May 27, 2021

1:00 p.m. on the South Lawn of First United Methodist Church of Loveland, 533 N Grant Avenue, Loveland. Bring your chair.  In case of rain: under the pavilion at the Loveland Fairgrounds, 700 South Railroad Avenue.   Call or text Clay Carter for further information: (970) 616-9686.

Telling My Name

In one of Agatha Christie’s novels, Miss Marple, a senior-citizen amateur sleuth, was surprised and puzzled at how distressed she was at the death of an aunt.  She finally realized the reason: “She was the last person who remembered me as a child.” 

The older we get, the more likely it is that we have been gradually separated from people who knew us in early stages of life. If we have children, they remember us when we were much younger, but does that parenting role encompass our full identity as we see ourselves? Have our children come to know who we are since they are no longer children and we are no longer parenting small children?  We may find new friends in new locations and new friends as we stack up stages of life, but we may feel that the understanding that comes with shared history cannot be duplicated. We may develop a feeling of being out of touch with important elements of our heritage, elements that are vital to our sense of identity and worth.  We may think that our new friends can never see the full picture of who we are, no matter how many old photos we show them and how many stories we tell.

In ancient times and many cultures, a person’s name indicated the person’s true character.  That’s why in some cultures permanent names were given only after a person’s character could be discerned accurately enough to have the name that fit the person. 

This is why in some cultures a person’s true name was kept secret, for anyone who knew your name had power over you.  That is, they knew your true nature.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
         and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
                                             Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo

The yearning to be around people who have known us a long time may actually be a desire to be known for our true selves. The reality is that we can become known, we can find new people who will accept our disclosures of our true selves. People who have come to know us as we mature may actually know us better than the friends of childhood; we are no longer who we were then. It is simply a matter of telling our truth.

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. Who knows me best?  Who knows my true name, my true self?
  2. Who listens to me?
  3. Are there people with whom I can be myself?
  4. What kinds of interactions make me feel that I am being known for real?
  5. What kinds of activities make me feel most myself?
  6. What part of my life would I like to be most prominent in the way people see me?
  7. What parts of my life and self am I proud of, but which most of the people around me don’t know about?
  8. How can I find people and activities that fit who I really am?
  9. What can I do that reveals my true self, my values, what I care about?
  10. Do I have new friends who know the real me?
  11. Who do I want to become?  How is this self different?

May 13, 2021

Older, Wiser, Happier Support Group Meeting

1:00 P.M. Mountain Time

2nd & 4th Thursdays, South Lawn of First United Methodist Church of Loveland

533 North Grant Avenue, Loveland, CO

Incremental Wisdom

Seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you. (Jesus, The Bible, Matthew 7:7)

Everything builds. Increment upon increment. There’s no proof in mathematics that can’t be broken down into steps basic enough for a child of reasoning age to follow. The trick is accumulating the steps, each one so trivial that it can be comprehended by the crippled thing we call the mind. Concentration, if you will. This is all we have. Desire creates the concentration. (Canin, Ethan. A Doubter’s Almanac, Random House Publishing Group, pg. 499)

Truth can sometimes be vague.  It is like watching dancers from a distance too great to hear the music, yet seeing their joyous synchronicity, knowing that something must be binding them together and energizing them.  The full experience comes after the journey forward.

The highly unconstrained travel between points of view is hard work and can be risky.  Not just because it can take you off well-worn established paths, but because it provokes questions that one is not invited to ask.  Such questions make everyone uncomfortable, not least because they don’t easily lend themselves to prepared answers.  But in the intersections between proclaimed certainties, real insight can be gleaned.  (Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness, Walker & Company, pg. 209)

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. What important understanding have you gained since you were sixty years old?
  2. What institutional certainties have you gradually questioned?
  3. When has accepted wisdom of an organization/company/culture/neighborhood seemed flawed?
  4. What kind of resistance have you experienced when your thinking hasn’t matched accepted wisdom?
  5. What have you done to extend your knowledge about an issue or question?
  6. Who has encouraged you to think outside the boundaries of accepted wisdom?
  7. In what ways are you wiser now than you were several years ago?

