Monday, August 31, 2009

Ageing, the Passage of Time and Mortality

"...but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."
Benjamin Franklin

I don't think/ feel/ see/ judge that thinking about death is morbid. I read/ heard/ saw somewhere that it's our attitude to death that shapes our attitude to life. I've had three things happen to me recently that have brought this on...

First, I went out for dinner with an old university friend
She's lived out of the country pretty much since we graduated...TEN years ago. It's kinda hard to believe it's been that long...but it has. Whenever she's in the country it's usually a time when a lot of us will get together. I think the last time we saw her was around the time we got married.

Anyway, dinner was with two of her old friends. But seeing her was a chance for old memories to come back of university and being young and innocent. One of her old friends remembered me talking animatedly (and at length) about my first girlfriend. She also said that I looked the same...despite the passage of time, I had not aged.

Or perhaps I've just aged gracefully.

As well as getting all nostalgic, I realised the topics of conversation moved on. Putting the world to rights as a teen-aged student was one thing. Putting it to rights as someone in their thirties is a different thing. The differences in the conversation struck me as an indication of just how much we had 'grown up'. Here we were talking about the price of houses and weddings not alcohol and relationships.

It made me reflective - have I done everything I expected to do by the time I was this age? Is this how I wanted/ planned/ hoped my life would be? Old friends, friends we meet during formative periods or friends we don't see very often, seem to have this kind of effect on me. I do comparisons in my head. I see the past and look into the future.

I notice my ageing and the passage of time.

Second, I helped my Grandad
He's ninety years old now. He lives on his own and takes care of himself (mostly). The thing is, I've helped him out when I can (taking my cue from more senior members of my family) but it's in getting things done that I've witnessed how much he's aged. I mean there's no avoiding the fact of his age but I've seen him change through my life. When he turned eighty (when I was 22) most people who met him for the first time thought he was twenty years younger.

Helping him at the doctor's, get his glasses fitted, and then taking him to lunch made me wonder what it's like for him. What goes through his head? What's it like being that old? Is it just memories and feelings? What brought it home for me were the memories I have from when I was young: he treated us to a lunch at Wimpey's (whatever we wanted); he joked with the waiters about wanting a G+T and he drove us there (in a car without seat belts in the back seats - not required by law in those days!)

Now it was our turn: we drove him around, and we treated him to lunch. It made me think: what will I be like with my grandchildren? What will I be like when (if) I'm that old?

He still joked with people about wanting a G+T though...

Seeing how much he has changed over the past decade; how much he is not the man he was - it's a sobering thought. It reminded me of my own mortality.

We are on this earth for a limited time.

Third, I went out to an alternative/ metal night at a club last Thursday
It's Monday today right? Well only today do I feel that my neck and shoulders have recovered sufficiently...

I went out to a club night I'd heard about a while ago, but never to got to experience. The last time we turned up, it was a special one of 'fetish' we never got in. Not this time! I checked the website and found it's a 'members only' club. We'd need photo id on the night to join. So we dutifully turned up with id...and had our photos taken, id scanned and fingerprints electronically recorded! Wow...what's happening to clubs nowadays?

My neck taking ages to recover used to be a sign of me having a good night. Anyone who knows me understands my love of music and of dancing. But only a limited number of people have seen me really enjoy myself to music that I really love. Dancing to heavier music is a skill and art form all its own - as well as a brilliant workout. Knee, ankle supports and sweat band are all necessary!

I wasn't disappointed by the musical selection...and spent almost every minute dancing. Metallica, System of a Down, Pantera, Machine Head, Slipknot, Faith No More, Korn, Prodigy, Pendulum, Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fear Factory, NIN, Marilyn Manson, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Guns'n'Roses...and so it went on...

Despite the fact we were amongst the older people in the club, I was complimented a few times on my dancing. I like to think I was showing the younger people how it SHOULD be done. Yeah I was showing off, but I know I have the moves and I can pull it off...but it really is an expression of the exuberance I feel when I hear the music. Even in a hot sweaty club, I get goose-pimples when I hear particular songs (e.g. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica).

