It Helps to Know How Tiny We Are

Don’t forget there is a “question of the week” at the end. Thank you.

The Meaning of it All

There are individuals who refuse to consider the size of the universe because it terrifies them. In fact, my thoughts tend to navigate toward the extreme opposite. I am fascinated by the enormity of the universe and where I fit in. Let me start by sharing my belief:

The universe is a completely balanced entity and we are a small, but necessary part of what keeps it that way.

I am not a scientist. I don’t even have a scientific mind. However, I do believe in science. I see constant significant corrections and the impact on my life. How much of my theory about the universe is true? I am uncertain and I am okay with that. I believe that the universe is infinite, vast, and mysterious. I especially love the mysterious part.

The life and death cycle occurs throughout the universe: the stars, planets, galaxies, comets, etc., have a life cycle and it all seems to have a singular purpose and that is renewal. Our sun may not have a heartbeat, however, there is no denying that it had a beginning, a middle and it will have an end. The life of our sun serves a higher purpose for the entire universe, and I for one, am forever grateful. If you examine nearly every aspect of our universe, you will come to a similar conclusion: there is a reason for everything and everything has a purpose. So why would any of us not appreciate that we exist for a reason. Furthermore, why is it so important for us to figure out what that reason is? We are the universe and the universe is us; I can live with that. In fact, I am empowered by this truth.

I choose to go with the “renewal” explanation for my own life. Consider this my spiritual awakening. I am alive for a purpose I may never fully understand; however, I understand life has meaning. My life had a beginning, it has a middle, and it will eventually have an end. What is left of me when I am no longer breathing will also have a purpose; whether it be a memory, a lesson taught, a thought that lingered, dust particles, or to make someone smile, it doesn’t matter — what matters is how I choose to take advantage of life now. From where I’m sitting, life was a gift I was fortunate to receive; random or otherwise.

Where My Thoughts Go and How That Has Changed Over Time

At a certain point in your life you realize that you have lived more of your life than you have left to live. This realization can be quite sobering. If you sit with it for awhile, your thoughts will visit various places; some dark and some encouraging. You might ask what could be encouraging about knowing you have a limited amount of time left to live? Well, I’ll share my point of view:

First, it forces you to take stock of your life. If there are things that you long ago decided you wanted to do, well then, you ought to get to it. You must consider variables such as physical limitations, priorities, whether you want to do something alone or with others, and so on. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it forces you to consider what you need to do in order to make certain things happen. For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you’d better make sure you’re in the right shape to do it or that you can travel to said mountain. If one of your life dreams is to have a home on the beach, you may need to save a bit more or choose a different beach.

I recently had a revelation that helps me in sorting all this out. It occurred to me that if my life ended, I probably wouldn’t be regretting what I didn’t get done. Oh come on, it’s not morose, it’s realistic.

How Knowing What I Know Helps Me to Cope

I don’t want to sound preachy or too philosophical. I prefer when others share their personal story or history, rather than telling you on how to live your own life. After years of psychological therapy and a good deal of reflective thinking, I cope by being true to myself. Living for others or believing what others tell you to believe, robs you of your own life. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take advantage of that knowledge and go your own way — oops, a bit preachy. If this isn’t how you roll, toss my words aside and live whichever way you choose; just know that personal fulfillment is just that, personal.

What If I’m Wrong?

I don’t think much about alternative explanations for my own existence. ‘What if’ games are for worry warts and I tend to worry more about the people I love than myself. I figure that if I’m wrong and there is life after death, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised (shush). I strongly believe that all living beings possess a soul and it is our soul that makes us all unique. Most people tend to have their own truth; hopefully, that truth brings you comfort and guidance. And if you truly believe that I don’t spend a great deal of time worrying, I have some property in the Florida swampland to sell you.

Medically Assisted Death

When I resided in New York, I belonged to a “Dying With Dignity” group. Our purpose was to advocate for laws that would allow individuals to decide when it was time to end life. Physician-assisted suicide at the end of one’s life should be a human right. I am referring to an individual with a terminal illness, where there is little to no hope for future quality of life. I am not in favor of being hand or machine fed until my heart stops beating. I accept death as an imminent aspect of life. I truly believe that death can be as beautiful and as meaningful as birth. I don’t see New York changing the law anytime and I believe that is unfortunate.

