Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Can Happen in Borneo? A Thanksgiving Gift from Carole Peccorini, Guest Blogger

          In November 1988, I spent Thanksgiving in Borneo as a volunteer with the Earthwatch Orangutan Project at Camp Leakey in the middle of the rainforest.  Just to help you locate me, Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world floating in the center between Singapore, Jakarta, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.  Thanksgiving Day was November 24 that year, almost mid point in my 3-week stay at Camp Leakey.

          By then I had learned what it meant to sweat through every pore in my entire body.  My clothes were all tie-dyed from being washed in a pail by the river with others.  No sorting of darks from lights in this wash-by-loving hands laundry with the indigenous Dayak women on the dock.  Mildew was setting in.  We reeked of DEET to ward off battalions of mosquitoes and other bugs without names.  The black water river with “harmless” crocodiles was our bathtub.

          There are some things about this Thanksgiving I remember very clearly.  That morning we walked in the rainforest.  Just before the next torrential downpour, it grew intensely hot and still.  Then there is the rustle of wind in the treetop canopy followed by a drop in the air temperature.  After that it is as though someone is personally pouring buckets on top of you until you are soaked through and through.  We trudged along in the sopping mess.  The birds were still singing and the drone of the bugs remained like a solid mass we were penetrating as we walked. 

          And, suddenly I had a huge awareness.  “I felt, my body felt so alive!”  The entire surface of my skin, every hair and every sense including all the sensors in my brain were in contact and engaged with my world of this rainforest path right now.  I remember thinking, “I can hardly believe it.  This is my Thanksgiving and I feel so utterly alive.”

          When we returned to camp, we were sitting in the guest cottage and Birute Galdikas was giving us a “college talk” about the plants and trees in the rainforest and also about the orangutans who were the subject of her long term primate research in the wild.  My clothes were still damp.  The intense heat had returned.  I was doing my best to take notes but my fingers were stuck to my pen from the fresh pineapple spears we ate. 

          Three orangutans, the amazing redheads of the primate world, were hanging on the screens observing us while brushing their teeth in perfect imitation with toothbrushes they had snatched while we weren’t looking.  Again, I thought.  “It is Thanksgiving.  I can hardly believe this and yet I feel so alive, so awake.”

          Later in reflecting on this experience, I had awareness that my world at home derives a lot of security from our comfort.  The room thermometer in my home and in my car when I go out allows me to keep the temperature in a narrow range of comfort.  It’s tempting with the holidays to place ourselves in the cocoon of the familiar where we feel comfortable ~ to be with people we already know and eat foods that are both traditional and ones we already like.

          I thought to myself,  “I’ve traded my aliveness for comfort and the idea of security.”  I also noticed that when I feel that peak of aliveness, I am filled naturally with the deep feelings of gratitude and thankfulness for life.  To me, it seemed that my question was answered. What can happen in Borneo at Thanksgiving?  I can have the experience of being totally alive and filled with gratefulness.

          I was 45 years then and one of my favorite volunteers with me was 80.  This Thanksgiving I am 71 years and reflecting on the possibility that to feel the fullness of the holidays may actually require us to shake it up a bit:  makes some changes, do something quite different, make some new choices, touch the lives of new people, go out in nature. 

          When we complain and find ourselves unhappy, sometimes we are bored and our heart and soul is actually longing for something new.  We don’t have to go to the other side of the world, perhaps just move out the familiar to truly be filled to the brim with the rich experience of Thanksgiving.

May you have a rich holiday wherever you are.
Carole Peccorini

P.S.  Something that might delight you as it does me ~  I fell in love with those redhead orangutans with their hair sticking up on top.  They grabbed my shampoo and from watching they knew just how to lather their hair.  Also, I learned later at the San Diego Zoo when they completed the new outdoor natural enclosure for the orangutans, these most curious creatures had watched the construction project with great interest.  The first night in their new home they escaped having watched every screw and how to unscrew it.  They are called the mechanics and construction engineers of the rainforest for a reason!  Orang means person in the indigenous language and utan means forest ~ so they are the persons of the forest ~ with a knack for tools and imitation.

