Bust Times, The 1930’s

In early and mid 1929 the stock market soared from high to high. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the USA, entered the White House in March of 1929 and he foresaw the final triumph over poverty in the states. But the winds of downturn were gathering. Auto sales were down and also housing starts plus manufacturing output was falling.

***

“Dave, why did the 1929 stock market crash happen?” said Tom, soberly.

“Well, millions of Americans were in debt, buying on installment plans and “Buying on Margin” in speculative purchasing of stocks. The economy wasn’t on a sound footing.”

“What’s “buying on margin”?”

“I remember my Dad explaining it to me this way: A speculator would put down 10% of the stock price in cash and borrow the rest. They would pay back the borrowed money with the profits when the paper was sold. This concept worked as long as the stock prices kept growing. This became so popular that 90% of the stock was being bought with borrowed money!”

“But Dave, not everyone played the stock market,” said Tom, quizzically.

“That’s right Tom, my Dad never owned stock. In fact, less than 20% of Americans invested in the stock market leading up to the crash.

But it was the psychological effects that pushed the downward economic slide. Business couldn’t get capital for new projects and expansions. The consumer stopped buying. Companies got rid of workers so consequently it led to mass unemployment. And then, the banks failed!”

***

“So Dave, the booming, roaring twenties was a time of wealth and excess that led to the crash and depression.”

“That’s right Tom, nothing was the same again after the Crash, billions of dollars of wealth were wiped out in one day and that depressed consumer buying.”

“The depression was like the apocalypse of the economy.”

“Right Tom, in fact you could liken the times to the biblical four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first horseman was the dodgy distribution of income. The farmers never had prosperity in the 20’s. The urban masses faired better, but the rich got the gravy, dividends, interest and profits. Industrial profits rose 40% and corporate profits rose 80%! But wages rose only 8%. When the rich started to slow their investments, consumer spending could NOT plug the gap.

The second horseman was the bank failures, the banks had no deposit insurance so there was a run of people trying to withdraw their money. The banking system collapsed.

The third horseman was that America had become a creditor nation.

The fourth horseman was poor economic intelligence. The thinking was that there was an automatic functioning of the markets, that left alone the markets would restore normal business.

And the fifth horseman, one more added, was the Crash itself.”

***

“Lots of people were on the breadline, going to the soup kitchens, because they couldn’t find a job.”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me he jumped on a boxcar on a long freight train going from Chicago to New York, to find a job. He got a part time job in N.Y. and he existed on sinkers(stale doughnuts) and coffee. But eventually he came back to Chicago because the job situation was no better in New York.”

“What else happened in the 30’s?”

“Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1933. Also, Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5th, 1933. This noble experiment spawned modern organized crime. Now, bootlegging was over but the criminals had grown rich and bold. Everyone could drink freely again so they could enjoy their pickled relatives!”

“Didn’t Roosevelt state in his inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” and everyone sang, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

“Right you are, Tom. Roosevelt got to work on his “New Deal” program. He started deposit insurance in the banks, regulated the stock exchanges and got people back to work on infrastructure projects.”

“Boy, he was busy!”

“I almost forgot, Al Capone went to Alcatraz prison for tax evasion in 1931, he was released in 1939 with a brain disease brought on by syphilis. He died in 1947 at the age of 48.”

***

“You and I, Tom, were Depression Babies”, but by 1938 the USA was climbing out of the Depression.”

Happy Days Are Here Again

The Skies Above Are Clear Again

So Let’s Sing A Song Of Cheer Again

Happy Days Are Here Again!

 

Boom Times, The 1920’s

In a fit of nostalgia, I remembered how my Dad talked about his youth in 1920’s. So I decided to review some American history from 1920 up to 1986, which includes my youth, and also it was the year I emigrated to England. I will do this in a series of blogs.

I mentioned this to my boyhood friend and adult buddy, Tom, and he decided to take the journey with me.

***

The 1920’s were known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age.

I will start the 20’s journey with a few things that happened in Chicago, since Tom and I were born and bred there.

In 1921 the magnificent, 4300 seat, palace called The Chicago Theatre opened on State Street.

Al Capone rose to power in 1924 (more later).

US Route 66 opened in 1926 linking Chicago to Los Angeles.

In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters were founded by Abe Saperstein. They were a comic basketball team staring Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain.

Also in 1927 Maxwell Street and Halsted was the home to thousands of Jewish immigrants. The Maxwell Street Market was a place where “most everything” was on sale, the motto was, “We Cheat You Fair”.

In 1929, the gangland St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened at a garage on Clark Street by Capone’s hit team. They killed some of Bugs Moran’s men, who were Capone’s enemies.

***

My Dad told me how many people were caught up in the art of Autosuggestion in the 20’s. This was due to a Frenchman named Emile Coue who advocated self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion. People used to recite a mantra daily to themselves. It went something like this: Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better.

“Sounds good to me,” said Tom, “I can just see a 1920’s flag-pole sitter mumbling that to himself as the pole sways in the breeze.”

“How about this, Tom, imagine a flapper repeating the mantra over and over while sitting in a bathtub filled with gin!”

We both laughed.

***

“The economy was booming those days, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me the US economy was growing over 6% per year and 50% of the world’s goods were made in America!”

“Hey Dave, wasn’t there a phrase going around: A Chicken In Every Pot.”

“Yes Tom, my Dad did mention that. He also said, by the mid-20’s almost every home had a radio. But there were some down sides. The American factory worker was slaving away 10-12 hours a day, without any job or health security.”

