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A New Season

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He had recently retired… he was mostly bald… he’d experienced one heart attack in his late 50’s… he exercised little beyond walking… he was an old man (like most men his age at the time)… he was 65… he was my father.

Dad was in the winter of his years as his health went into a steady decline and he slipped his earthly bonds at age 73.

This year I’m turning 65 too, and as such I’m feeling an inner psychological change. It’s a perception…

It’s like I’m entering a new season. Maybe my leaves are turning from green to yellow and red. But it’s not winter… not YET!

Life comes in seasons.

Let’s set this scenario up, shall we?

SPRING – 0-25 years

SUMMER – 25-65 years

FALL – 65-80 years

WINTER – 80+ years

I’ve made these seasons up.

You’ll likely agree with these parameters… or… vehemently disagree. No problem… it’s an artificial construct and totally based on today’s average lifespans and my whim.

I’ve had all of those life experiences that come with the spring and summer of a life: dependence on Mom and Dad, the naive, wide-eyed early school years, the tumultuous teens, high school, college, early romances, marriage, jobs, kids, travel, hair loss, “retirement”, first grandchildren.

The early seasons are full: full of expectations, full of dreams, full of stresses, full of ecstasies, full of busy, full of sorrows, full of joys.

Today, the hair on my head, once my pride of luxury, thick and soft, is grey, thin and wiry, the skin on my face is lined and wrinkled, my legs don’t run as fast as they once did, my eyes struggle to read anything close up without “readers”.

Yes, I’d say I’m in the fall of my timeline, and while I’m not terrifically excited about aging, I accept its inevitability, although the increasing speed of time passing by me now is a daily shock.

For sure it’s not the beginning, but it’s also not the end (I hope).

It’s not my winter… and I’d love to write another post here in 15 years telling you that turning 80 is also not truly winter. Time will tell, right?

I have lots of passion and energy remaining most days, enthusiasm thrives inside me for the many things I enjoy: running, playing guitar, songwriting, travelling, grandparenting, cooking, swimming, volunteering, gardening, cycling… the list goes on.

In my life’s experience and cultural awareness, 65 was always the turning point where we shed the working world and settled into a rocking chair on the front porch… waiting… stagnating… imparting wisdom to little minds (kids, not idiots!)… counting the minutes and days until… until…

It’s time to look at age and aging afresh with a new awareness.

So going forward I’ll start reminding myself that these seasons, these artificial constructs, are markers but not barriers. Newness, learning, and physical movement don’t have to fall by the wayside because of our chronology.

I’m saying all of this to you as a reminder to me that our minds are our biggest enemy (at times) but also our best friends.

Let’s (Yoda) try to cherish and nurture this friendship regardless of the season where we find ourselves.

When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Lori McKenna (popularized by Tim McGraw)

A Titanic Adventure

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Belfast Docks. Northern Ireland.

A wee journey backwards today, backwards to April 1912… no … even earlier still. Let’s go…

Forget about the more than 1,500 souls that slipped and plunged into the dark and icy Atlantic drink and perished.

Forget about the names and faces of the rich, the powerful, the notable (John Jacob Aster, Molly Brown, authors, heirs, heiresses) who put up the funds and found the drive to build a mountainous, unsinkable craft of the sea.

Forget about Leonardo and Kate playing cutesy kite at the bow of the ship or steamily sucking face in the car below deck…

And now, put your head around the thousands of Belfast poor and plebeian who got up each day in 1910, 11, and 12, and brought themselves to the dockyards of Harland and Wolff where they used their muscles and brawn to build a ship beyond most imaginations’ scope… a floating miracle of the day…

… with simple tools, buckets of sweat, and impressive skill sets.

They put the pieces of the massive jigsaw puzzle together, saw the change from the boatyard’s original name of the ship from Number 401 to TITANIC, and brought it to life.

Today, the Titanic museum sits on this same site in Belfast, the very same site where Titanic and sister ship Olympic were built from nothingness to majestic floating miracles of the day.

Last week, we took this trip through time in the impressive – yes, you might even describe it as titanic – museum dedicated to Belfast and its incredible construction of the epic ship.

The museum itself is enormous in size and takes you on a tour of time, back through the history of Belfast, before the “troubles” of Northern Ireland… back to the time and place…

… back through moody, dimly-lit hallways with interactive displays showing where early plans were hatched… large cavernous rooms containing dozens of men (always men) poring over blueprints and rolls of paper designs they sketched and debated and finalized. Painstaking work by great designers and engineers of the day.

