RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Philosophy

The Rhythm of Nature

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Acceptance must come, to deny the end of summer’s gift is foolhardy.  It was but a fleeting moment in time, when all seemed possible, when heat and heart soared.  But as in nature these dizzy heights cannot be captured and held suspended in time.  We have to let go, move on with the seasons, face a new chapter of life.

Few things end abruptly: more oft there is a gradual passing, a fading of that which was held in high regard and despite our best efforts the saturated colour, intense and bursting with life cannot endure the whisper of breathy frost or a shoulder coldly turned.  Disbelief turns it’s attention to weary acceptance that once again we allowed ourselves to be smitten, to believe the summer was forever, that we had finally arrived and would be allowed to stay.

The garden decays before our eyes,  fruit unripened calls out for late warmth; lush trees which short weeks ago danced in gentle breeze, now shed their leaves in nods of brittle shards impatient to bare their boughs and be at rest once more.  When the party is over, we need to withdraw, to reflect and maybe even hide a little until we are ready to emerge once more, to show ourselves, exhibit our work, declare our love.  In an era of instant disclosure withdrawal is a bid for freedom, to hide under the covers, to ensconce ourselves in the studio or walk the cliff edge.  It is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference.

Real loss is to find ourselves stuck, unable or unwilling to embrace the new.  Time and again we look back, ruminating, regretting.  If only we would turn our attention to the rhythm of nature, to that which new seasons and chapters offer.  For beneath the protective cover of leafy decay, we will find hidden beauty, small tender, formerly eclipsed by summer’s glory.  Ready, waiting to unfurl towards the future.

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http://www.rebeccapells.co.uk

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Life – Where is Thy Meaning?

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‘Afternoon Blues’

One of the most asked questions ever.  And well into the 21st century it remains unanswered.  Even Google falters at this one in an age where image and instant reign on a glorious and exalted unsatisfying high.

For the last six months I have been slowly but surely dismantling the material elements which made up my late father’s life.  The process is almost complete, a few final loose ends to tie up and then all semblance of his daily life will be gone and only memories, photographs and a few small heirlooms will survive.  You would have to look hard to know he had lived and breathed on this earth for 92 years.  What meaning did they have for him – perhaps his four children, three marriages or his Christian religion stoically observed Sunday after Sunday. I will never know.

Both parents gone and you seriously begin to think about your own mortality – the creeping weeks and months which so rapidly descend into years.  Don’t let anyone tell you that time doesn’t speed up the older you get – I so does!  And yet, with my father’s genes and a brisk prevailing wind I may well see one score year and ten more.  Thirty plus more birthdays, thirty plus New Year resolutions to make and break.  Thirty plus more chances to live meaningfully.

The thought both elates and alarms in equal measure.  On days when things are going well  that doesn’t seem long at all –  just over half as much again as I have already skipped through – not long into which to squeeze the rest of my life!    On others when all seems bleak the time stretches gloomily into a distant grey horizon – oh my, at least half as much again as I have already stressed my way through –  how will I fill those long hours and days, keep the anxieties at bay, avoid the blackest clouds and stumble my way to my final hour.

We are cajoled, coaxed, coerced and consumerised into believing that a state of constant happiness is our goal.  But the foundation stone of capitalism has become our stumbling block as the constant seeking of happiness proves forever elusive.  We try to access it with things, we view it as a destination to be reached and once there we can reside for ever and a day.  But I suspect that state cannot be sustained, and is unlikely to provide the meaning for which we search.  I don’t think I would want it that way.  The meaning and purpose of our lives can often be found in the darkest corners, in those hours which seem the most bleak.  But when we eventually emerge into the light once more oh how much sweeter.  Like the colours in a painting, the light shines so much more brightly when placed next to the darkest hue.

The meaning is in the doing, in the striving, the anticipation and in the possibility. When we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, when we are prepared to take a risk, when we allow ourselves to step beyond our familiar threshold and let go.  Those times we spend alone, absorbed by our activity and undistracted we truly live the moment.   These are the experiences which paint our emotional memories.  Sometimes they burn us, sometimes elate but they are soaked into our soul just as the warmth of the sun will transfer the image from a negative onto the salt paper, the fine details captured for posterity. These are the ones which we will recall when we reach our eleventh hour.  These are the details which give life meaning.

‘Afternoon Blues’ by Rebecca Pells

available from https://www.fineartseen.com/product/afternoon-blues/

The Selfish Gene – has it become our Achilles Heel?

Human nature is hung in the balance, our behaviour driven by selfishness and our desire to co-operate to ensure the survival of the group” 

These are the words of E O Wilson during an interview on BBC Radio 4 The Life Scientific.  Professor at Harvard and joint author of a paper setting out the case for group selection he now challenges the ‘selfish gene’ theory he once endorsed.  Among his contemporaries he is something of a lone voice.  Since Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution we have believed in survival of the fittest and increasingly this now means of the wealthiest.  But do we hide behind this as an excuse for our self interest?

