the mist.”

“That’s right, my friend, we create our meaning and purpose in life. If you take away our meanings and purposes all we would have left would be the thought that we are vulnerable physical creatures that are on earth for a short time.”

Tom looked a little dejected with this discussion.

“What do you hope for Tom?”

“I hope for a sound mind in a sound body!”

“Me too, buddy.”

“I was just thinking, reminders of death are all around us everyday. Turn on the news, there is a lot of death news in the world. By middle age, grey hair, wrinkles, body aches are all reminders of how soon death is coming. So, why aren’t we cowering in our closets?”

“Because we have psychological defenses to cope with death thoughts. We suppress bad thoughts and we keep death thoughts from becoming conscious and then you tell yourself, “NOT ME, NOT NOW.”

“I’ve got it Dave, instead of thinking about death, your defenses DISTRACT you with matters like: What’s for dinner or where to go for your next holiday also how much you have accomplished.”

“Lets have one more beer for the road.”

“Hey Dave, alcohol and drugs are ways to diffuse death. By diffusing from death you separate from it. I wonder how many beers it would take to diffuse, to dim awareness and distort perceptions?”

“Don’t worry Tom, two beers just relax you.”

We both drained our beer glasses.

“So in conclusion, accepting our mortality is a means of diminishing the destructive effects of our death fears so we can appreciate everyday life.”

Tom spoke up: “Life not death is the great adventure.”

“A final word about how life is so transitory, everything in life passes fast. Evaluate your own life: Think of the moments of joy and victory in your life. Think of the moments of sorrow and defeat. Are they permanent? NO!

They all come and pass away. You are just a watcher. We are witnesses of all this. We are the perceivers. Life comes and goes. There is nothing permanent in this world. Everything changes. You have survived all the setbacks, defeats and sorrows. All have passed away. The problems in the present, they too will pass.

You are just a witness of change. Experience it and enjoy the present moment.

FOR THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

So now to lighten you day:

The only thing worse than growing old is to be denied the privilege.

Sing along:

For life is quite absurd,

And death is the final word,

You must always face the curtain with a bow,

Forget about your sin,

Give the audience a grin,

And…

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE!

THE END

War, What’s It All About?

At the moment over twenty conflicts are going on around the world.

At the top of the list is the “War on Terror”.

This concerned my buddy Tom and I as we climbed up on our green padded stools.

The barkeep brought our pints and said:

“I’m at war with my beer supplier, he’s late again!”

“See Tom, you can’t get away from war.”

“The majority of the conflicts now, are in Africa and the Middle East,” said Tom, soberly.

“There’s one in Mexico, Tom, it’s the drug war, the cartels fight for territory, cash and power. The US wants to tighten the border to halt drug gangs from coming into the country.”

“Of course, Dave, all this fuels weapon manufacture and arms trade. The military-industrial complex is making billions!”

“Yes Tom, I suspect the complex pushes for war.”

“So many global conflicts are bubbling, I hope our leaders can handle them carefully and diplomatically otherwise violence could escalate very fast.”

Tom and I sipped our beers and stared at the sign behind the bar:

“The only war worth waging is one against the poverty of ideas.”

“That sign is food for thought,” said Tom.

I nodded.

“Tom, lets list some of the reasons for war.”

“Okay Dave, you start off.”

“I’ll start with making a comment, I think violent conflict is hard-wired into the human psyche since primitive times. The first reason for war is Defense against an aggressor or potential aggressor.”

“Another reason is Economic Gain, to take control of another’s wealth, oil, etc. Or to protect a country’s economy.”

“Here’s one, Tom, Territorial Gain, the want or need to get more land or take back what was lost.”

Here’s a big one, Dave, Religion, different religions fight each other, such as Protestant vs Catholic or Sunni vs Shia. Religions have deep roots and any conflict can get very volatile.”

“There are a few others such as Nationalism, Civil War within a country, Revenge, to punish or redress a grievance, and last is Revolutionary, where a large section of a population revolts against their rulers because they are dissatisfied with their leadership.”

“Wow! Dave, that’s quite a list.”

“Tom, lets discuss a little about: How we decide to support our country or any country, when it enters into war? We can look at this question with The War on Terror in mind.”

“Well, I guess what we have to do is examine the reasons to support or not support a country when it enters into armed conflict.

Punishment is a reason. President Bush said after 9/11:

“Make no mistake the USA will hunt down and punish those responsible for these attacks.” Bush wanted justice, the evil doers needed to be found and punished.”

“Yes, but Dave, in the legal sense bringing one to justice requires capture and trial and Bush said he wanted bin Laden dead or alive.”

“Also, what forms of punishment are justified when maybe innocent people will be killed?”

“In any war there is collateral damage.”

We both sipped our beers and pondered…

“What about National self-interest to support a conflict? When a country is threatened by hostile aggressors, then self-interest is a vital factor.”

“Are we saying that self-interest is a justification for war?”

“Many are against self-interest as a justification. I can see their point.

Think about it, Tom, if nations were justified to go to war whenever it was to their advantage, there would be no good guys or bad guys, it would be every country for itself.”

“The other thing in the equation is Appeasement (the policy of giving in to aggressive powers to keep the peace).

George Bush after 9/11 was using anti-appeasement to rally the civilized world to America’s side. He was raising the fear that if we didn’t stand up to evil now, further and greater wrongdoing would follow. So it is necessary to go to war in order to prevent even worse bloodshed in the future.”

“Yes Dave, I can see that is a powerful argument to go to war. But there is sometimes a downside, such as the case in Afghanistan, did we reduce the threat of terrorism or did it just create people sympathetic to the terrorist’s goals?”