It felt so good to let loose.

As I've got older and my social circles have changed, so my social life has changed. So the places I've been the music I hear changes. But I don't always feel it completely in my heart. I don't think I've ever been to a place that plays the eclectic mix I want to hear. I want to hear metal and disco and hip-hop and pop and hardcore and dance and soul and industrial all on one night.

Perhaps that's asking too much.

The night reminded me of being young, but I knew I was older. I carried myself completely differently to most of the people around me.

And they thought we were probably around their age...

By the time I woke up the next day, I knew what to expect. My ears rang, my lower back was aching slightly, and found it hard to turn my head. As I said - that's how I measured a good night when I was younger.

But - it's now thirteen years on. Like I said, it's Monday now, and I've only really just recovered. When I was nineteen I would be up the next day with the aching neck and back...but be pretty much ready to go again 48 hours later.

This time it's different. The first thought I'm left with is: I don't remember it taking this long for me to recover from a night out.

Then the next thought: I'm getting old. I'm ageing. Time is passing.

I can't be having nights like that regularly, but when I do I'm going to fucking enjoy them.

The nicest thing to realise is that I'm probably in better health and in better shape now than I was when I was nineteen. It's just that at thirty-two it takes a lot more maintenance...and longer to recover...

I suppose all this has made me feel just that little bit closer to death. Not that mine or anyone's death is going to be predictable - it could happen at any time - but I like to think that it will be of natural causes, and when I'm really old, having led a fulfilling life.

I'm not ready to go just yet...

...but if my number's up...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time Off In Contemplation

Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane. Philip K. Dick

It was July. I was barely two weeks into my Summer Holidays and I was doing the Sainsbury's shop when I saw three words in the shop. 'Back to School'. WHAT? How can this be? Is this real? I'm supposed to be on my summer holidays. WTF is this 'Back to School' already-shit?

I'm not sure why this happened - perhaps some effect of the credit-crunching-recessionary-depression we're living through where we're being told to spend. Don't you just love the summer holidays?

I guess for teachers it's a time of recovery, rest and to get those things done that just can't get done during school time (like dentist check-ups, eye-tests, taking the car for its MOT, all that mundane stuff).

I think that any summer holiday is a chance to spend time off in contemplation. Away from the routine it's a lot easier to take a step back and smell the roses. It's a time when the future can be talked about. Minds can wander without rhyme or reason in complete freedom to put the world to rights, and create lofty philosophical spaces and resolutions for making things happen.

Of course the change of pace and routine also makes it easier for the things that I (un)intentionally avoid thinking about to surface. The stuff I haven't done. The plans I made but didn't do anything about. The talk that was just all hot air. It's a time of laziness and sloth. Of staying in bed until the afternoon and eating ice-cream at the 'wrong' time.

Maybe that's just me.

What do we want as human beings? Spontaneity or routine? Constant or change? Creativity or predictability? Dreams or reality? The world around me seems to be in a whirl of it all at once being crammed down throats, shoved in faces, blasted into ears, and squashed up against bodies 24-7-365.

Philip K. Dick
might have been on to something.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Shaolin - A Year On

So I started this Shaolin Workout book last July sometime. It's been about a year now. Took me the best part of three months to work my way through the book and perfect the moves. The book encourages you to commit yourself to doing it every day, and I've managed to do it almost every day this year - I've missed only 20 days since January 1st.

Apart from the physical benefits, each exercise or group of exercise has a meditation that goes with it as you progress. I summarised them and put them in a document as a little reminder, but they make interesting reading.


Shaolin Workout Meditations

1) More chi! Train harder!
Tackle things head on. Relax your body and your mind, extend your body and your mind and train harder.

2) As I go through my day today, I ill remind myself to relax. Stay loose. Be flexible in my body and mind.
Your mind your heard and your body are inseparable. Kung fu is action meditation.

3) If I want to do it, nothing is difficult. If I don't want to do it, nothing is easy.
Nothing is easy or difficult in itself. You make it difficult or easy on yourself. The master opens the door; then the student must go through it on his or her own.