In the News: The Portuguese parliament has approved a law authorising “medically assisted death” which would make the Catholic country the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia should the new law come into force.

Lawmakers approved the final wording for legislation allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill and gravely injured people.

It is expected to become law in the very near future.

Resources:

The Complete Life Cycle of the Universe. This piece has some excellent references; although scientific, it is easy enough to comprehend.

1: Artists conception of a star life cycle. It shows the life cycle of the star birth from Stellar Nebula to its death at White Dwaft/Neutron Star/Black Hole (courtesy: NASA).

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THE MEANING OF LIFE — An excerpt

From Great Issues in Philosophy, by James Fieser

Home: http://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/120

Copyright 2008, updated 1/1/2021

• Does life have a purpose?

• What kind of life is worth living?

• How can I overcome despair?

• How can I achieve happiness?

• Why do I exist?

• Why should I exist?

• Do my life activities have any lasting value?

Each of these questions focuses on a unique point. The first, for example, asks whether there is an over-arching design or goal to human existence that might clarify our place in the grand scheme of things. The second asks whether some approaches to life are better than others. All of the above questions, though, presume that something’s not right with life as we currently experience it, and we’d like a solution to the problem.

           Not everyone is plagued by questions of life’s meaning, and a good test for determining the grip that this has on you personally was suggested by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900). In ancient times, philosophers from many cultures around the globe entertained a concept called the eternal return. On this view, the universe that we live in now is just one in an endless series of universes that occurs one right after another, each being identical with the others, right down to the tiniest detail. With our present universe, there are fixed laws of nature that determine how it unfolds, including everything about my own personal existence, such as how tall I am, who I married, the job that I have, and every word I ever uttered. Someday this universe will be destroyed by cosmic forces, and from its ashes a new universe will be formed. It too will be shaped by exactly the same laws of nature, and thus all events will unfold in exactly the same way, including my own life. This cycle of universes will continue again and again, forever. Whether you believe the theory of the eternal return is not important. What Nietzsche asks, though, is how you would feel if it was true, and for eternity you would be reliving the exact same events in your life, over and over, in each successive universe. If you would be OK with that, then likely you are not especially bothered by problems of life’s meaning. You are happy with this life, and you would be content living the identical life over and over. However, if the notion of the eternal return sounds like a nightmare to you, then maybe you have serious issues with the meaning of life as you experience it right now.

           Philosophers are not the only ones interested in questions about life’s meaning. Psychological studies tell us that happiness declines in our 20s and returns around age 50. That’s a long period of personal struggle for each of us, and today’s self-help industry has jumped in to address our problems. While many of these involve specific concerns, such as relationship issues or alcohol dependence, others are more general in nature. A mid-life crisis or a “spiritual” crisis, for example, will often involve larger questions of purpose and fulfillment. Philosophical discussions of the meaning of life are not meant to compete with self-help therapies. The main appeal of philosophy’s contributions to this issue rests in the puzzle itself: here is a timeless problem that touches the core of human existence. What exactly is behind the problem and which, if any, of the standard solutions are plausible?

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Question of the Week:

What is your view of the life cycle?

May be an image of text that says 'FOR ALL, WHO MAY BE HAVING A BAD DAY.. It Can Always Be Worse.'

Córdoba, Spain

 

Friends were visiting from the States and it was their first trip to Europe. Over the past few months we have spoken about what we might do together during their time in Portugal. It probably would have been enough for them to stay local, however, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I wanted them to fall in love with my country and that meant seeing the country that borders Portugal to the east. We decided on two days in Sevilla (two hours by bus — see blog from 2019) and two days in Córdoba. Why Córdoba you might ask?

Not too long ago I made a decision that has proven to enhance my life and make for a better experience for my guests. Whenever friends or family visit me from the States (or anywhere for that matter), we go someplace I have never been. If I keep going back to the same towns and cities, I will resent my guests and be bored to death. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I love to visit over and over again:  for example Tavira, a town about 30 minutes away from where I live — a French bakery, La Baguette Artisan Boulanger Français, and a pottery shop, Aroma Ceramics. These two places alone make Tavira worth a visit. There are also several restaurants I never tire of. My guests are rarely disappointed; of course, that makes me happy.