***

“Didn’t women get the vote in 1920, Dave?”

“Yes, but the liquor companies were in opposition because they feared that women would vote for prohibition, which they did. It was called the noble experiment.”

“Women started smoking in public in the 20’s, didn’t they, Dave?”

“Yes, the flappers did. Cigarette production doubled during the 20’s.”

***

My Dad also told me about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.”

“Was that about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?”

“That’s right Tom. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of violating the Butler Act in Tennessee, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools. Most people in Tennessee didn’t like the notion that everyone’s ancestors were monkeys!”

Tom laughed and said:

“People didn’t like the findings of science to conflict with the teachings of the Church.”

“Does it bother you, Tom, that you came from a chimp?”

“No,” said Tom, swinging his arms wildly.

***

Now, we come to the gangster era in Chicago. Al Capone came to Chicago in 1924, when he was 25 years old. He was a henchman for John Torrio, the father of gangsterism. When a rival gang shot Torrio, he went back to Italy and handed over his empire of breweries, speakeasies and brothels to Capone. He just about owned the mayor, Big Bill Thompson, by payoffs and helping him get rid of his political opponents.”

“Whenever people speak about Chicago, right away they think of Capone,” said Tom.

“That’s right Tom.”

***

“Dave, what exactly was a flapper?”

“Well, according to my Dad, they were young women who wore short dresses and cut their hair short to conflict with the way people thought women should behave. They were the fun loving women of the times.”

“I would of liked to have met one,” said Tom, smiling.

“Me too, Tom!”

***

“Talking about gangsters in the 20’s, Prohibition let them make lots of money by bootlegging alcohol and they became rich.”

“That’s right. The temperance women wanted their husbands to stay out of the taverns and the companies wanted their workers sober. So the people thought prohibition would be a good idea. But with the chaos created by the gangsters it meant that the amendment had to be repealed, and it was in 1933.”

***

“Dave, you mentioned the 20’s were called “The Jazz Age”, what was that all about?”

“My Dad told me the national culture was changing in the 20’s. Music was one thing that changed. Jazz was a type of music that combined African American music with European harmonies. It inspired Americans to dance fast with crazy actions, such as the Charleston. Talking movies came in and everyone listened to the radio. Change was all around and the Americans loved it!”

“I remember once I tried to dance the Charleston and fell over,” said Tom, laughing.

***

“Well, that’s it for the 20’s. Next blog will be about the 30’s and the Great Depression.”

“That should be interesting,” said Tom, jitter bugging down the street, or was it the Charleston?

Past, Present, Future and Hope

I was in my favorite watering hole, sipping my pint of beer, sitting on my green padded stool and thinking of how many good discussions I’ve had with people on these stools.

There’s something about these stools that brings out the best reflective thinking in people. I was wondering who I would talk to today and about what topic, when a chap jumped up on the stool next to me.

He was a tall, broad shouldered fellow with sharp facial features and a dark pencil line moustache. He was about mid 50 ish in age. He ordered a G and T.

“Nice day today,” I said, in my best congenial voice.

He squinted at me and said in a gruff voice:

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“You sound like you have a problem.”

“Hey mister, what are you, the local psychiatrist?”

“No, just trying to pass the time of day,” I whispered. I was hoping he would simmer down.

“If you must know, one of my friends told me I’m so immersed in the past and future that I can’t be content and live in the present where I should be. He said the present was the most important place to live and I should forget about the past and future. What do you think about that?”

I sipped my beer and thought for a minute.

“Nothing to say, mister psychiatrist?”

“I’ve got plenty to say, but will you listen?”

He looked at me long and hard, then he made a gesture like he was zipping up his mouth.

“We all spend time in all three of those time zones. Granted, our consciousness and Now reality are in the present. By the way, how is your present?”

“Not good! I’m in a dead end job, my partner is threatening to leave me, and my health is starting to fail.”

“What is your name , my friend, mine is Dave.”

“I’m Tom.”

“Okay Tom, lets lay down some facts to disperse the illusion that only the present is important.”

“Do you really think you can help me?”

“Well, I can give you some info to mull over that might help.”

“Okay Dave, lets get started. I’m all ears.”

I took a deep breath and began:

“It’s an illusion that you must be in the present constantly. The past has a great influence on your present behavior. Having a future is a need that is essential for your morale in the present. If you have no hopes for the future your present collapses.”

“So, when I was told to stop thinking about the past and future, that was wrong?” Tom looked confused.

“That’s right, Tom, you must NOT suppress those two times, if you do, you will get depressed.”

“Oh boy, carry on, Dave.”

“The current thinking is that action and accomplishment make the present enjoyable as possible. And the future will become the present, so you have to make the present good to enjoy the future. So, with this thinking the present is the most important time because it is your reality and a time to prepare for a future reality. As far as thinking about the past, it is useless.”

“But Dave, I’ve always enjoyed thinking about the good times in the past,” said Tom, quizzically.

“Nothing wrong with that, Tom, if your past was good it provides an enjoyable experience to reminisce about.”

“But now, Dave, my present and future is bleak so I live in the past. I don’t have much hope that will change.”

“That’s too bad, hope is a NEED in itself. You need to have some hope in order to have some present morale. Cut away the future and the present collapses.”

“I wish I could regain some hope,” said Tom, sadly.

“I wish you could, too. Let me tell you what hope does for you. Hope motivates you to carry on with life. Hope maintains morale, that’s the level of a person’s confidence and enthusiasm at a particular time. A person without hope is a person without a future. Hope is an energizer. It maintains your immune system.

