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The virtue of Transcendence

SPIRITUALITY

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”

Carl Sagan

Why are we uncomfortable

I know it is generally regarded as poor taste to talk about religion or politics, because they are such polarising topics. People often experience very strong emotions when their political or religious beliefs are being challenged because these beliefs form a critical part of their self-awareness. Much of our perspectives are influenced by these value systems without us realising it. To question our view on religion or politics is tantamount to questioning our existence.

There is a difference

Before you panic and become defensive, please do not. We are not going to discuss your religious beliefs. We are not even going to discuss mine. I am not afraid to discuss my religion. I invite you to start a conversation in the comment section, but right now we have other matters to talk about.

If you are a little confused, allow me to explain. Spirituality is an umbrella term, but of late its meaning has become cloudy. In truth, it has become so conflated with religion that people have started to use the two terms as synonyms for each other. If you follow a certain religion, those beliefs form a very strong part of your spirituality. In its purest form spirituality is how people make sense of the universe and all other non-dimensional aspects of existence. Really, all this is, is a fancy way of saying spirituality is a way for us to determine our purpose in life and how we derive meaning from it.

WHERE SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION MEET

Purpose is where spirituality and religion meet. Most religions provide its followers with a blueprint of purpose by promoting a way of life that augments human existence through the principles of love, kindness and faith. Is it not ironic then that humans go to war with one another over religion when their deities almost always condemn murder? This is where the discussion normally gets heated, but I would like to divert your attention back to your purpose and meaning.

Where do you fit in?

During this time of social isolation and crisis, what is your purpose? What meaning are you deriving from this experience? If your sole purpose is only to survive and this ordeal holds no meaning to you then I fear you are missing a huge opportunity. An opportunity for spiritual awakening. Now is the perfect time to reflect on your place in humanity? Your presence here and now is but a wink in time in this universe. How are you going to make it matter? We are not talking revolutionary ideas here, we are talking concrete practical goals.

Think about it. I cannot tell you your purpose and therefore I cannot predict what meaning will be to you. A spiritual journey is a private one, but I urge you to take it. If you have been avoiding religion perhaps now is the time to reach out to spiritual leaders. Start a conversation with as many of them as you like. Start a conversation here. You never know who the universe brings across your path.

God sent a cleaner

There is a WhatsApp clip doing the rounds of a man who was close to dying from COVID19 and he says, “When no one else could get in, God sent a cleaner”. Having that spiritual moment gave him the strength to fight and he has recovered.  This is not about him being Christian, it is about the strength he derives from his spirituality. It is about the strength of that cleaner’s spirituality and the wonderful uplifting consequences it had on a man who thought he was all alone. It begs the question, doesn’t it? Are we ever truly alone?

Going beyond religion to Spirituality

If religion is an unfathomable concept to you, or even if you are deeply religious, use this time to do your research and explore other avenues of spirituality. We are small in relation to the universe and time, but we do not need to be small of mind.

Spirituality in the hundred Acre woods

As I said, you need to explore this strength on your own, but I will share with you this analogy from Winnie the Pooh. As I explain in my introduction of Winnie the Pooh, the Forest represents a place of safety. A place all readers can escape to, but also a place where these beloved characters exist free of the ugly realities of the adult world. The Forest can indeed be seen as a metaphor for the universe.

‘… that enchanted place … a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.’ (Milne, 2007, A House at Pooh Corner. p. 176) ‘… the Forest will always be there … and anybody who is friendly with bears can find it’ (Milne, 2007, p. i).

I hope you can find your forest.

Before I Go

Speaking of forests and finding purpose I hope that you are taking the time to work on your virtue of transcendence activity and learning more about yourself. With that in mind, I thought this might offer you some inspiration. It is a poem, Bäume, by the German poet Herman Hesse. Do not worry, the link is to an English translation. If you prefer to read it in the original German, please go HERE.

Until we meet again… TTFN

P.S. In the picture is Lesley B practicing yoga, another expression of spirituality.

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The virtue of Transcendence

Humour

“This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic”.

Terry Pratchett

Humour is hard to explain

Of all the existential strengths that form part of the virtue of transcendence, humour is the most complicated to explain. This is because what people find funny is so subjective. What I find funny might not be funny to you, then again, I have a warped sense of humour so that is not a great example. So, where do you and I go from here? Do we share some jokes and see where that leads us?