April 29, 2021

Some Benefits of Reading

  1. Mental Stimulation

Studies have shown that staying mentally stimulated can help keep your brain active and engaged.  This prevents it from losing power.

Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain requires exercise to keep it strong and healthy, so the phrase “use it or lose it” is particularly apt when it comes to your mind.

Plot complexity, unexpected character development, and unfamiliar fields of expertise force us to stretch our attention and grapple with new concepts.

  • Stress Reduction

No matter how much stress you have at work, in your personal relationships, or countless other issues faced in daily life, it all just slips away when you lose yourself in a great story. A well-written novel can transport you to other realms, letting tensions drain away and allowing you to relax.

  • Increased Empathy

A skillful author can develop characters in such a way that we identify with them emotionally.  This may expand our appreciation and understanding of people who are different from those we would encounter in our own lives.

  • Increased Knowledge

Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information.  Sometimes within a story there are insights that have lasting effect on your perceptions of people and situations.

  • Vocabulary Expansion

New words and new ways of expression make their way into your everyday vocabulary. An author’s creative use of language can expand your ability to see subtleties of understanding.

Being articulate is of great help in any life situation, and knowing that you can communicate effectively affects your self-confidence in many situations.

  • Memory Improvement

When you read a book, you have to remember an assortment of characters, their backgrounds, ambitions, history, and nuances, as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story. Every new memory you create forges new synapses and neural pathways and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory recall as well as stabilizing moods.

  • Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills

Have you ever read a good mystery novel, and solved the mystery yourself before finishing the book? If so, you were able to put critical and analytical thinking to work by taking note of all the details provided and sorting them out to determine the likely path of the story.

That same ability to analyze details also comes in handy when it comes to critiquing the plot; determining whether it was a well-written piece, if the characters were properly developed, if the storyline ran smoothly, etc.

Should you ever have an opportunity to discuss the book with others, you’ll be able to state your opinions clearly, as you’ve taken the time to really consider all the aspects involved.

  • Improved Focus and Concentration

The complexity of modern life tends to fragment our time and attention.  We are frequently expected to do several things at once. Even a simple phone call can require us to access multiple types of information.

The average person will divide time between working on a task, checking email, chatting with a couple of people (via phone, text, facetime, etc.), listening for beeps and signals from the smartphone, and keeping an eye and ear on the television. This type of behavior causes stress levels to rise and lowers our productivity.

When you read a book, all of your attention is focused on the story—the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing.

Thoughts Starters for Sharing

  1. What mood or mindset does the book create for you?
  2. What do you like about the author’s “voice”?
  3. After effects of a reading session with the author?
  4. Have you learned anything? If so, what?

April 22, 2021

Friendship’s Particularity

Thoughts and quotes from the book by Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore, Aging Thoughtfully, Oxford University Press. 2017.

Friendship matters for aging. As it does, we need to ponder the whole texture of a real friendship.

A key aspect of both friendship and aging: the nuanced sensitivity to the particular friendship. Some of its good ideas are the importance of goodwill for enduring friendship; the value of intimacy, and the relief of discovering that one can talk about things that one usually conceals from others; the way friends make life go better by sharing both joy and adversity; the way that friendship nourishes hope.

Its presence challenges, comforts, and enlivens. Its absence makes daily life seem barren and poor. The death or decline of friends is a major source of late-life depression.

Virtue is generous, and does not shrink from caring for another’s pain on account of the difficulty it may bring.

True friendship is richer and more abundant and does not narrowly scan the reckoning lest it pay out more than it has received.

In a friendship, you confront your differences with a focus on important values that you do share. You share honesty, integrity, conscientiousness, and, above all, love. And you also display the leavening effect of shared tastes and interests.

There is an intimate play of difference and similarity, which becomes in the end a delighted complementarity, with vulnerability on both sides. As people age, this sort of play, which requires awareness of difference, becomes even more precious. Especially when people are well known, they become fixed in the world’s mind as who they seem to be. There is a large wooden figure out there, and the real, vulnerable, often conflicted and frightened, self goes unseen and uncared for. Here, then, is the underlying cement of the friendship, from early days: a complex blend of similarity and difference.