The interview reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend regarding the widening pay gap and we imagined a society where each job was valued -and remunerated – at the same level.  We concluded that this state of equilibrium would quickly dissipate as the desire to better ourselves and provide for our children’s future would override everything else.  We are conditioned to believe that it was this ‘get ahead of the game’ attitude which enabled our ancestors to survive.

However, there is another way to look at this.  The history of life shows that evolutionary transitions are from the singular to the plural.  For example – separate molecules into a gene, individual genes into a chromosome, individual cells into a muti-cellular organism and from multi-cellular organisms into a social group.  Our survival as a species has been built on collective strength, on co-operation not separation.  This puts natural selection at the level of the group rather than the level of the individual.  Social groups become communities; communities become nations which make up our world and it is this global group with which we must now engage.

Our challenge today is selfishness v generosity and we are struggling to get the balance right because as Wilson so eloquently puts it “humanity still has paleolithic emotions”.  There was an ancestral need to drive nature as hard as they could to survive but by continuing this pattern, far from serving our needs and ensuring our survival we are in imminent danger of achieving the opposite as pressure increases on our natural resources.  There is a powerful case to show that we have struck too hard a blow and we are threatening the world in which we live and on which we depend.

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change Drawing by Rebecca Pells

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change
Drawing by RebeccaPells

There is a growing tension between the individual and the needs of the wider community and despite our fondness for the selfish gene, evolution shows that in order to thrive the individual also needs the group.  This tension is unstable, we see it manifest in the growing dissatisfaction between the wealthy few and the rest of society; between self serving governments who renege on election promises and their electorate; between environmentalists and those who either deny or believe it’s not their problem. It is not a question of tipping the scales firmly one way or the other but of a middle way with movement back and forth – too much in favour of the individual and society would fragment; too far towards group social selection and we would become like ants or honey bees.

This mid-way is the creative core of humanity; it is the threshold where we meet our challenges, where we can have the honest discussion and where ultimately we will find our way forward.  It is where we can overcome age old instincts which no longer serve and have become a modern achilles heel, where we can choose altruism over selfishness and where we will rediscover in ourselves a more ancient and fundamental essence – that generosity of spirit over personal gain will ensure our children’s future.

Embracing Vulnerability – take the risk and do it anyway!

To be vulnerable is to experience our own humanity.  It is a place we reside, where we are tenderly cradled and touched by our very essence.  In an age of tweets, updates, blogs and other portals of instant digital exposure, we are encouraged and seduced into sharing details of our lives.  Our vulnerability stands at the threshold of our inner deep desire for acceptance and affirmation and the outer, shallows of exposure.

Creativity is the metamorphosis of our inner world to the outer.  Our vulnerability is on display along with our words, paintings, sculptures and photographs.  Ideas originate in the depths of our being,  inhabiting a private nurturing world before eventually the desire to transform the nebulous into something physical inspires action and the artwork is born.  Projected into the daylight,  we are not simply exposing our physical being but that delicate, unprotected and naked vulnerability which shies the limelight and seeks shadowy refuge at the merest hint of criticism or indifference.

I recently spent five days on a sculpture course at Stanton Group Studios.  It was my first experience as a life model and  what I thought would leave me vulnerable and exposed quickly began to feel entirely natural.  It is only in the crossing of the threshold from the comfort of familiarity into the unknown that we experience vulnerability. We can step back in fear or stride into a new horizon just waiting to be explored.  For me this experience was far less exposing than when I publish an article or enter a painting in an exhibition.  Modelling shares only the outer self whereas the others come from a place deep within, revealing something of the vast, private interior, offering up tender shoots easily crushed by rejection, ridicule, judgement and jealousy.  It is tempting to recoil but in so doing we also close the facilitating portal to appreciation, admiration, respect and regard.

To seek vulnerability is liberating; it faces the biggest fear of all – that if others knew what we inwardly harbour, what we are really like, they would avoid us.  And yet the most attractive and interesting people are not those who look amazing or produce the greatest work – they are the ones who are confident in spite of their imperfections.  They are the ones who are willing to face rather than fear vulnerability knowing through experience how freeing and empowering it can be.

Many of us resist risk and change be it of ourselves or in others.  An attempt to be invulnerable is a vain one; it is part of our intrinsic nature and encompasses courage and compassion.  The choice we have is not whether we are vulnerable but to live with it bravely and with courage step fully across the threshold.