And then, one day, March 31, 1909, the work began in laying the keel on these docks from nothing but a dream and a gargantuan supply of metal, wood, glass, and thousands of Belfast, blue-collar workers.

Here, the 3,000 workers and 3,000,000 steel and iron rivets were hand-driven and hammered into place one at a time by 4 men in a crew. The rivets used in the front of the ship – made of weaker iron rather than steel, were the ones that struck the iceberg.

Two men on either side of the hull hammering in one rivet at a time

Over 2 years, 8 construction workers died and hundreds were injured.

(There was an unwritten expectation in shipyards at the time of ‘one death for every £100,000 spent’, so at a build cost of £1.5 million , the Titanic’s toll was less than the 15 deaths that might have been expected. Early good news.)

A few key “lucky” blokes were even given a free passage on the inaugural sail.

The workers toiled on average 49 hours weekly for the sum of £2.

Finally, twenty six months later, on a clear and momentous May 31, 1911… at 12:13 pm, the 882 foot-long Titanic slid over tons of tallow- into the Belfast Lough, where it sat for almost another year while the glamorous inside fittings were built before she could sail.

Author/photographer William MacQuitty watched the launch saying, “Slowly gathering speed, the Titanic moved smoothly down the ways, and a minute later was plunging into the water and raising a huge wave. I felt a great lump in my throat, and an enormous pride in being an Ulsterman.”

The museum takes you through all of this with dramatic displays and personal stories of those who did the rigorous work.

At one point, a Disney-like ride carries you through the dark, inner workings of the ship during its building phase… up and down you travel through the bowels of the hull of the Titanic with blasts of heat emanating from the furnaces that prepared the rivets for attachment amid ear-piercing hammering and engine noises blasting.

Anchor makers on the Titanic

In less than a year, the Titanic lay quiet on the floor of the Atlantic, broken and memorialized as a grave to hubris and optimistic thinking. The demise of the RMS Titanic was the fault of the designers, not the shipbuilders who made the incredible ship.

The hardworking breadwinners of Belfast at Harland and Wolff continued making ships in Belfast for many more years until the last one was launched in 2003.

Today, their memories lie buried inside this formidable museum on the Belfast waterfront where the world can gain insight into their lives and their world… the memories of an underwater “museum” captured above-ground on the dockyards of Harland and Wolff.

PS As a final notation to this trip, a visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland are a sensory delight with fabulous dramatic vistas.

Beautiful narrow roadways lined with hedgerows or stone walls for driving, and friendly, enthusiastic country folk who share the pride they feel in their lush homeland and history.

Add in some pints of Guinness, a dram of Irish whiskey, or a Shepherd’s Pie made with stout, and an Irish lilt will come to your lips with you hardly even noticing.

After left-shifting a rental car for more than 2,000 kilometres on bucolic Irish backroads, I can proudly attest that I only struck blood-curdling fear into my car’s internal residents and the good citizens of the Emerald Isle a few (dozen) times!

Titanic launch May 31, 1911.

Stairway to Heaven

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Luke Skywalker, where are you? I’ll answer later…

Skellig Michael (in back) and Little Skellig (foreground)

Skellig Michael, Ireland.

High above the Atlantic, on the westernmost edge of Europe, you can cast your eyes further westward across the chilly waters towards faraway lands…

Lands where so many impoverished and starving Irish migrated to over the centuries… but you can also peer skyward to the heavens that drew religious monks here from Egypt, Arabia, and Gaelic lands to commune with God.

This peak, the Monastery of Skellig Michael, 8 miles from the southwestern shores of Ireland’s County Kerry, was home to 600 years of monks (between the 6th and 12th centuries), who created a rocky “home” for themselves on the far edge of the known earth when it was believed you would fall from this flat planet once you ventured further east.

The monks, always counting 13 in number at any one time (representing Jesus and the Apostles), painstakingly constructed the stone steps leading to the top where a nest of beehive stone buildings housed them and their religious beliefs.

We arrived by small boat at the dock of the rocky crag just before noon after a 90 minute rollercoaster trip through the ocean swells, from Portmagee with 10 others.

The surreal scene greeting us at arrival resembled a busy Air Force base with thousands of winged gannets and puffins aloft, circling and dipping in the strong north breezes.