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. Is making friends a different enterprise as we age?
  2. How do important friends differ in what they provide you?
  3. What important friends have been quite different from you in significant ways?
  4. What important friends have been similar to you in significant ways?
  5. Do real friends offer support, tell you when you are wrong, or simply offer companionship?
  6. What are some friendships that you need to replace because of loss?

April 8, 2021

Continual Creativity

The creative state of mind is one whose interest in what is being done is wholehearted and total, like that of a young child. With this spirit, a person is always open to learning what is new, to perceiving new differences and new similarities, leading to new orders and structures, rather than always tending to impose familiar orders and structures in the field of what is seen. (Physicist David Bohm)

Creativity can be defined as coming up with something that’s new and of value.

“Of value” can mean the value of Truth, or of Beauty, or of Usefulness. Creativity’s value can be manifested in works of art, in new insights, in problem-solving in any endeavor, or in the spontaneous play of human interactions.

Creativity is new ways of perceiving, new ways of understanding, new ways of putting things together, new ways of relating, new ways of responding to circumstances, new ways of investing oneself, new ways of interacting with the world.

The habitual is a strategy for staying alive; creativity is a strategy for feeling alive.

The habitual plays to avoid defeat; creativity is a way of playing to win.

The habitual finds comfort in the familiar; creativity finds excitement in the unexpected.

The habitual lessens stress by predictability; creativity expands awareness through newness.

(Thoughts from writer Andy, good friend of Jack Gill)

Thought-Starters for Sharing

  1. How does defining creativity as newness alter your view of yourself?
  2. How has newness/creativity been a long-term positive aspect of your life?
  3. How has newness/creativity been a positive part of life recently?
  4. What kind of mental or emotional effect does being creative have on you?
  5. What habitual way of being, thinking, behaving has prevented your experience of newness/creativity?
  6. What people have influenced you toward being creative and risking newness?

March 25, 2021

Perception of Presence

     Skillful authors can, in a relatively brief space, convey a character’s effect on others.  Here are examples.

       Detective Chief Inspector John Crow left the train. The ticket agent flickered an interested glance at Crow as he passed through the barrier. Crow wore no hat and his domed skull drew the man’s attention; his deep-set eyes and curved, jutting nose held the man’s curiosity; and Crow had no doubt that as he walked away across the echoing hallway his height and general scrawniness would retain the man’s interest until he had vanished from sight.        

       “There’s one thing, John,” his wife Martha sometimes said, “people don’t forget you easily.”

       She meant he was often remembered for his kindness to old folk in the area where they lived, and for the quiet warmth of his personality, but he was not blind to the effect his physical appearance could have on those he faced for the first time. (Roy Lewis, Murder for Money, 1973)

     Thomas Stone had a reputation at Missing Hospital for being outwardly quiet but intense and even mysterious, though Dr. Ghosh, the hospital’s internal medicine specialist and jack-of-all-trades, disputed that last label, saying, “When a man is a mystery to himself you can hardly call him mysterious.” His associates had learned not to read too much into Stone’s demeanor, which a stranger might think was surly when in fact he was painfully shy. Lost and clumsy outside it, inside Operating Theater 3 he was focused and fluid, as if it was only in the theater that body and soul came together, and where the activity within his head matched the terrain outside. As a surgeon, Stone was famous for his speed, his courage, his daring, his boldness, his inventiveness, the economy of his movements, and his calmness under duress. (Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone, 2009)

      The literary examples show that a person’s presence is composed of some elements that are external and some that are internal.  There is interplay between the two, so that sometimes the internal and the external reinforce the other, and sometimes they seem to be in contradiction. 

     The presence is not fully realized until it interacts with another person, whose own strands of experiences and perceptions create effects that vary with each audience.

     In the routine flow of life we often underestimate how much we are affected by the presence of people who cross our paths. They affect our moods, shape our decisions, fashion the themes that we follow.

     Generosity, kindness, empathy, accessibility, calm, optimism, enthusiasm are all aspects of positive energy. Some people seem to access it naturally, while others must work harder to cultivate a positive outlook on life. 

