Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Feeling One's Age

If you tell me, coyly, that you are 70 (or however many) years 'young',(which women frequently do) I cannot help but infer that you regard the word 'old' as at worst an insult or at best, something to be avoided. And that, I must remind you, is an ageist attitude. Same with " …but I am young at heart". Rubbish. Your heart is the same age as the rest of your internal organs. It may beat strongly and you may be full of joy and zest and enthusiasm for living, but that doesn't make you young. It simply means you are full of joy and zest and enthusiasm for living, and so we should all be, whether we are 5 or 50 or 93 or any other age.

But I don’t feel 70”, you protest. Wait a minute. Stop and think about that. How do you know what 70 – or any other age – feels like till you get to it? I am 72. So the way I feel now must be what 72 feels like. How could it be any other way? “I don’t feel (insert the number)...” is a totally daft statement, in any context whatsoever. Yet one hears it all the time. So where does all this daftness come from?

I was thinking about that this morning, the last day of the year. 2008 is about to be archived.

The years that have already passed lie flat, now, like pressed flowers. They have lost their roundness, their yearness. The are stacked on the shelf of memory, each flat year on top of the last flat year, like a deck of cards. Each lasted fifty-two big, fat, juicy weeks, yet each takes only a few seconds to recall, now. All we remember are the highlights – the few, special moments that make that year distinguishable from all the others.

Not just years are like this but months, weeks, days, individual moments; once they are over they become all flat and thin, too. Unless, like the dried wakame I put in my soup, we soak them a while, plump them out with tears of grief or laughter. Even then, it’s not like the real thing. We are only fully alive when we remain in this moment. The one that’s happening right now.

As soon as moments have passed, they start to desiccate, flatten, turn into thin leaves of memory that can easily blow away in the breeze like tissue paper. So maybe it is because they require so little room in storage that when we look back on all our years of living they don’t seem to take up enough space. Have I really lived 72 (and a half, actually) full, round, action-packed years? And is this latest one really ending - so soon?


Here goes another one into the pile on the shelf.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Turning Point

I love the yin/yang symbol. And I love the fact that it describes a dynamic principle. Each half of the pattern contains the seed of the other. Yin contains the kernel of yang, yang contains the kernel of yin. Each seed ripens, enlarges and eventually gives birth to its opposite. I wrote a whole article on that, which you can read here if you are interested. It’s all about balance and how balance of any kind, whether on a personal or planetary scale, is based on this same dynamic principle.

I am writing this at the solstice, as we reach that tiny, still moment when light and dark begin to change places. It is a beautiful moment. Imagine our Earth, as it reaches the Solstice point and just for that tiny moment it touches the limit of its tilt in one direction, pauses for, what? a millisecond? … and then begins its six-month journey towards the other.

Our Earth has reached such a moment in more ways than one. The latest news about the speed and intensity of climate change is such that if we do not act now – right now – to reduce our carbon emissions and to pour all our energies and resources into setting up alternative, clean, green energy systems, there will be no way to halt the processes that will bring an end to our species and most others.

Ever the optimist, I still think we’ll pull it off, even if only by the tiniest, scariest margin. Humans are like that. Push almost always has to come to shove before we act.Remember how, when we were at college, after messing around for weeks we pulled an all-nighter to get a paper written and handed just in time for the deadline? The deadlines of climate change are providing the impetus finally to get us off our backsides and into action.

Not just big actions – billions of tiny ones as well. Billions of small hesitations as we remember the effect of every purchase, every choice we make in our everyday lives and then decide on the greener alternative.

Because the majority of us, I believe, really do care about our world. The spectacular result of the recent US election proves that things are moving, times are changing. A groundswell is happening. I just read, in Orion Magazine, an excellent essay about all this by Auden Schendler, the ‘Sustainability Director’ for a ski resort in Colorado, USA. He says “Climate change doesn’t have to scare us. It can inspire us; it is a singular opportunity to remake society in the image of our greatest dreams.”

Yes. That’s our project. And at this Solstice moment, as we pause to honour the eternal and ever-reversing dance of light and darkness, what better time to remember it?