“Well Tom, it’s too bad the world is NOT 100% in favor of Pacifism, the extreme opposition to war.”

“When you talk about the morality of war the subject gets complex.”

We both agreed.

Here are some thoughts on war:

Why worry about the future? Between the bomb and pollution, there may NOT be any.

History reveals that wars create more problems than they solve.

In the war of right and wrong, we can’t afford to be neutral.

Tom and I drained our glasses of beer and left the building.

 

 

Growing Old Gracefully?

The young barkeep served our beers and said:

“You two look like you are growing old gracefully.”

Then he went away laughing.

Why was he laughing? Does he think we are losing it?

My buddy, Tom, and I almost toppled off our green padded stools!

Are we not in touch with the world and ourselves?

“Well Tom, there’s our next topic for discussion:

Are we growing old gracefully or are we losing it?”

“You know what they say, Dave, there is NO STOPPING the downward slide.

A lot of oldies in my retirement village read your blog so lets dissect this topic.”

We both stared at the painting behind the bar. It was of an old man and a old woman gazing into each others eyes. The caption was: “Forever Always”.

“Tom, are we past our “sell by”date?”

“Absolutely not.”

“The Bible tells us that three score and ten is a reasonable age. But you and I have almost got four score. We have been given an extra ten years, who knows how many more we will get.”

“Dave, the other day when I walked past a shop window and glanced at the reflected figure I was astonished. I sneaked another look. Who is that, I thought. Then after a couple of seconds I was forced to remake my own acquaintance; it seems like I no longer recognized myself at first sight. How scary is that?”

“Well Tom, all I can say is: the YOU behind your eyes believes you look like you did thirty years ago even though the reflected image tells a different story!”

“But Dave, aren’t we entitled to our vanity? I’m not embarrassed by my younger image in my head.”

“Whatever floats your boat, Tom. I think one of the most comforting things about growing old gracefully is the ability NOT to take things too seriously.”

We both sipped our beer and pondered our discussion.

“Well Dave, how do you want to be and think when you’re eighty?”

“Well, we are NOT losing it yet! I don’t want to be a cripple, I want some semblance of health. I want to enjoy a walk and a good meal plus some red wine. I want to forgive my parents for bringing me into this absurd world. I want to take each day as it comes and enjoy it. I don’t want to become sour and bitter. I recognize it’s the little things that matter, not fame, success or wealth. I want to be thankful that I’m a nobody, so I don’t have to live in a goldfish bowl.”

“Wow! That’s quite a list. I will add one more thing: who wants to live to be a hundred? I don’t. What’s the point of it? A shorter life and a merry one is far better than a life full of fear and perpetual medical surveillance.”

“Tom, I’ll leave you with this:

In life, we try to do our best, but it is never good enough!”

The Face In The Mirror

My buddy Tom, and I were sitting on the green padded stools and staring into the mirror behind the bar.

“Tom, do you like what you see?”

“What do you mean, Dave?”

“Do you like your face, the one in the mirror?”

“Well, I’m a little tired and stressful in my eyes. I see some anger in my expression. What do you see in your face, Dave?”

“I see a person who is worthy, a person who likes himself.”

“Are you saying I’m not worthy?”

“Keep your shirt on Tom. Looking into the mirror was just a little self-esteem test.”

Oh boy, the green padded stools were getting hot!

“What the test is supposed to convey is that self-esteem is central to good mental and physical health. In other words, life is like a mirror, frown at it and it frowns back, smile at it and it returns the greeting.”

“How would you define self-esteem, Dave?”

“To me it’s confidence in your own worth and abilities. It’s self-respect and feeling good about yourself.”

“I know I have some rough edges and faults but I guess I’m glad to be who I am.”

“Glad to hear that, Tom”

“Dave, I’m a little confused about what makes up self-esteem.”

“One part is identity. Who am I? What is my essential self?

Identity provides a sense of oneself and one’s individuality.

Self-acceptance is another part, believing in oneself and acknowledging weakness and trying to improve.

And then there’s self-confidence, belief in one’s abilities.”

“So Dave, what are the benefits of having a good opinion of yourself?”

The barkeep brought two more beers.

“It’s on the house, fellas.”

“Thank you, very much,” we said in unison.

“Back to the question, some of the positive consequences of having a good opinion of yourself are:

You would be less driven by fear.

You’d be happier.

You’d worry less.

You’d enjoy life more.

You’d be more comfortable with expressing your feelings.

And this one is very important,

You’d be able to manage the existential terror of death better, the knowledge of your mortality.”

“Hey Dave, here’s the big question: How do we build self-esteem?”

“What you need is to feel worthy right down to your core. You are unique and important. You must believe this deeply.”

“But Dave, what if you encounter a stressful event and it knocks you for six?”

“Well Tom, what you do is say to yourself when the event happened:

Getting through this will be a challenge but I’ll choose the course that seems best.

Then during the event say:

This is difficult but I’ll take it one step at a time. My quest is to transcend this but it is revealing my limitations.

Finally, after the event say:

I am hopeful.

I have the courage to see it through.

What are my options now?

This will pass.

I believe things will improve.”

“It all makes sense, Dave. So once you have strong self-esteem it can be your protection against life’s storms.”

“That’s right, Tom, the important thing to remember is:

Don’t let setbacks, traumas, criticisms and stressful events or any externals define you. Each person is too unique and complex to be so narrowly defined. What defines you is your “Inner Worthyness.”

“Drink up, Tom, here comes the conclusion:

A person told me the other day they had so many problems that if something terrible happened to them it would take at least two weeks before they could worry about it!”

Man’s biggest problem is NOT “outer space” but “inner space.”

With that we both jumped off the green padded stools, smiled at our faces in the mirror, and headed out into the wonderful world.