So Michelle, John and I did some touring around Faro first. They arrived New Year’s Eve day. To my surprise, the long journey from New York to Faro did not stop them from wanting to explore and sample the food of Faro.  I cooked, certain that they’d want to remain home to rest. The idea of staying up to bring in the new year seemed out of the question. I was shocked to see that they were perky and eager to stay awake and enjoy their first New Year’s celebration in Europe.

They dragged me kicking and screaming to the Faro marina where a lively band played and a fireworks display did not disappoint. I was surprised to see a few thousand locals enjoying the night together.

 

 

Being the morning person that I am, I’m not sure how I managed to stay up for the count. I spent last New Year’s eve in Morocco with friends and I still can’t remember whether or not we brought in the new year together. I’ll have to call Patrick and Sue to ask them.

Back to Michelle and John . . . After a few days staying close to home, we headed for Spain. I won’t be blogging about Seville because I have been there several times and although I love the city, I do not have much to say this time. I will mention that it was colder there than I thought it would be (close to freezing at night) and that Airbnb Adventures offered a paella rooftop experience that was outstanding. We had a challenging time leaving our Airbnb to get to the rooftop location. Our key got stuck in the door and we had to figure out a way to leave the key in the door, leave the door open and escape through another opening. I’m not sure why these things happen to me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I bring them on myself. No matter, we got out safely, made it to our dinner on time, and dealt with the lock issue later in the evening. I must admit I was a bit cranky, but my friends know how I am and put up with me.

 

Córdoba

The first thing I want to say about Córdoba is that everyone should visit this magnificent city. It has a rich history, it is walkable, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is very affordable.

 

 

We took a bus from Sevilla to Córdoba. It is an easy and comfortable two hour ride at about 24 euros round trip. The bus takes you to the city centre and then you can either walk or Uber to your destination. Google maps showed that we were about 23 minutes from our Airbnb by foot, so we decided to walk. Technology is only great when it works and this time it did not; we were taken about 1.5 kilometers from our Airbnb and I had to find another means of getting there. About 10 minutes later and none the worse for the wear, we arrived at our Airbnb. This two bedroom, two bath apartment was on four levels. We had a cozy living room and kitchen on the first floor, a bedroom and bath on the second and third floors, and a rooftop terrace on the forth. Honestly at $217 for two nights (all total), I think the place was a find (click for listing).

 

Salón con muralla Romana auténtica

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That stoned wall you see in the first picture is actually the original wall built by the ancient Romans — it is the wall that borders the Jewish Quarter and built in the first century; how’s that for experiencing history.

I will once again reiterate that I am not a travel writer, therefore, I will not share the history of this beautiful city or everything we did while visiting. There were some highlights in our 2.3 days in Córdoba and I am happy to share those with you. Part of the reason travel is so much fun for me, is that I do not chronicle every moment. I am happy to pass along details to any of you, please ask.

Staying in the centre of Córdoba, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, was a good call. We were minutes from everything you’d want to see and experience while visiting. Arriving on a Sunday made it somewhat difficult to shop for groceries (eg., coffee, milk, wine), but with perseverance, we did find a Chinese all-in-one shop. To our pleasant surprise, the shop even had an Iberian paté we all three thoroughly enjoyed. We were also smart enough to bring some cheese, jamon and crackers from Sevilla. We were hell bent on enjoying our rooftop terrace while the sun was shining and we could experience the tiny bit of warmth we had left. It was all glorious:  our friendship (over 20 years), the view from our terrace, the historical significance of the place, the sun, and the fact that we’d made it there. These are the moments in life we live for.

We had tickets for a genuine Flamenco concert — music and dance — that evening and we were priming for it. We had dinner at a beautiful tapas restaurant close to our Airbnb. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve had, but I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Spanish wine John selected. The Flamenco concert,  was to be performed within the Arab baths of Santa María dating over one thousand years.

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The concert was about 90 minutes in length, the performers were all sick with a cold (except the guitar player), and we had front row seats (there were only 9 people in the audience). I have often wondered if I would enjoy a Flamenco concert and it would be unfair not to comment:  I will say that first of all, I’m glad we did it and second, I would not do it again. I might also add that John caught whatever germs were spread that night.

The next day was very special and truly unforgettable. It would be our only full day in Córdoba and I was determined to make the most of it. I woke up early and went straight to The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba).