I must say, I am super game for that because it sounds enormously fun. However, the killjoy part of me knows that we could use our time better. Every party has a pooper, right? Anyway, I do hope you will share some of your favourite jokes in the comment section.

laughing is good for you

Jokes or rather comedy, in general, is a matter of personal taste, but its effect is not. The cliché laughter is the best medicine is exactly why humour is a strength.

As research explains, humour is the ability to make people smile, or see the upside of an unfortunate situation, but that is not what makes it a strength. The act of laughing has several physical beneficial consequences on the body and the brain such as boosting our immunity and increasing blood flow. That is the biology behind it, but it also causes relaxation by releasing muscle tension. The psychological effect is far more interesting.

Humour is a coping strength

Being able to see the light side of a difficult situation makes the ordeal seem more manageable. Similarly, people with the ability to make people laugh are generally considered more likeable and trustworthy especially if they are prone to making jokes about themselves. This propensity to show vulnerability whilst causing people to laugh and relax is the most influential strength. At that moment when we laugh or we make people laugh, we take a temporary break from our anxiety and strain. Humour is one of the healthiest ways of escaping a situation when physical escape is impossible.

why Pooh is funny

This is what Milne did very successfully with Winnie the Pooh. It is so successful that nearly a century since its first publication these stories are still being read around the world.

In this instance it is not simply the mere act of reading these humorous little stories that provide a distraction to the reader, the characters themselves illustrate how humour can alleviate tense situations. They serve as examples of the strength of humour. Allow me to elaborate.

Kanga Queen of comedy

When Kanga and Roo first move into the forest, Rabbit has one of those, “there goes the neighbourhood” problems, and thus tries to get rid of them. Please, do not judge Rabbit too harshly. Anyone who has ever sat near the play area of a restaurant will tell you that small children do not make for peace and tranquillity. Rabbit plans to prank Kanga by replacing Roo with Piglet for a short while and thus convince Kanga to move. I realise this sounds uncomfortably a lot like kidnapping, but that is because I am explaining it out of context. It is meant to be a prank.

Still, I will admit Rabbit is exceptionally lucky that Kanga is not me because I would probably have slaughtered him and put him in paella. Kanga, on the other hand, practises the strength of humour and by teasing Piglet unravels the entire plot. Roo, for his part, with his playfulness, delights and entertains Rabbit and the two become best friends.

defuse the situation with humour

When the world was still wrapping its head around the coronavirus, many jokes were being circulated about the virus. It was humanities way of turning their fear into a manageable emotion.   When the news about the virus starting becoming so sad that jokes about it became super inappropriate, people started to disseminate jokes about social isolation and quarantine. This is not because people find it a laughing matter, but rather because by humorously sharing their woes they feel less alone and the situation becomes more manageable again. For that split second, we have a break from the difficulties we are facing together.

what are you laughing at?

Have you noticed how contagious humour is? Look at your phone for a bit. Check to see how many humorous COVID19 and isolation related memes, gifs, and clips have you received or forwarded since the first case of the virus hit our borders? Compare it to a few months ago? Have you noticed how the topic gradually changed from the disease to the matter of quarantine? To those parents out there, how many of you have been receiving and forwarding homeschooling jokes? Would you have laughed at homeschooling jokes the same way a few months ago?

universally funny

That is something to be proudly South African about, we are very good and pulling together during a crisis and using humour to keep one another strong. However, humour is universal and it is a coping mechanism that is being used around the world. Their content might just differ slightly from yours. That is what makes humour is a strength. So keep it up. Use it. Practice it. Moreover, if all else fails, remember this…

Sharks swim in saltwater because pepper water would make them sneeze.”

TTFN

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The virtue of Transcendence

Hope

“The beginning is always today”

Mary Shelley

How do you see hope?

What does the word hope mean to you? How would it look if you had to draw it? To me it looks like a balloon. It is not the most eloquent image or environmentally friendly, but that is what I think of when I think of hope. You blow the balloon up before the birthday, or before the celebration even begins. That balloon is your belief that the party will be fun and beautiful.

What does the research say?

Research explains hope as the emotionally positive outlook and expectation about the future. I think that is a very boring way of describing a very powerful word. If we did not have hope, nothing would ever be worth doing.

It is a Pooh thing.

I like the way Winnie the Pooh explains it. That inexplicable feeling in the pit of your stomach, not quite excitement, not quite anticipation, something more prevailing – hope.

‘What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?’ ‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘what I like best –‘and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to (eat) it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. (Milne, 2007, The House at Pooh Corner. pp. 168–169)

What does hope look like?