The rocky outcroppings and ledges of the island were dotted top to bottom with literally thousands of the birds… white spots littered like huge handfuls of confetti dropped from above to coat the surfaces.

Our group hopped off the bobbing boat at the small dock of the island with the advisory to return to the same spot in 2.5 hours exactly as the boat would only come ashore for a minute or two before casting off again.

This wasn’t our last advisory…

The warnings were many.

* The website posted warnings.

* The boat operators warned.

* Explicit signage warned.

* A guide at the start of the climb up the rock stairs gave a lengthy and detailed warning.

Yes, the guide was friendly but stern in his words.

The 600 rocky steps up the stone monument in the sea were not to be trifled with, the white-haired scholarly fellow said.

The sandstone and compressed slate steps – typically about 3-4 feet across – were uneven and often with sheer drops on the outer edges, he noted. With care and due attention, all would go well.

But, for those who might try taking photos while climbing, it could – and had unfortunately in the past – spell disaster. Always stop with two feet planted firmly to take pictures, he insisted. Pass others carefully. And if the heights become too much, well… sit down and end your upward journey with no worries or guilt. Every day, of the maximum 180 visitors, there are those some few who don’t manage to see the monastery at the peak.

For those with ADHD tendencies like myself, it was difficult to listen in while simultaneously absorbing the sight of 8 or 9 inch tall, doll-like puffins staring back at us from their little shelves of dirt and rock, mere feet away.

Puffins. Real live puffins. Upwards of 10,000 puffins adorned this small island rock, bottom to top.

Atlantic Puffins – sometimes called Sea Parrots – arrive on the island by the thousands in early July each year to make their little nest crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil on the mountainside.

The monogamous, pair-based avians produce 1 creamy white egg each season. The parents take turns feeding their young, small fish they harvest by diving into the ocean.

By early August, their fledglings set, the birds desert the island and return to their normal sea-based homes off the coast of Iceland.

Our hike was breathtaking… filled with fabulous vistas and heart racing precipice drops.

The scope of rock building taken on by 13 monks over hundreds of years is a testament to human strength and resilience. Their hardships were many and often painful; all part of their veneration to God.

Ultimately, our hike up the steep rock was as thrilling as it was disastrously uneventful… Woot Woot!

We passed the spots filmed in the movie Star Wars, The Last Jedi where Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley interacted in the upper reaches of the stony monastery. Yes, the elder Luke found his force here on Skellig Michael.

It’s a great day when you can climb a Stairway to Heaven, survive an encounter with a Jedi camp, and come home with an adventure to share.

Slainte

Photo credits: Maureen Miltimore Green, Erin Green, and The Man On The Fringe

THOUGHTS About… THINKING

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It’s hard to turn off our thoughts, don’t you think?

And since we can’t truly turn them off, why not think thoughts that make us more relaxed, content, productive… and… thoughtful.

While I’m traipsing the backroads of the Irish Isles, I turn once again to a forever friend and guest blogger.

Who better to turn to than my “retired” Physician Associate and deep thinker buddy Jim Ferguson. Jim is one of those rare people who can rationally combine his religious, philosophical, and scientific thoughts and not get himself tied up like a pretzel. While you think about this.. let me say…

Over to you James

Well…yours truly has once again been invited to share a few thoughts and to cast them out into the MOTF blog-o-sphere for your consideration.

As I was pondering on a topic to write about, I found myself going down a deep rabbit hole on the topic of thinking!

Yup…I was thinking about THINKING!

I know… I know… you are probably thinking,

1. How did Larry ever hook up with this nut job, and

2. This guy definitely needs a hobby.

The answer to the 1st question is a long story and probably worthy of a blog post in and of its own right (and one that could lead to jail time for both Sir Lawrence and myself…😊).

To address the second point-given my ADHD nature, I’ve got more than enough hobbies to keep me going for the foreseeable future.

Sooooo… back to this concept of thinking about thinking.

It sounds like an episode from Seinfeld…right? The show all about nothing!

Well…let me tell you that there is a lot of thinking going on about thinking (and the nature of consciousness which is a blog topic in its own right) and there are many neurobiologists out there who are sharing their wisdom on the topic. 

One such expert in the field is Joe Dispenza. Go look him up on-line. You will find lots of references to explore.