But hope is also a mixed blessing, it can be a big letdown especially if it is false hope. You look forward to something and it nevercopes.”

“But Dave, I’m depressed, I don’t see any improvement in my present. I feel time is running out for any dreams that I had. I walk around in an aura of hopelessness! My health is fading, my legs are weak.”

“Wow Tom, that’s quite a list of dejection.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know. You say hopelessness leads into depression, what next?’

“Your saviour might be resignation, it’s less toxic.”

“You mean shut down and accept my predicament?’

“It’s better than wasting away pining over lost hope.”

Tom was staring into space with a grim look on his face.

“What you’re suffering from is Need Frustration due to life losses.”

“Come again,” said Tom, dejectedly.

“Need Frustration is losing health, being in a job you don’t like, being lonely, aging, etc.

You’re depressed because you are on the cusp of aging, diminished attractiveness, diminished mobility, diminished abilities, all these are close to arriving and this brings on frustration.”

“What can I do, Dave?”

“Appreciate what life you have left. Be glad you’re alive. Accept that time moves on and live as enjoyably as you can knowing that life is short. I’ll leave you with something I read on a tombstone:

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are NOW, so once was I,

As I am NOW, so you must be,

But first,enjoy what life you have left!

***

Tom left the building with a glint in his eye!

Howling Through The Human Condition

My nephew, Tom, who is 15 years old, told me the other day:

“Uncle Dave, would you believe our teacher said we wouldn’t be discussing Shakespeare’s tragedies because they might be too upsetting for us?”

“Well Tom, I know the new child psychology is to wrap children in cotton wool so reality doesn’t frighten them too much. I think it’s called “the snowflake generation”. This is when the adolescents are so sensitive they find it hard to face the world.”

“Why are we so sensitive, Uncle Dave?”

“Well, one thing is “Health and Safety” rules now days. The kids are pushed into safe spaces and are not allowed outside by themselves. Their games are closely supervised.

Years ago 80-90% of seven year olds walked to school alone, now only 10% do. So they don’t feel any sense of independence and they don’t have a chance to learn things by themselves. Some risk taking is good for kids, they learn to face their fears. Consequently, having been protected from everything, children are hypersensitive to any discomfort right up to early adulthood. there is more mental illness among children now because there is a terror of encountering opinions which differ from theirs.”

Well, Uncle Dave, wouldn’t it be better to study the tragedies to learn about fear and conflict? By the way, someone in class mentioned the Human Condition,  what’s that?”

“Tragedy teaches you about adversity and you learn a lot from adversity. The Human Condition is composed of the things essential to our existence, such as, birth, growth, adversity, conflict and mortality. Shakespeare is full of the Human Condition.”

“So, studying Shakespeare helps us examine the Human Condition?”

“Yes Tom, you’ve got it in one!”

“Give me some examples, Uncle Dave, and I hope I don’t get too upset,” Tom smiled.

“In life we have to endure many things we howl about, we come into the world howling, we howl through life and we probably will leave the world howling!”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, you have such a way with words, just like Shakespeare,” said Tom, laughing.

“Hamlet is a good example, he asks all the questions we ask ourselves: Who am I? To be or not to be? Why do we exist?

Hamlet wanted to know should we accept our troubles in silence, or should we act to overcome them? Or, if we can’t overcome them, just accept our predicament and live one day at a time and enjoy what life we have.”

So, Uncle Dave, not to study Shakespeare is to miss out on essential life knowledge?”

“That’s right, Grasshopper, sorry, I mean Tom.”

“That’s okay, I am your Grasshopper.”

“Now Tom, when you go to see a Shakespeare tragedy, you will experience fear of what’s going to happen, and then you will feel pity for the main character.”

“What then, Uncle Dave?” Tom interrupted.

“Catharsis is next, you get purged of those emotions and you leave the theatre uplifted with an understanding of what it means to be human.”

“So, Uncle Dave, my teacher should be teaching us Shakespeare, otherwise he is hindering our education.”

“Yes Tom, he thinks he is protecting you from life’s rocky road, but you need to be taught about the tools to face your future.”

“Well, I’m going to read Shakespeare on my own time,” said Tom, determined.

“Well Tom, if we don’t study such works of literature, how will we endure the real tragedies which affect our world?”

“Thanks Uncle Dave, for setting me straight. I’ll be going now.”

“A couple of thoughts to take with you Tom:

All the world is a stage and most of us are UNDER REHEARSED!

All the world lives in one of two tents: Content or Discontent.”

Anxiety Help (from the green padded stool)

I was daydreaming, which writers do a lot, sitting on my green padded stool in my favorite watering hole. My daydreaming was interrupted when a chap climbed on the stool next to me. He looked to be in his early 50’s. He was sweating, grim faced and stooped over the bar.

He ordered a boiler-maker, which was a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. That was a powerful alcoholic combination compared to my non-alcoholic tonic water with ice and lemon.

He drank the whiskey in one gulp and then took a sip of beer.

Then his eyes started to roll and he mumbled:

“My body fells tingly and I’m dizzy. I feel like ice water is in my veins. I want to run away from my body but I can’t. My heart is pounding!”

His breathing was shallow. The bartender gave me a cold cloth to wipe his forehead with.

“Take deep breaths, fella,” I said, holding the cloth on his forehead.

He recovered after about five minutes, then he blurted out:

“The walls of life are closing in.”

“What do you mean by that, my friend?” I said as a reflex action to his outburst.