No one starts a healthy eating plan, because they have a sudden urge to experience life as a hamster. If that were the case, they could continue eating doughnuts and sweets and simply sleep on shredded newspaper and run on a wheel. No!  A person starts a healthy eating plan with the ambition that it will lead to a healthier lifestyle. It is that positive expectation of the future that helps them to say no to zoo biscuits with their coffee. Do you know how hard it is to say no to those colourful delectable treats? Hope is a powerful strength.

The CORONA VIRUS

As adults we can often be guilty of neglecting hope, but even worse, killing the feeling in others. This Corona virus epidemic has been such a sad example of this. The media has been promoting fear to increase ratings. Using sensational headings and terrifying statistics. There are people who have taken pleasure in sending out messages that promote fear, even going so far as to make up fake news. What does this do to the person receiving all this information? Yes it frightens them, but what it is really doing is slowly diminishing their hope.

How dare we as human beings rob each other of such a powerful force as hope? Without hope there is no point in being in quarantine, without hope there is no point is practicing good hygiene, because without hope this virus will destroy us all and there will be nothing left. Is this a future you want for yourself or your family? Of course not. So do not be one of those people who disseminates this fear onto other people.

share what is useful

Share information about how to protect yourself from the virus. That encourages hope. Share the stories of survivors. Join prayer groups and encourage others to do the same. Reach out to someone who is suffering. Your support in whatever shape it takes will bolster their feelings about the future. Is that not the most power you have ever had in your hands? Forget money or promotions, the ability to spread hope, now that is being a real influencer. Best part, the more you campaign for hope, the more hopeful you will become too. Try it. See where this strength takes you. I bet it will be the best trip you have ever been on and you do not have to set foot outside your house.

final thought

While others are getting their neighbours arrested, I trust that you will be embracing hope, in your home, but also sharing it with others.

Chat to you tomorrow, but for now, I HOPE my husband is making another batch of coffee and I think I will be saying no after all to those irresistible zoo biscuits.

TTFN

P.S. Check out the original picture at https://www.facebook.com/deefgphotography/

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The virtue of Transcendence

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

Confucius

Our story

When our daughter was very small, I think she was three, we went to visit a farm where they kept horses. As small as she was, she just stood there staring at them for a long time. The horses walked up to her and stared right back. Eventually, she put her little hands together and said to the horses, “the goodness in me sees the goodness in you,” turned around and toddled off to go and play. The horses also turned away and walked back to their stables. I was left there standing awestruck.

It is inspiring to witness

I could not believe what I had just witnessed. I know the psychological term for it. It was a stirring appreciation of beauty. The emotional effect it had on me witnessing that interaction, however, was incommunicable. At best, I would describe it as overwhelming and humbling. As I sit here typing this blog right now, I still get cold shivers reliving the memory. It was then that I realised that to truly appreciate beauty or excellence, you need to see with your own childlike eyes. That is if you can retrieve them out of the murky cynical bag of ‘adultism’.

See Like a child does

It all circles back to a different type of gratitude, I guess. We take what is around us for granted in a way that young children do not. As adults, we need to travel to majestic places to marvel at spectacular views. Children marvel and shriek with pure delight and joy at the simple beauty life has to offer. It is this untainted appreciation of their surroundings that often make children more psychologically resilient than adults.

Is it not lucky then, that since we are not allowed to travel anywhere during this COVID19 isolation, that we are afforded the opportunity to dust off our recovered child eyes and put them to good use? If you are wondering in the back of your mind, what is this chick on about, let me give you a simple piece of homework.

Take the TRip

Pick something you love. It does not matter what. It could be a person, a favourite coat, an oriental rug, a pot plant, your pet, or maybe just your favourite pillow, if you are feeling that lazy. Look at it, but I mean really look at it. Try to describe what makes it so special to you. Is it the depth of colours, the textures, its smell, the silky feel of its leaves, the shape or the pattern of the weaves, or perhaps it is the soulfulness of your pet’s eyes?

Turn yourself into a poet or an artist, but try to see the true beauty of this prized possession of yours. Once you fully appreciate its significance, turn your attention to other items within your surroundings with that same level of intensity. Notice how beautiful your environment becomes. If you have a garden, go outside and appreciate the sight, the sounds, the smells – indulge all your senses. It takes you from being alive to living.