 

 

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Rob Ackerley Sculptor   robackerley@me.com

The Burden of Choice

      'The Writing Table'    www.rebeccapells.co.uk

‘The Writing Table’
http://www.rebeccapells.co.uk

Since the middle of the 20th century choice has become the cobweb in which western society resides.  The driver for consumerism and chief supporter of capitalism it is the meeting point of commerce, politics and our personal lives. The axis around which we chase perfection and happiness as along with the goods, we buy the idea that choice is desirable.  Choice has become synonymous with freedom – freedom to exert our preferences and spin a life exactly as we wish it to be.

  Expectations are raised and goalposts moved as we succumb to the intoxifying lure of possibilities.  But too much choice can leave us overwhelmed, saturated with options and oppressed by the burden to make the right decision.  Freedom becomes our jailor as complexity leads to paralysis and fatigue.  Too much information and too complex for us to be confident we are making the right choices; at worst it leaves a trail of anxiety that we may have got it wrong and at best a background sense of dissatisfaction that we may have missed something better.  The thrill of possibility turns to tedium, procrastination, exasperation and ultimately despair of ever achieving our goal and we may in the end withdraw from engagement altogether.

I experienced this first hand last week, spending days at a time staring with increasing chagrin at my computer screen as I attempted to work my way through the hundreds of options and variables a I constructed my new website.  More than once I was ready to give up – the sheer volume of decisions I was ‘forced’ to make was overwhelming.  Convinced that I might miss ‘the one’ I spent hours scrolling through hundreds of font styles, sizes, UPPER/lower case, bold, italic, underlined, custom –  the options were infinite.   The anticipated creative experience turned sour and it was only when I took a step back from the keyboard and revisited my original goal – for a clear and simple site to showcase my paintings –  that in the end I took control and returned to the essence of my desire.

Surrounded by the vicissitudes of life we hinder further our progress by allowing unnecessary complexities to seep in and saturate our daily lives until the picture has become so blurred that we loose sight of our original horizon.  We literally feel swamped by the flotsam and jetsam of choice and anchored down by indecision.  The 21st century will not leave us alone, it will not hold back the tide of modernity.  But we can discipline ourselves to surf the waves of amebic decisions and only roll with the important ones.  We have the ability –  the choice – to live our identity unburdened by minutiae and from place where we bear witness as if for the first time.

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For more examples of my art visit http://www.rebeccapells.co.uk

The Child of Fear and Grievance

The temperature of nationalism has been on the rise in Europe since the beginning of this century.  This week it came roaring it’s way over the threshold of the UK parliament seating itself firmly in the chambers of power.  The middle ground is being pulled to the outer edges of fear and grievance.

At best nationalism is an invitation for the unwelcome guest to return home; at worst the exorcism of an unwanted presence in our homeland.  We struggle to let go of the way we have decided to tell our story, embellished by time and enmeshed with grievance it provides us with a sense of belonging.  Nebulous and lacking definition it longs for incarnation and roams with intent, seeking the portal of increasing support through which it can transmute and manifest.  At the same time we are not quite knowing or recognizing the form of our intention.  We explore the streets of our political landscape looking for firm ground but finding only rough terrain which keeps us off balance and unsure.

 Instead of choosing to let go of the foundational memory of those we were wronged by, a false sense of self enables a collective pain to thrive and breeds fresh fear of a contemporary but false enemy.  We cease to be afraid of our neighbours when we cease to carry the collective fear and injustice of our past, choosing instead to make friends with those we previously challenged with a beckoning hand to our future.  To let go is to enable ourselves – our nation – to see our place in the world more elementally and clearly.  It is to unburden ourselves from carrying the past and lighten the load, sweeping away the black cloud of history which was passed down to us and – without such bravery – we will inevitably pass to our children.

Withdrawal from the front line of demand and grievance enables us to realign and find a fresh perspective, viewed through a contemporary wide angle lens rather than the myopic glass of selective and painful memory.  It is only from here we will find solid ground from which to step forward in friendship and have our voice heard in a different, clear fresh and powerful way.

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You may also be interested in an earlier post  A Sense of Un-Belonging.

To deny or not to deny . . . to be in denial is considered a negative but is it?

Denial is a natural reaction to anything which may cause us discomfort or distress, to that which we did not seek – illness, loss of a job or relationship.  It’s a form of rejection of participation in what is.  Often viewed by others through a lens of negativity and accompanied by an underlying current of judgement, someone ‘in denial’ is perceived to have failed one of life’s many tests.

But denial has a role.  We find ourselves catapulted into no man’s land, somewhere between the longed for safety of the familiar past and the resisted, feared future.  Shell shocked, our senses heightened and with eyes clouded by confusion, we scramble to return to the safety from whence we came, only to feel the ground give way beneath us.  The more we try to no avail the further we sink ever deeper into the quagmire and risk becoming stuck. But it is also a place of self-compassion where we can reside until we’re ready to face that which in this moment feels overwhelming.  A place from which acceptance can gently and tenderly coax us toward the horizon we are not yet ready to meet.