 Negative energy is simply verbal and non-verbal signs that you are not in a good mood, pessimistic, and doubtful. (Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. clinical psychologist) 

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.   (Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)
    

  1. When did you first notice that just being around a particular person affected the way you felt?
  2. Whose presence made you feel uneasy or awkward?
  3. What was there in appearance, behavior, demeanor that was off-putting?
  4. Who had a presence that made you feel good?
  5. What did they do or say that made you feel good?
  6. What aspects of other people have the most effect on you?
  7. What feedback have you received about your effect on others?
  8. Did you trust it the refection that was given?
  9. Did it match you self-perception?
  10. How can sharing your presence be important?

March 11, 2021

Sight that Might Improve with Age

When we are willfully blind, it is in the presence of information that we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know…Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values.  And what’s more frightening is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty.  We think we see more – even as the landscape shrinks. (Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness, 2011)

Our default neural setting is tradition and habit.  Our more adaptive responses probably lie in breaks from tradition and habit.  Getting into that adaptive response requires new information, cultural clues, psychological flexibility, and deliberation.  We must be open to change. We need to be willing to break habits – either habits of action or barely conscious habits of thought.  Uncertainty can cure us of habit. (Stephen S. Hall, WISDOM: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, 2010)

Older adults are more socially astute than younger people when it comes to sizing up an emotionally conflicted situation.  They are better able to make decisions that preserve an interpersonal relationship.  They are more able to behave in a more emotionally evenhanded manner than are young people.  As we grow older, we grow more emotionally supple – we are able to adjust to a changing situation on the basis of our emotional intelligence and prior experience, and therefore make better decisions on average than do young people.  Older people are, in short, more effective problem solvers, in a way that very much aligns with psychological notions of wisdom. (Fredda Blanchard-Fields, social psychologist at Georgia Institute of Technology)

Wisdom can serve as a guide to helping us make the best possible decisions at junctures of great importance.  With an added awareness of mortality, it can get us to slow down long enough to think about actions and consequences.  It can help us frame problems in a different way, allowing us to see differently. (Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness, 2011)

What is real wisdom? It comes from life experience, well-digested.  It’s not what comes from reading great books.  When it comes to understanding life, experiential learning is the only worthwhile kind; everything else is hearsay. (Joan Erikson, at age 87)

  1. What have you become aware of that you didn’t know earlier in your life?
  2. What uncomfortable truth have you finally admitted?
  3. What significant event caused you to see many things differently?
  4. What person(s) have you allowed to disturb your familiar assumptions?
  5. What life events have been learning experiences?
  6. What have you learned that people in general resist knowing?
  7. What have you learned that has given you more peace of mind?
  8. What aspect of aging has made you more willing to be more honest about reality?

February 25, 2021

Self-Actualization

     American psychologist Abraham Maslow contended that people have basic needs that must be met in order to have full satisfaction in living. Among them was what he called self-actualization. Even if all the other needs are satisfied, a new discontent and restlessness may eventually develop if we are not doing what we are intrinsically suited for.

     People tend to agree that musicians must make music, artists must paint, and poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. However, the pull toward completion is within all of us.  We are all pulled to satisfy our true nature.

     This level of maturity is often thought of as a distant goal.  However, self-actualization is going on all the time throughout one’s personal history.  In each person’s life, there are moments of higher functioning that show the person at the healthiest and best.  The person has a kind of spurt in which he or she is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more clearly expressive, and less dependent on lower needs.

     Such episodes or spurts can come at any time in life to any person. What distinguishes self-actualizing people is that the moments of heightened awareness and functioning come more frequently and last longer than for people in general.  Thus, self-actualization is a matter of degree and frequency rather than a permanent state. The goal is to make these moments less fleeting and to expand them so that life gradually becomes more consistent with the higher stage of self-actualization.(Abraham H. Maslow, (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature)

Questions for Sharing

  1. When was a time when you had a special sense of insight or understanding?
  2. When was a time that you showed unusual creativity?
  3. When was a time when you felt especially connected to people who were not in your usual circle of acquaintances?
  4. When was a time when you felt intense compassion?
  5. When was a time when you had clear insight into solving a difficult problem?
  6. When was a time when you felt at peace with yourself?
  7. When was a time when you chose to follow your instincts rather than complying with what most people were doing and thinking?
  8. When was a time when you felt a strong sense of moral imperative that was not being followed by most people you knew?
  9. When was a time when you felt at peace with the world?