He looked at me with watery eyes and said:

“I’m depressed and full of anxiety. Life is getting claustrophobic.”

He ordered another whiskey.

“Do you think whiskey is the solution to your panic attack?”

“It blots out my negative thinking.”

“What got you into this situation?”

“The last two years have been a disaster for me. My wife died, then I was passed over for promotion. Now my job is in jeopardy because I’ve lost my concentration. My health has been deteriorating and I feel I’ve lost all control over my life.”

“Maybe I can help. Sometimes talking it out is therapeutic.”

“Hey mister, what makes you an authority on depression and anxiety?”

“I’m a writer of a blog where I try to inform people on solutions to their problems.”

Tom, the barkeep, came over and said:

“Hey buddy, listen to this guy, he knows what he’s talking about.”

My stoolmate pondered that for a minute and said:

“He does?”

“Yes, he does, trust me I’m a bartender!”

“What qualifications do you have?”

“I’m a student of life. I took some psychology courses when I was young and I continued through my life to read about anxiety, depression, fear and phobias, all of which I am interested in.”

“Well mister, this depression is taking over my life,” my stoolmate mumbled.

“Do you realize that depression is a defense mechanism against the sickness of negative thinking?”

“You mean to tell me, that depression is good for you?”

“No, depression is NOT good for us, but it’s the body’s survival mechanism over extreme stress caused by negative thinking.”

“How does depression help you survive?”

“Your body has to deal with the stress, so depression depresses negative thinking by numbing out fear emotions but it also numbs out good emotions, like love and joy.”

“So, my negative thinking has caused my depression”

“Yes, but you can get rid of depression by discontinuing to think negatively.”

“Easier said then done!”

“But worth the effort if you want to get control of your thoughts and feelings.”

I noticed my stoolmate stopped drinking whiskey and was sticking to the beer. Was I getting through to him?

“Hey Dave, you want another tonic water?” said Tom, the barkeep.

“Yes please.” Tom was my buddy from our school days, which is why I come to this tavern.

When Tom brought my drink, he winked at me, he knew I had helped others from the green padded stool.

“So many of my friends seem to be going through bouts of panic and depression. Why is that, I wonder?”

“Well, my friend, stress over long periods of time plays a role. Each of us creates much of our own stress, but the society in which we live affects us also.”

“How does society affect us?”

“Our environment and social order have changed drastically in the last 30 years. Modern society is fast paced with the advent of digital technology. Consequently, this hasn’t given people time to adjust.”

My stoolmate was pondering that statement for a minute.

I continued: “The situation is compounded by the increasing uncertainties in today’s world, climate change, nuclear proliferation, etc, means society gets more anxious and finally values are unclear today.”

“How’s that about values?”

“Nietzsche, the philosopher, said: “God is dead!”

That means the usual values prescribed by religion and society are gone. We must all cope on our own and take responsibility for creating our own meaning and moral code, which becomes very stressful!”

“So, my panic attacks come about from too much stress?”

“That’s right. How do you feel at this moment?”

“Terrible! I feel like I’m losing control of myself and my life and I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Also, I say strange things to myself, like I’m going crazy.”

“All that tells me you have extreme anxiety that is probably generalized. You have an overall feeling of a vague danger coming all the time.”

The stoolmate was squirming on his stool!

“So, this is affecting me in every department?”

“Yes, physiologically, behaviorally, and psychologically.”

“Oh No! What am I going to do?”

He put his head in his hands and he was shaking!

“Relax fella, there is help for you.”

I motioned to Tom to give me the cold cloth again.

“Here, my friend, hold this on your forehead for a few minutes.”

I handed him the cloth. I didn’t want him to have another attack.

After a minute or so, he threw the cloth on the bar and said:

“How can I recover from this horror situation?”

“Your recovery program should include:

A reduction of your physical reactions, an elimination of avoidance behavior and finally change your subjective interpretations right now, your self-talk is terrible and is perpetuating your state of apprehension and worry.”

“How do I put all that into action?”

“Well, you might need a therapist, but if you were strong enough, you could do it by yourself.”

“Please tell me the treatment, Dave, my name is Jake, by the way.”

That was an improvement, he called me by name and introduced himself.

“Fasten your seatbelt, Jake, here we go:

First, you will need some relaxation training. Deep breathing exercises to reduce anxiety.

Then Cognitive Therapy to get rid of bad self-talk and replace it with realistic thinking. You need to correct your distorted thinking.

Then Distraction, some diversionary activities such as a hobby, listening to music, journaling, and writing down your daily thoughts.

Finally, Mindfulness practice would be beneficial. Realize your bad thoughts can’t hurt you and try to live in the present moment, where your life is.”

Jake was writing all this down on a piece of paper that Tom gave him. He put it in his pocket.

The Jake got up to leave.

“Remember, my friend, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the Present.”

“Thank you for the info, Dave, I feel better already.”

He walked out of the tavern whistling.

Tom and I smiled at each other and gave the thumbs up sign.

To Be A Philosopher

My nephew, Tom, just turned 15 years old when he spent a day with me because his parents were visiting some people they met on holiday.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, he is very smart and he studies with kids two years older than him. So, it didn’t surprise me when he said:

“Hey Uncle Dave, guess what, my teacher started philosophizing about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This started me thinking wouldn’t it be great to be a philosopher.”

“Tom, philosophy might boggle your mind,” I said, smiling.

“No, I’m up for it, Uncle Dave.”

“Well, you will have to realize that ALMOST nothing is certain.”