4) My heart is in harmony with my mind. My mind is in harmony with my chi. My chi is in harmony with my power.
You can't separate your heart from your mind, or your mind from your body. A relaxed mind in a relaxed body allows the chi to flow and releases your power.

5) Everyone is handsome. Everyone is beautiful.
Live positively, seriously, honestly, understanding and expressing 100 percent of your true beauty, every moment.

6) Dripping water bores a hole in the rock.
Your improvement may be so gradual you don't even notice, but don't give up. Be as patient as the rain.

7) Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!
Why limit your happiness to just those few special days of the year? Be that happy every day, every hour, every minute. Celebrate your beautiful life every day, whatever it brings.

8) Flatten your heart.
To flatten your heart means to not let those external forces yank you around and distract you from your goal of polishing an perfecting your life. Keep it simple.

9) My body is a gift from my parents and from Buddha. I was given it to use. I will not waste this precious gift.
Get up! Life is for living. Life is action. Life is exercise. We express ourselves through our actions.

10) Everyone has Buddha inside him or her.
There are as many paths to enlightenment as there are living beings. Love and respect each and every person, just as you love and respect yourself.
11) If I run away from my problems, they will only follow me and defeat me.
Stand and face your problems and challenges, whatever they are. Don't turn away from it. Don't think about it - just do it.

12) My life is a work of art, and I am the artist.
Living is an art form. You're polishing your body, polishing your mind, and polishing your life. What kind of artwork do you want to be? Create it!

13) Paradise is inside me.
Each of us has the power to create our own paradise. You make your own destiny. You create your own life. When you open your heart and mind to the world, the whole world opens up to you. You're living in harmony and balance, wherever you are. That's paradise.

14) Confidence is the key to success.
Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Face your day with the confidence that you can handle any task, solve any problem, and overcome any obstacle.

15) Life is sometimes bitter, sometimes spicy, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet. But it is always beautiful.
The beauty of life, that it is always changing, always moving. Learn to appreciate the change and richness that is life, in all its moods, all its flavours, all kinds of weather.

16) I can't love others if I don't love myself. I can't expect others to respect me if I don't respect myself.
In mastering your body and your mind, you will master your life. In respecting your body, you learn to respect yourself.

17) Beautiful birds always land on the top of the tree. Brilliant people always express their journeys up higher.
In your life you should be reaching for the top as well. Express yourself through your body. Express your beauty, inside and out. Live your whole day with the same level of dedication, focus, and energy you're putting into your Shaolin Workout.

18) You can't break bricks with just your mind or just your hand.
Physical, mental, and spiritual powers are one and inseparable, like the body and the head. You can break the bricks only when your body, mind, and spirit are in complete harmony.

19) Tiger head, snake tail.
We often start out with lots of energy, but we lose enthusiasm as we progress. Whatever task or project you're engaged in, don't make excuses for giving up along the way. What the going gets tough, train harder.
20) The person who has a little wants a lot. The person who has a lot wants even more.
True happiness comes from a life that is fulfilled, not just filled up with things. Happiness comes from spreading peace and love to the people around you. That's the warrior's way.
21) Every action can be a form of action meditation.
There are unlimited ways to meditate. You simply bring to each action the same focus and discipline you bring to your kung fu kicks and strikes. No moment in your life is trivial. Every moment is a gift.

22) Chi can be used positively or negatively.
Chi flows through the entire universe. Chi is an extremely powerful force, but it is neither positive nor negative in itself. We can put it to positive or negative use. Let positive chi flow and connect you to those around you, spreading peace and love, not anger or hurt.

23) Action becomes no-action. No-action becomes action.
Whatever helps you cleanse your mind and your heart is your way of meditating. The action is the philosophy and the philosophy is the action. Keep it simple. The simple way is the beautiful way. Create your own destiny, and your own way to express your beautiful life.

24) The true warrior uses the martial arts to spread peace and love.
The true value of learning kung fu is the calm, confidence, and respect you develop from being the master of your own body, mind and life. The real goal is to achieve harmony and balance in your life, and help others by your example to seek the same qualities.