Rigid with indecision and unable to move in either direction we continue to resist, knowing that we must find the courage to journey on and the strength to step out into our future, away from the place we mourn but in which we can no longer reside.  Denial provides space, it enables us to take time to dip our toe back and forth, retreat and try once more until we feel ready.  Eventually the dawn of acceptance – that we cannot go back – rises within, our attention released and now free to turn toward the new horizon.

  By natural progression we tire of just staring at the future unable to fully participate from the incapacity of no man’s land and the first stirrings of curiosity and frustration spur us onward. The nurturing cradle of denial now feels restrictive as we strain to see what’s happening over the horizon.  The moment we step across the threshold separating resistance from readiness, carrying with us the comfort of knowing it will always be there to offer a temporary haven, we take our first tentative steps into a future full of fresh possibilities.

Why I look forward to living in a tolerant free society

Tolerant.

A word which has become so commonplace in western society that if the Oxford English Dictionary were listed in order of ubiquity it would appear near the beginning.  It is viewed as something good, worthy, virtuous even – the hallmark of a progressive society.  There is an air of self-congratulation about it because we have managed to suppress something we instinctively feel, in order to promote an outer acceptance.  Politicians and other leaders announce that we live in a tolerant society as if we have arrived at some kind of cultural ideal.

But is it really this simple? To feel tolerant of something you first have to perceive it as different from you in some shape or form, most often the opinion or behaviour of another individual or group.  The term has become synonymous with accepting people from other countries and cultures into the place in which we live and work.  But the very act of tolerating keeps us separate from those we wish to integrate with.  If you feel the need to tolerate, then you are still experiencing a difference from yourself which you feel some discomfort about.  It suggests an element of effort, a ‘putting up with’ for the benefit of the greater good.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter if it enables people to live together in a friendly and cordial manner.  However, the wall of tolerance often serves only to restrain the frustration at having to accept that which our instincts tell us to be wary of.  Under pressure from external stress such as unemployment or lack of resources, these repressed feelings break forth in the form of blame or anger directed at those we previously accepted.  From early humans to modern man instinct has provided a warning to be cautious of strangers and tolerance is merely a sticking plaster covering this innate response and does little to negate it completely.

Genetic Ancestry Tree

Genetic Ancestry Tree

But overcome it we can, as living alongside those from other parts of the globe becomes the norm and over time differences will cease to both us, there will be no tolerance required, no pre-judgement or labelling as to who is friend and who is foe. Historically migration took centuries, the mixing of cultures happened slowly with integration following initial resistance.  My own DNA can be traced back centuries to the North Caucasus region on my maternal side and Germanic roots on my father’s.  At the time of testing in 2009 the closest match on record to my genetic profile was that of a Turkish individual and an Iranian.  It’s not so much that we will end up in one homogenous melting pot but rather than eyed with suspicion, our differences will be embraced.

Already the 21st century has seen a rapid increase in relocation but our instincts, slow to change their habitual response, have yet to catch up.  One day the word ‘tolerant’ maybe obsolete and dropped entirely from the Oxford English Dictionary  . . .  only then will we live in a truly free society.

One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

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A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

Stove Top Coffee Pot – routinely served and savoured

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  Each morning I now delight in making coffee in my stove top coffee pot, an unexpected gift which has delivered into my life not just fresh coffee but a fresh routine.  In an age where immediate gratification is demanded and not only the coffee is instant, routine has become an unwelcome word, something to be endured which consumes our precious time and keeps us from more engaging activity.

We associate routine with the ordinary, the familiar and commonplace.  We often perceive and experience it as boring and tedious and try to complete such tasks as quickly as possible.  And in busy lives there is a necessity to undertake them speedily, routine is essential for simple survival.  But through the mundane nature of our toils we may discover something of ourselves.  Routine is the practice of a skill which had to be courted and apprenticed, the harvest of which is the application of confident ability that enables our lives to operate like a well oiled machine.  We undertake our task in the hope that it will take us to a place, some anticipated horizon, where our endeavours may be witnessed, acknowledged and the fruit of our labours enjoyed.

But there is another more intrinsic value to routine.  It supports our emotional well being, our need for a reliable framework on which to hang our daily life.  In times of stress we turn to an activity like ‘putting the kettle on’, the familiar routine distracts, comforts and soothes.  When all around is chaos, routine provides us with a sense of control.  Even those lucky enough to be released from the quotidian of formal work will establish new routines, the joy of freedom soon gives way to the need for an habitual guide to stabilize our life.  The polarities of the routine and the extraordinary support each other and both are necessary to balance the scales of well-being.

The next time routine fatigue sets in, remember that it serves us well – it certainly serves exceedingly good coffee!

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