“Okay, but how do I begin my philosophy education?”

“Oh, you want to play Master and Grasshopper again?”

“Yes Uncle Dave, but I would prefer it if you didn’t call me Grasshopper.”

“Okay Tom, to begin with you need to consider what is or appears to be directly in front of your eyes. You must begin to question and doubt what is supposed to be obvious.”

“Do you philosophize, Uncle Dave?’

“You and I, Tom, philosophize without even knowing we’ve been doing it!”

“No, Uncle Dave!”

“Yes Tom, it’s true. We’ve both wondered how the universe began, we’ve wondered if we know anything for certain or is life meaningless. All this wondering is tantamount to philosophizing.”

“Define philosophy for me, Uncle Dave.”

“Well Tom, the word philosophy is derived from “philos”, the Greek for “love” and “sophis”, the word for “wisdom”. So philosophy is the love of wisdom.”

Tom was pondering that for a moment.

“Well Tom, are you a lover of wisdom?”

“Oh yes, Uncle Dave.”

“Keeping on with the definition, philosophy is the rational investigation of Being, knowledge and right conduct.”

***

“Uncle Dave, what’s the nature of philosophy?”

“There are three things about philosophy’s nature:

It is an activity that exposes falsehoods and inconsistencies.

It uses REASON to do this.

It involves thinking about ALL sides of an argument.

***

When we talk philosophically to people, it makes all parties THINK!”

There was a minute’s silence, Tom was pondering again.

“The main thing in becoming a philosopher is that you must start doubting everything.”

“What should I start doubting, Uncle Dave?”

“Well, my boy, you can doubt something that is supposed to be obvious and beyond dispute about the world around you. You have to become a “Philosophical Sceptic.”

“Uncle Dave, are you telling me to doubt the EXTERNAL WORLD?”

“Yes, but lets start small with just one object. Lets say my eagle head cane here.”

Tom looked long and hard at the cane.

“Well, it could be a hallucination or an optical illusion.”

“Very good Tom, you’re getting the philosophical thinking technique. So lets analyze this. An hallucination is the false perception of an object when no object is present. When a person hallucinates his mind is disordered and it is playing tricks on him.

Now, an optical illusion is a trick of light and heat, etc. These two phenomena focus on a thing appearing but is not real. But, what if everything in this room is not actually here at all?”

Tom was thinking hard, I could see it in his eyes.

“Maybe, everything out there is just a DREAM!”

“Great thinking, Tom. Many philosophers believe that the world you think you’re in right now is a dream. And if you wake up from the dream, you can’t be sure if you’re not falling asleep, follow?”

***

“Any other ideas about the existence of the external world?”

“Maybe, the world is just in our imagination.”

“You’ve hit on a great point again, my brainy nephew. What you’re thinking of is akin to “Solipsism”. Your self alone is the external world. Some believe one’s own mind is the only thing that exists!”

“But, that’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it, Uncle Dave?”

“You’re right, Tom. If your mind was all that exists, what would you do with yourself? If there were no other people, there would be no point in writing this blog.”

***

“Oh Uncle Dave, the more we talk about the existence of the outer world, the more I am haunted by my doubts. But, when I go out and about I’m too busy enjoying my interaction with the world that appears to be there to bother to think about whether or not it is REALLY there.”

“I told you it would boggle your mind. Lets wind up this discussion since we can’t prove or not prove the existence of the outer world.”

“Sounds good to me, Uncle Dave, but it was interesting.”

“Yes it was, but I think we should get on with analyzing and classifying our perceptions as they APPEAR to us. Forget about if there is or isn’t anything besides those appearances.”

***

To sum up, here are some thoughts on philosophy:

Philosophy is an orderly way of discussing subjects we know nothing about.

***

Philosophy is a study which enables men to be unhappy more intelligently.

***

Philosophy is nothing but COMMON SENSE dressed up in a suit.

***

Tom left scratching his head.

 

 

 

The Last Chapter

It had been two years since my nephew, Tom, and I had our chat about historical beginnings. I missed our chats. Then one day, out of the blue, his parents dropped him off at my house for a few hours while they went shopping.

“Uncle Dave, the other day I saw a very old man hobbling along on a cane and I was wondering what it would be like to be him. I notice you have a cane now. How old are you, Uncle Dave?”

“I am 79 years old and yes, I need a cane at times to support my aging legs.”

I propped my brass eagle head walking stick by the side of my chair.

My 14 year old nephew sat on the floor at my feet.

“Well, Grasshopper, do you mind if I call you grasshopper?”

“No, I don’t mind, but why?” said Tom, quizzically.

“You’re too young to remember the Kung Fu TV series, but in the story, the Master Teacher calls his student, Grasshopper, because when he was teaching him about being in the Present Moment, he said:

“Do you hear your heartbeat?”

“No,” said the student.

“Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?”

“No, how is it you hear these things, Old Man?”

“Young Man, how is it that you do not?”

***

“Now, Grasshopper, about your wondering how it feels to be old…”

“Oh yes, Uncle Dave, tell me, please,” said Tom, excitedly.

“You’re awful young to be thinking about old age.”

“I will be old some day and I want to know about it. Now, please continue, Uncle Dave.”

This kid was curious beyond his years!

“Okay, Grasshopper, here is what it feels like to be OLD:

Smear some dirt on your glasses.

Stuff cotton in your ears.

Put on heavy shoes that are too big for you.

Wear gloves.

Now, you can’t see or hear very well. You stumble around and your hands don’t work properly.”