Go To your favourite animal

Today I do not want to bog you down with any further explanation of a concept that is better experienced than explained, I would prefer you to go and explore with your new eyes. I will just leave you with this extract from Winnie the Pooh, as I believe it explains this concept perfectly.

You can’t be in London for long without going to the Zoo. There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love and stay there.

(A.A. Milne, 2006, Winnie the Pooh. pp. i–ii).

TTFN

P.S. Picture is of my photographer friend, Dee, appreciating the splendor of the quiet before the storm.

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The virtue of Transcendence

Gratitude

 “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Melody Beattie

A dedication

My blog posting today is a tribute to my sister Marisa, who passed away Saturday night. In her much too short life, she has given us a lifetime of beautiful memories to be grateful for. Few people in this world are truly unique. My sister was. Her effervescent enthusiasm is what I cling to in this darkness and for that I am grateful. Rest now my Angel, we will laugh again in our dreams.

Why is gratitude Hard?

In the spirit of full transparency let me just say that I have had a bad attitude about this whole lockdown situation. Not because I disagree or agree with the president. It is, for one, that the thought of keeping my children and dogs occupied without the beach, park or dog park for three weeks sounds like an insurmountable task.  I am working on a novel and it is draining my creative energy as it is. Now I need to come up with inventive ways to keep the children entertained?!?!?!

My son is 21 months old and his idea of keeping busy is finding pioneering ways to put himself in danger. We are talking about literally sticking fingers into plugs (before some of you send me an array of abusive comments – we have plug protectors exactly for this reason, but he still pulls them out). So yes, my initial reaction was not overly enthusiastic.

I was being ungrateful.

Gratitude is not a buzz word

If you think my intro is about setting up a sermon on how grateful we should all be for all we have, it is not. You do not need to pack your bags just yet; we are not going on any guilt trips today. We have loads to be grateful for and I know you are without me having to remind you. However, I also know that you have struggles that no one else knows about. Struggles that are more than likely going to be even more challenging during this time of isolation.

Where does gratitude come from?

For me, the loss of my morning routine of going to aqua aerobics has been very difficult to accept. It sounds petty, but to me, the exercise in water was a good way of treating my chronic pain and keeping my depression at bay. I also benefited from the social interaction I got out of it. I like to be around people. Thus, I have been putting in a lot of energy phoning and face timing friends and family.  This is what I am most grateful for, having people I can communicate with and people who do not disparage how I am experiencing things.

I belong to a parents’ group that not only shares wonderful creative ideas for entertaining the kids but also sharing funny stories on how difficult it is. No one is judging anyone on this group and no one is trying to show off how amazing they are. Most of these moms have reason to brag. They are Pinterest material. I am grateful that no one is rubbing their brilliance into anyone’s face.

DO NOT GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS

This is what I would like to ask you to do every evening before bed. Do it for the next three weeks and even longer if you can keep it up. Think of one thing at the end of the day that you were grateful for. Genuinely grateful for. “That I have food in my fridge”, is legitimately something to be grateful for, but it sounds a little insincere. “I am grateful that I have mangoes in the fridge, which I am looking forward to slicing for breakfast tomorrow. The yellow colour and its deliciousness is going to be such a bright start to my family’s day”. That is meaningful, because you are acknowledging why that food matters to you.

Gratitude for the people we love

What or who are you grateful for? Be specific. Fully appreciate what this person or object represents to you. How it has been essential to you getting through the day. It does not have to be elaborate or philosophical, but it must be genuinely meaningful. Your gratitude is what is going to make the difference between coping with this isolation versus not coping. If you are going through terrible hardship, I am deeply sorry. Events in this world are beyond comprehension. Finding something to be grateful for, is one way to slowly claw your way through the nightmare.

What gratitude looks like

Getting back to my Winnie the Pooh analogy, it is Eeyore’s birthday and everyone in the forest had forgotten. This was an unacceptable situation to Pooh and Piglet, so Piglet runs home to fetch Eeyore his prized red balloon. On the way back Piglet trips and pops the balloon. All that is left is a piece of floppy red rubber. Piglet is so upset, but Eeyore is so grateful for the gift. Eeyore says to Piglet that red is his favourite colour. Similarly, he also adds that since it has popped, it is now the perfect size for the empty jar of honey that Pooh gave him. The scene ends with him happily putting his popped balloon in and out of the jar.

What has been your popped balloon moment today? Ponder on it and express your gratitude. Show gratitude through meditation, prayer, journaling or a quick phone call of thanks.

TTFN