February 8, 2021

Who Am I?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Apostle Paul, Bible, Romans 7:15,19)

George Gurdjieff (1877-1949):   A person has no permanent and unchangeable I.  Every thought every mood, every desire, every sensation says “I.”  And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the whole person, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole.  In fact, a person’s every thought and desire appears quite separately and independently of the Whole.  A person has no individual I.  But there are, instead, hundreds of separate small I’s.  Each person is a plurality. Each person’s name is legion.

Charles Tart, States of Consciousness:   Ordinary consciousness may actually consist of a large number of identity states. All share some common traits, such as using the same language, wearing the same clothes, responding to the same name, occupying the same body. 

Different identities define who people are in terms of the groups or categories to which they belong (social identities), the roles they occupy (role identities), and the personal characteristics they claim (person identities).

For example, an individual’s social identity as an American or an Australian is what it means to him or her to be an American or an Australian.

An individual’s role identity as a truck driver or a student is what it means to that individual to be a truck driver or a student.

An individual’s personal identity as a dominant person or a moral person is what it means to that individual to be dominant or moral.

The more important a role/identity is to a person, the more it is likely to provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

  1. What roles/identities have I liked best in my life (e.g., sibling, child, parent, employee, supervisor, professional, etc.)?
  2. Which roles/identities fit my personality?
  3. Which roles/identities have garnered greatest respect?
  4. Which roles/identities fit awkwardly?
  5. Which roles/identities was I glad to discard?
  6. What roles/identities do I have at this stage of life?
  7. What am I good at now? Better at than other people my age?
  8. What is winning in this stage of life? What makes me feel good about myself?

January 28, 2021

Traits of Belonging

     The term “community” is used to refer to many kinds of connections, from shared ethnic origin to geographical proximity.  Let us look more specifically at the feelings and behaviors that demonstrate unity of people in a group.  Unity exists when certain conditions exist between people.

  • Identify with each other as members of a group.

     Groups use a variety of ways to signal belonging: rituals, behavior, patterns of interacting, clothing, body appearance, habits. Compliance with the external signs can be important in maintaining membership.

     A sense of belonging can be based on a shared ethnic or cultural heritage.  It can occur when we believe that we share a similar plight or significant experi­ences. 

     Understanding and empathy grow out of common experiences.  We find our own feeling of well-being linked to what is happening to other members of our group.  There is a mutual sense of we-ness.  The longer the in-group is together, the more experiences we accumulate to reinforce our sense of belonging. 

  • Show special concern toward one another.

     Genuine belonging requires that we have willingness to come to the aid of others in the group.  This kind of concern is beyond doing our moral duty; it is acting because of our sense of we-ness.  We may do what is morally or ethically required for those who are outside our group, but by choice we go much further than is required with the in-group.

  • Jointly committed to cer­tain values or goals.

     Shared values may be ideals, such as the equal worth of each person, or the inherent right to be treated with dignity.  The common values may be rituals or practices that bind us together in familiar behaviors.  They may be contained in a body of knowledge that we trust as the accurate story of truth.

  • Loyal to the group and its ideals.

     Belonging requires group loyalty.  We are the in-group and the rest are part of the out-group.  This sometimes creates tension, even controversy.  People of good will may like to think that creating in-groups is unnecessary. However, communities are defined by characteristics that cannot be shared by everyone, even if all people were willing.  Divisions are inevitable.  Loyalty to our own group is part of what includes us in the community.

  • Trust each other.

     In belonging, we feel that the others will not let us down.  We believe that others will stand with us in being faithful to our shared values, and they will not exploit or cheat us.  We believe that when we turn to them, they will be there for us in the same measure that we are there for them.

Thought-Starter Questions for Sharing

  1. To whom do you belong?
  2. What traits are strongest in your belonging connections?
  3. What traits are weakest in your belonging connections?
  4. Where else could you belong if you chose?
  5. What traits seem more difficult than you are willing to do?
  6. How does aging affect your sense of belonging?