***

Tom looked gobsmacked.

“You see Tom, I mean Grasshopper, as we get older our senses become less acute and our muscles weaker,” I smiled.

“When I get old I want a fancy eagle head cane like yours, Uncle Dave.”

“I’ll leave you this one when I’m finished with it.”

Tom took my cane and rubbed the brass eagle’s head.

“Uncle Dave, how do you grow old without feeling old?”

“That’s a good question, Grasshopper, I suppose you have to try to stay young in mind and spirit. But, it has been said that there is little difference between a long life and a short one. Both are but moments in time.”

“When I get older I want to study about old people and help them enjoy life.”

“A noble goal, Grasshopper. Your parents told me you are interested in pursuing a medical career.”

***

I knew Tom was precocious because he had skipped two grades in school, so he was studying now with 16 year olds!

“How can old people live their life to the fullest?”

“Well Grasshopper, I guess to grow old gracefully you need to:

Live and enjoy each day and don’t think too much about the past or future. Live just for today, it’s the only life we have.

Exercise and take care of your mind and body.

Keep your mind alert.

Have a hobby and join a club to interact with people.

***

“Uncle Dave, can you define happy and successful aging?”

“Grasshopper, I know you will do well in your pursuit of a medical career in aging because you ask the right questions.

Successful aging requires three key things:

Low risk of disease, high mental and physical functions, and active engagement with life which means interacting with others and having activities.”

***

“It must be sad when old people don’t feel a part of the world anymore.”

“I’m amazed, Grasshopper, your thinking is way beyond your age.”

“Well, Uncle Dave, I read that people are living longer now and I would like to help them cope.”

“Yes Grasshopper, it is sad when one is old and has outgrown the world of the young. But, then one must make one’s own music, as art, maybe music, painting or writing.”

***

“Maybe, some old people feel left behind.” Tom looked pensive.

“Well Grasshopper, some old people feel like they are invisible. The old tend to be shuffled off to the sidelines with the attitude of society that the old have lost value in a youth oriented world.”

“That’s a shame,” said Tom, sadly.

***

“Grasshopper, you are young, but I’m wondering if you ever think of mortality?”

“I do realize that everyone dies sooner or later. All living things eventually die. My dog died recently. One of my dad’s workmates died of cancer six months ago. So, yes, I do think about it sometimes.”

“Well, old people think a lot about it. As their remaining time becomes shorter and shorter, coping with what is left of life can become very hard or they might think it’s senseless to even try. That’s when depression sets in.”

“Do you get depressed, Uncle Dave?”

“No, I don’t, because I have a hobby of writing which is my passion and I’m still interacting with people and the world through attending discussion groups.”

***

“Uncle Dave, I suppose when you get old there are a lot of adjustments to be made.”

“That’s right, Grasshopper, the old have to adjust to all their losses: the loss of physical health, the loss of mental flexibility, loss of professional identity, financial means, friends and relatives.

If the elderly can adapt to these losses, they will still be able to say, YES to life in the last chapter.”

***

“Thanks Uncle Dave, for explaining so much about old age to me.”

“You’re welcome, Grasshopper,” I said, shaking Tom’s hand as he left with his parents.

Thinking back on Tom’s questions and intelligence, I wondered who was the Grasshopper, Tom or Me?

 

Beginnings

One summer day, when I was minding my 12 year old nephew, he asked me:

“Hey, Uncle Dave, how old is the universe and how did it all start?”

“What’s with you, Tom, you’re on summer holiday and you still want to learn?”

“Yes Uncle Dave, it would be fun and I know you’ve done some study on the subject.”

I knew the kid was curious but not this curious to want to learn on holiday!

“Well, Tom, if you want to learn lets do it. I’ll tell you what I know.”

Tom sat looking at me wide-eyed.

“In the beginning there was a “dot” of compressed infinite energy. This “dot” was very heavy, dense and hot and when the pressure built up from the energy inside it, it burst!

That explosion was the “Big Bang”, which happened 13.7 billion years ago. Bits of matter spread over billions of miles which is probably still expanding.”

“Wow! Uncle Dave! But how did scientists know it happened 13.7 billion years ago? We weren’t around then!”

I laughed.

“Of course we weren’t. With our modern telescopes scientists can calculate the speed at which galaxies are spreading outward. From this data they project backwards and work out when these objects were all in one place.”

“Oh boy, Uncle Dave! What happened next?”

This kid was going to wear me out!

“From the blast of energy a force of gravity was created, a kind of glue that makes matter want to stick together. Gravity made the hot fiery stars group together into clusters called galaxies. Our galaxy is the “Milky Way”. Gas and dust clouds formed our “Sun” from burnt out stars, 4.6 billion years ago.”

“What about the first life?” Tom was getting demanding now!

I went and got myself a glass of water, my mouth was dry from talking.

After a long gulp, I continued:

“Well Tom, the first life were single celled creatures, these merged to form more complex forms of life which multiplied in the sea. Sea creatures came on land and started reproducing enormous lizards called dinosaurs and they ruled the land until a meteor wiped them out!”

“This is exciting, Uncle Dave, what happened next?”

“Well, the meteor hit about 65 million years ago and many life forms became extinct. The ones that survived evolved into different types of mammals, bears, monkeys, apes, etc. In the sea there were whales, walruses and seals. It was the period called Eocene, meaning the “new dawn”. This period was from 56 to 34 million years ago.”

“What about us, Uncle Dave, when did we start?”

I took a deep breath.