 

If you do nothing else in Córdoba, you must visit this significant landmark. It dates back to the 12th century and it is Islamic, Roman, Byzantine, and Christian, all rolled into one truly magnificent place of worship. You can spend hours and hours exploring this historic site. Afterwards, I ventured out to see the city by day.

The Roman Bridge may have been my second favorite site.

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The bridge flows over the Guadalquivir river; grand and gorgeous is all I can say about it (last photo from stock pics on the internet).

After a bit of lunch back at the Airbnb, I walked about three minutes to a hammam where I had an appointment for a warm bath, a sauna and steam, and a massage. The Hammam Al Andalus, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to and worth every euro I paid (70).

 

I returned to our Airbnb just in time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We had reservations at Casa Mazal Restaurante Sefardi; Middle Eastern, Jewish, Spanish and very authentic. We did the tasting menu and once again John chose the wine — I can pick a good wine, but John knows wine better than I do. The restaurant was quaint and the service excellent. I would have to say that I enjoyed the appetizers far more than the main dishes, but overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. My friends usually claim that they will only take a small taste of dessert and more often, eat at least their share; I’m used to that.

It was an unusually chilly night is Spain, so we hustled back to our apartment and headed straight for bed; very comfortable beds I might add.

Córdoba is a place I will someday return to. I could have spent a week walking, exploring, eating and drinking. It’s only four hours for me by bus (3.5 hours by car) and I know there was more to experience. The history and the melding of so many cultures over the last two thousand years, makes Córdoba a city to behold and cherish. It’s Unesco World Heritage Centre will be forever etched in my travel memories.

 

Paco

This is Paco, my new companion. Paco is a rescue dog; I will be officially introducing him to you next week. The importance of adopting a pet, rather than purchasing one, has been an urgent message I have been wanting to relay for quite some time.

 

 

Nourishing the Mind & Body and How Faith Factors In

 

 

If you read my blog last week, you were probably thinking that I was as one reader put it, “In a funk.” In all honesty, you and she were probably right. One of the things I pride myself in is riding out those feelings and moving on. I find that if I face the fact that I am obsessing about silly things and I look those demons in their eyes and confront them, I will be that much healthier when I’m done dealing with them — them being the voices in your head that try to trick you into believing things about yourself that are just not true. This week I will focus on mind, body, and spirit. There is a reason these three are grouped together and I will explain why each is extremely important and how I attend to these aspects of self.

I realize that this particular blog will be all about me and I apologize in advance for that. The easiest way to write about this particular topic is to discuss how I apply the principles to my own life. Some of you will relate to my experience and others will not. Those who do not can either share what works for them with my readers or move on to other blogs. Hopefully, these folks will find my other topics more appealing. Oh and yes, I apologize way too often.

 

Mind

I have loved learning since as far back as I can remember. Fond of books, intellectual games, seminars, white papers, documentaries, and anything related to the mind and thinking. My Ph.D. is in education and although I am proud to have gone that far in my university studies, I do not believe it would be wise or satisfactory to stop now. Semi-retirement has provided a great deal more time for seeking the truth and exploring areas of thinking I have not yet explored. A few examples are:  language, world history, religion and culture. The ability to travel more has also been a useful tool for learning and it’s fun.

There are limitations that I have to contend with. I am not as bright as I wish I were; not fishing, I speak truth. When I was tested as I child, I was placed in average classrooms — thankfully, I do not believe this is practiced in elementary schools today. I’m afraid my turbulent home life and socio-economic status growing up lended itself to poor learning skills. I realized this was the case when applying to universities. I worked hard to break through my environmentally imposed limitations and excelled in my late teens and early 20s. The knowledge that a quieter home life, a proper diet, and sleep, could improve my study skills was a celebrated revelation.

I no longer view my brain power as an obstacle. Instead, I consider any amount of new knowledge as an achievement. As much as possible I nurture my mind and hope that it stays sharp until the day I die. I also believe that it’s possible to expand one’s mind at any age (even with limitations).

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“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

— Maya Angelou

 

Body

Coming to terms with an aging body is a reality we all eventually have to face. I can tell you from experience, it ain’t easy.