Joe has become one of the “gurus du jour” in the field and my impression is that he has now become more well known as a “celebrity” than he is as a hard-core scientist. This seems to be the case for so many who venture into the arena of being an expert in a specific area plus being a public figure.

They become a celebrity. One could argue that this is the case for people like Deepak Chopra, Dr. Andrew Weil (my mentor), Dr. Oz, Dr. Fauci (he of COVID-19 fame), Willard Scott (RIP), and the list goes on.

Back to the theme lest I get too distracted.

I actually have listened to Joe Dispenza lecturing on neurobiology topics including the topic of thinking and he has some fascinating things to share on that theme. I would never accuse him of “selling out” to the celebrity juggernaut as I find his talks both stimulating and grounded in solid science. Maybe he has found a happy medium between his science and celebrity. 

Dispenza states that the average human thinks anywhere from 40,000-70,000 thoughts per day.

Were you aware of this? I was blown away by that number when I first heard him say this during one of his talks a few years back.

If the average person thinks that many thoughts, what about me and my ADHD mind? Geesh…that must mean that I am upwards of close to 80,000+ thoughts per day. I am always thinking things, pondering, considering, reflecting upon things! It is challenging to slow my mind down on a good day! 

I found that stat to be truly astounding BUT what I found even MORE astounding (and alarming at the same time) was this next stat. You might want to sit down for this one!

Dispenza says that of those 40,000-70,000 thoughts you think on a daily basis, 80-90% of those thoughts are the SAME THOUGHTS that you thought yesterday and the day before that and so on!

Joe Dispenza

In other words, the thoughts we think today are merely repetition of thoughts we have had for days, months, years previous. Think about it and see if this is true for you. I did a study on myself and found that his statement was pretty accurate!

This has profound implications for those who find themselves “stuck in a rut”, “bogged down”, “who can’t seem to get out of their own way”, “who are constantly sad, depressed, anxious”, “who have that nagging monkey mind that never stops”, etc.

We know from solid science since the mid-1970s that the cells of the brain renew themselves. For decades before that time, it was understood that once humans reached five years old, we stopped producing new brain cells and stopped forming new neural connections. Not so!

The work of neuroscientist Candace Pert and her colleagues discovered that the brain continues to produce new brain cells (neurons) throughout the life span. The science on this theme has exploded exponentially during the past two decades. We now understand the brain to have the property of “neuroplasticity” i.e. it can produce new neurons and can rewire synapses throughout our lifetime.

Sooo…. the brain has neuroplasticity. Check.

Now back to the thinking part of this discussion.

Dispenza and others argue that if we want to get out of our own way, out of the ruts we find ourselves in, to address depression and anxiety, monkey mind, etc. we need to give serious attention to how we think!

We all have different habits of thinking. One size does not fit all in this case.

Some are deep thinkers while others maybe not so much. Some are easily distracted while others are not. If we find ourselves waking every day to the same mental and emotional stress in our lives, could one of the keys be to think deeply on our thinking patterns and to direct our energies towards changing these patterns. This makes perfect sense!

A quote from the Baha’i writings states, “The reality of man is his thought…”

This makes perfect sense and is on target with Dispenza’s thinking.

Whatever we think tends to manifest itself in what we then believe and then what we believe becomes our reality manifesting itself in our actions. The key according to Dispenza and others in his field is to change our thinking which then rewires the synapses (connections) between the neurons in the brain and then the result is new behaviours. Change our thinking=change our actions! 

Sooo…. how do we go about this process?

Dispenza recommended that we practice meditation. During meditation we can practice thinking about our thinking and then adapt so we are then thinking new thoughts and avoiding going down those old thought pathways over and over again. To be proactive and develop new thinking patterns.

Other mind-body practices (Tai-Chi, Qi gong, Guided Imagery, Autogenics, Hypnosis, etc.) would also meet this need for developing new thought patterns. I have practiced meditation and I have found it to have profound effects on my thinking patterns. 

Bottom Line: if we want to change the way we think, we need to first think about how we think (and we are all different based on our own individuality) and then implement new practices that allow us to develop and reinforce new thought patterns that will then manifest themselves in our outward actions.

If we do this, it results in rewiring of neural synapses in the brain which can lead to (as Candace Pert said decades ago) recreating ourselves on a daily basis.

This may seem simplistic yet it makes so much sense and people have been utilizing these simple mind-body practices for thousands of years with excellent results.

Peace,

Jim