“Well, the apes came down from the trees and learned to walk on two feet. We are supposed to be closely related to the chimpanzee. The earliest ape to walk on two feet was probably about 3 million years ago.”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, the planet of the apes!”

This kid was a million laughs!

“Homo Erectus had great advantages over the animals in the wild, their hands, brains and the control of fire made them the boss.

Fire scared away the large animals plus, about 70,000 years ago, the cave men figured out that food heated over a fire released more energy and tasted better than raw meat. They made fire by hitting stones together to get a spark.”

“Did they talk, Uncle Dave?”

“The first communication was sign language and grunts.”

“When did they come over by us?”

“Well, they started moving from Africa about 50,000 years ago to Europe and beyond. They were the “Homo Sapiens”, the hunter gatherers.”

A knock on the door revealed Tom’s parents.

“Oh, Uncle Dave, this is so interesting I don’t want to stop!”

“Come on, Tom, your uncle is tired,” said the mother.

“When I see you again, Uncle Dave, I want to talk about human civilizations.”

“So long Tom,” I said, exhausted.

My Thought For The Day:

The advantage of studying history is that it keeps you from feeling too important!

 

Do We Live In An Illusion?

I began thinking about the subject of illusion after re-visiting some literature I read years ago to see how the authors treated the conflict between illusion and reality in their writing. We humans are caught between illusion and reality.

I re-visited: The Great Gatsby, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby lived in an illusion. He created a false reality. He pretended to come from high social class and wealth. In reality he changed his name and he came from a poor background. He made his fortune from bootlegging. He pretended he went to Oxford to impress the elite. He held the illusion that Daisy loved him, when she only loved money and the easy life.

She uses money to escape reality. Daisy and Gatsby turned their illusions into their own reality.

Gatsby’s illusion destroyed him in the end.

***

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: The characters failed to adjust to the real world so they constructed their make-believe worlds around them in the form of illusions.

Laura lives in a world populated by glass animals. She is crippled and fragile.

Her illusion of getting together with her boyfriend is destroyed when he tells her he has a fiancé. He breaks the horn off of her unicorn and it becomes a regular horse, the illusion is broken.

Tom, Laura’s brother, works in a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. He is an aspiring poet and immerses himself in movies.

Amanda, Tom and Laura’s mother, tells her children of the many men that pursued her but her husband ran off! She lives in a dream world. She lives her illusion through Laura. She hopes she will find a man to marry her.

Their illusions all break down.

***

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams: The main character, Blanche Dubois lives in her delusion of luxury, grandeur and high social class. She lost the family home and her job. She became a prostitute. She goes to her sister’s house only to find her illusions broken. She ends up in a mental institution.

***

People find it hard to accept reality, so they live in an illusion.

Reality—The state of things as they actually are, not an idealized version.

Illusion—A false belief, a misinterpreted perception of things, what we want to believe.

***

The Reality Gap leads people into illusion.

The Reality Gap is the SPACE between the reality that is and the reality you would like.

***

During a human’s limited existence, the individual has to ADAPT to the outside world and it’s HARD! So, they retreat into illusions which are perceived as reality. The tendency is to distort reality to make it more endurable.

***

The human mind steers itself toward illusions that are adaptable to one’s needs and desires.

Is everything a figment of your imagination?

What’s in your imagination is probably very different from reality. We live our lives in a narrow patch of circumstances, time, geography, culture, etc. We never see the whole picture!

***

Another way of putting it is that we live in a world of our “Thoughts”. This is a different world from the one that IS. We perceive the world in a limited way. We see a limited spectrum of light. Our hearing and smell is limited. Our perceptions are limited and then we interpret those perceptions through limited thoughts.

This limited perception is an ILLUSION.

***

Life exists on many levels, Real and Illusion.

Here are some examples:

Take a stone, you feel it and see it, it seems solid and very real. But it’s appearance is an illusion. It is actually made of countless individual atoms, none touching but all are tightly bonded. So, it’s solidity is an illusion.

How about sound? On one level your brain tells you it’s sound but it’s really vibrating particles of air that the ear detects.

We all want love, when we experience it, love feels real and it impacts on our feelings. But really it’s a biochemical process taking place in our brain. A trick of evolution to make us feel good. It feels good, most of the time, and it feels real whether it is or not.

***

We need our illusions because we cannot bear too much reality!

Maybe reality is NOT an illusion but OUR version of reality is an illusion!

***

What we experience and perceive is a reflection of what we allow into our consciousness based on our thoughts. So, we live in a THOUGHT WORLD.

We see what we allow ourselves to see!

We are always thinking and we embrace our thoughts and feelings as something separate from everyone and the world. A delusion of our mind restricting us to our desires.

***

The question arises: How are illusions created?

Some are built to hide our weaknesses and build ourselves up. When the illusion emerges, the person no longer talks and acts as themselves, but as a fabricated image.

Ex—Jay Gatsby, in The Great Gatsby, pretended to be someone he wasn’t.

***

People create an illusion when they don’t understand or accept the facts and replace them with their opinions. Then you fabricate thoughts or concepts that you think explain the facts.

***

A person’s self-centered viewpoints create an illusion. When they look at events from self-interest, they cannot see the whole picture.

***

Illusions are created when people try to appear like something which they are not. Ex—Blanche Dubois in Streetcar.

***

Illusions are created when a person distorts or lies about a fact.

I will leave you with this thought:

Imagination was given to humans to compensate for what they are NOT, and a sense of humor to console them for what they ARE.