Physical appearance is everything in modern society. We spend a lot of time primping and shopping to make ourselves attractive. Keeping yourself trim for the wrong reasons could lead to body image problems that end up doing long lasting damage. People who have come to learn that taking care of one’s body is more about quality of life and good health, are far more likely to accept their physical imperfections. Being comfortable in your own skin comes from knowing that are treating your body respectfully and not taking it for granted.

Your body is a vessel for living your life fully. You can either abuse it and have to deal with the consequences or you can treat it kindly and make the journey easier. I realize that some health issues are genetic and/or unavoidable. I am writing about the things that are within your control and attainable (e.g., diet, exercise, medical care).

Quick Observation — Not too long ago I was employed by a narcissist. This person, which shall remain nameless, spent a lot of time looking at a reflection of herself. I didn’t notice it at first because I was one of many who admired her. Clearly, we see what we want to see. After awhile, I noticed that whenever we sat down for a meeting or go to a restaurant, she would position herself across from a mirror or window. She would glance over at herself occasionally and give herself a discreet approving smile. Every so often, when she didn’t think anyone was watching, she would stare at herself. Along with this self-adoration came constant boasting and taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. This extreme example of narcissism is shameful.

I share this observation because I met someone this week whom I notice does the same kind of thing in public. I also notice it at the gym with bodybuilders. Of course, not all bodybuilders are narcissistic and like cake decorating, you can’t know how the cake is turning out without constantly examining it. It’s important to love yourself and I’m not advocating the alternative; however, when I see an extreme example of self-love, I wonder where it leads. If you love yourself that much (mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all) is there room to love anyone else? It goes back to balance which I will discuss in more detail later. It is probably healthier for the ego to love yourself, but to also be aware that you are not the most attractive person in the room and that attraction goes way beyond the physical. Who we are and whether we live our lives with integrity, what we stand for, the good deeds we do — these are the things that make us attractive . . . inside and out.

Attending to the physical aspect of my life is probably the most challenging for me. At sixty, there is not much I can do about my body. I have significant arthritis in two places and it’s not getting any better. Having had too many surgical procedures, I’m avoiding having to go through that again; I fear that soon, I will have no choice. Fortunately, I enjoy going to the gym and by nature, I prefer to keep moving. I often consider how fortunate I am and how much worse it could be.

 

Spirit

Let me be clear that when I address the third sector of my own personal wellness, spirit does not mean religion. As a devout atheist, I think about religion only in its historical context. However, this does not mean that I am not spiritual and that I do not have faith. In fact, if there were to be a god I might worship, I would have to say it would be Mother Nature. The wonders of the earth are tangible, genuine, and a gift given to us by nature.

“If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.”

— Alex Trebek

There was a time in my life when spiritual awareness was dormant and not on my radar. I had no time for seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions:  who am I, how do I fit into the grand scheme of things, who are my mentors and teachers, and why am I here? Buddhism can teach us a great deal about how to explore these questions. Although I am not Buddhist, I do believe in many of the religion’s principles.

I have come to realize that faith for me is believing in myself. Belief that living life to the fullest is one of humankind’s obligations; a way of returning the favor of being given life. The belief that you as an individual has a responsibility to the earth, your fellow human, and the rest of the animal kingdom, is faith in life itself. Birth provides life and the ability to love. I have great faith in love. I believe love is the foundation of most religions and it is faith in love that will keep humankind thriving. If we ever cease to exist, it will be because we lost faith in love.

My faith lies in my belief that humankind is good and loving. I use meditation and other forms of self-reflection to remain in touch with my spiritual consciousness.

 

Balance

Moving to Portugal has been a blessing in many ways. It is a wonderful place to live and host guests. Friends and family often ask how I spend my day. I answer that question with a bit of hesitation and resentment. Part of me feels very protective of how I spend my time. Another part of me wants to share what I consider to be my good fortune, without boasting or judgment. I still consider how I spend my time to be extremely personal.

If I have learned anything, it is that balance is key for anything even remotely akin to happiness. My answer to “how do you spend your time?” would be that I am working toward personal fulfillment, but that seems rather pretentious and evasive. Perhaps a better answer is that I am attempting to create balance in my life; a balance between the peaks and valleys, a balance between what is too much of a good thing and what is too painful to consider, a balance between the person I’d like to be and the person that I am. I would like to be at peace with who I am.

person standing at the entrance of the cave on shore

Photo by Marco Trinidad on Pexels.com