Appreciating Life

Welcome to the final instalment of my Mindfulness Journey.

***

How can we appreciate what we have?

As you read this blog, notice how your eyes move from word to word without any conscious effort; how they go at the right pace for you to pick up the information. The world comes to you through your eyes and other senses. How much would you miss out on if you lost your eyesight? So, you appreciate your eyesight.

***

Next time you take a drink of water, savour the first sip. Move the water around your mouth and then swallow. Notice how it relieves your dryness.

***

Next time you’re eating a meal, savour the first mouthful, your tongue does the tasting, your teeth do the chewing, and notice how the food slips down your throat to swallow. It’s a wonder and you need to appreciate it.

***

We take so much of life for granted, there is so much wonder outside the reality space. Remember, the reality space is the gap between the reality that is, and the reality you want.

***

We must appreciate our life even in our darkest hours, when it seems the entire world is maximizing our distress and is driving us to exhaustion.

At these times remember your breath. Your breath is there for you as an anchor. It’s like a friend, reminding you that you are okay as you are.

Take a deep breath, hold, exhale slowly through the mouth.

***

To appreciate something is to recognize its value. All our valued things will eventually be lost in the future. This is a fact of life. So, as long as we are alive, we need to appreciate all that we have, temporarily.

***

Is the secret of appreciation NOT to look beyond the present?

I’m not so sure. Past and Future have a place in our reality. Although it’s a fact that your consciousness is in the Present and the reality that counts most is in the Present, the past does influence the present and the future is a need that is essential to present morale. So, although the present is the most important, the other two are needed also. We should appreciate all three.

***

I appreciate the fact that my Mindfulness training has taught me, “How To Feel Good Again”.

I feel good because I now understand that I can live with painful thoughts as long as I separate from them. I am free to reach out for positive thoughts.

***

I now understand that all the moments in my life are CHOICE POINTS. I have a choice of ATTITUDE. After you ask yourself these questions you should come to a decision about what choice to make about your feelings.

How do I feel about this situation?

How would I like to feel about this?

How do I choose to feel about this?

How do I feel about this NOW?

***

I also have a choice of ACTION.

What am I doing about this situation?

What would I like to do about this?

What do I choose to do about this?

What am I going to do about this NOW?

I want to reinforce my Defusion and Acceptance skills. I will try to live in the Here and Now. And maybe Resignation has a part to play…

***

A word about Resignation:

A woman I met at the U3A (University of the Third Age) told me how she used resignation to counter her anxiety feelings concerning her husband’s illness, it also could be used if you, yourself, had an illness.

What is Resignation? It’s the reluctant acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.

She thought, “Why my husband? Why my family? Why, why, why!

***

Fighting her anxiety feelings was making her physically sick. So neither her or her husband could enjoy the time they had left. She decided to accept the grim reality of her husband’s illness and all the debilitation that went with it plus the care that also went with it.

***

What did this mindset of resignation do for her?

Her anxiety feelings and bad thoughts were lifted and she felt her mental pain was gone and the struggle with destructive feelings over.

She realized it was her thoughts about her husband’s illness that was creating her emotional disturbance, NOT the illness itself. By accepting the illness her physical and mental storm became much calmer.

With resignation, she accepted the predicament and both her and her husband began to live each day to the fullest possible under the circumstances. Each day was like a new lifetime!

***

Acceptance is the willingness to have the bad thoughts and feelings as they come and go, but the struggle isn’t there.

Stop wasting your energy and turn off the struggle switch.

How?

By defusing from the anxiety thoughts and feelings. Separate yourself from them. Don’t give them much attention.

Defuse—“I’m having that anxiety feeling in my abdomen.”

“I’m noticing I’m having that feeling again in my abdomen.”

“I’m accepting the feeling but I’m not struggling with it.”

“I’m separated from it”

***

Live in the Here and Now!

If you were asked, what’s the best time of your life and you answered, “NOW”, you’ve arrived at a moment of insight. When we are fused on bad thoughts and feelings, we miss out on enjoying and appreciating life.

***

So, here we are, at the conclusion of my Mindfulness journey

Lets summarize the basics:

ACCEPT your thoughts and feelings and be in the Present.

CONNECT with your Values.

TAKE EFFECTIVE ACTION in line with your values.

***

My Top Values:

ACCEPTANCE: to be open and accepting of myself and others.

ASSERTIVENESS: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want.

COMPASSION: to act with kindness toward myself and others.

COURAGE: to go forward in the face of fear or difficulty.

HUMOUR: to see and appreciate the funny side of life.

MINDFULNESS: to be conscious of and open to, the Present experience.

RESPONSIBILITY: to be accountable for my actions.

SELF-AWARENESS: to be aware of my thoughts, feelings, and actions and defuse from the negative ones.

SELF-CARE: to look after my health and get my needs met.

SUPPORTIVENESS: to be supportive, helpful and encouraging to myself and others.

LOVING: to act affectionately toward myself and others.

***

I try to follow each value but I sometimes fall short! I’m only human.

***

If your problems can be solved, take action.

It your problems can’t be solved, accept and defuse from them.

No matter what difficulty you encounter, there are two courses of action:

Accept it.

Take Action to improve it or resign yourself to it.

***

What’s in your control?

Your Attention and Your Actions.

You act in accordance with your values, because your values are reflections of what is important to you, what is meaningful to you, and they provide direction in your life.

***

Last important thought to remember:

APPRECIATE what you have in your life right now, because NOW, is the ONLY time you ever have!