Contact Antonia at antoniasseniormoments@hotmail.com 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Five Ways to Ensure Holiday Happiness

          The holidays are just around the corner, and I don't think it's ever too early to remind yourself that you can shape the overall outcome of these days. Don't you want to look back in early January and feel good about how you handled yourself? I do, so I'll share some things that have benefited me.

Make it Work for You

          If you hate decorating, don’t. You can always appreciate the gala trees, bright lights and larger-than-life ornaments at Macy’s or cozier and homier decorations at friends’ homes. 

          If eating poorly during the holidays is a problem for you, compromise. Take it a day at a time and a party at a time and agree with yourself what you will and won’t consume. You don’t have to completely deprive yourself, but you don’t have to gain 10 lbs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, like I’ve done before. 

          If you hate driving all over town to shop, don’t. Consider this year the beginning of your online foray into donations made in behalf of another or at least shopping and having the online retailer deliver the gifts directly to recipients.

2. Commit to No Distractions
          I do this one day a month all year ‘round but it’s particularly helpful during the hectic times of the holidays. On this day, I do my best to go completely without tech products: phone, computer, TV or any other electronic gadgets I falsely believe I can’t live without. Obviously, go for a non-work day when you can just relax, commune with nature, read an uplifting book or visit with family and friends.

3. Family - let it roll
          This is often the trickiest and most challenging factor during the holidays. My experience is that big gatherings don’t bring out the best in family members – there’s too much alcohol and too much past history to completely let go. So, what to do? I don’t have sure fire ways to deal with badly behaving family members, but what I do generally is just give up hope that things will be different and realize it’s just one or two days of the year. I also try to treat family like acquaintances that I would try to be polite to at the very least. Some people feel there is no solution to dealing with a dysfunctional family during the holidays, and they opt out entirely by spending their time by themselves, with spouses or friends. Remember, as harsh as it may sound, that IS an option.

4. Set Your Boundaries
          Way before the holidays, begin to clearly identify for yourself what you will and will not do. If you hate making that gooey, sugar-laden pecan pie that everyone else loves, be prepared to say “no.” If you hate over-extending your budget, just spend what you can -- without explanation. If you hate sitting on your tush watching football after a huge feast, go for a walk or leave the party altogether. 

5. Breathe
          Don’t let anyone steal your pleasure during this joyous time of year. Remember you have choices about what you will and will not do.  Spend your time, money and energy on what you enjoy doing and ... breathe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is There a Labyrinth to Your Longevity?

          Who is the oldest person you know? What are they like? Are they cranky and scrooge-like or upbeat, active and pretty optimistic? In spite of the fact you don’t have to live your life perfectly to live a long life, I believe your attitudes, beliefs, moods and overall personality have an impact on longevity. I started thinking about this in terms of myself and my friends and I came up with some interesting observations.

          We all know people who are either excessively younger or older than their years. Do their general moods and personalities differ from those of other people? It goes without saying, if you’ve been overweight and/or smoked or been stressed most of your life, your longevity will significantly be affected as you age. In addition, several studies going back to the 1920’s show that other non-lifestyle factors may significantly affect how long some people live. See if you agree that the following four traits can lengthen the lives of older people.

          Spending a chunk of time with others, which includes positive emotions, loving feelings and stimulating interactions, and reduces negative feelings of isolation, can reduce stress, inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Belonging to a book club or meeting friends for lunch or to play cards, for instance, brings meaning into our lives, especially after retirement.

          The statistical jury is still out on the value of a positive, upbeat life. While most researchers say, yes, definitely it helps to not sweat the small stuff and approach life optimistically, there are other studies that say a lifetime of optimism leads to a more cavalier approach to the evils of excess (drinking, smoking) and a shunning of medications and proper exercise.

Volunteer Work/Seva
          While I automatically assume that volunteer work would be good for the mind, body and spirit, I heard from one source that it’s the motivation for volunteering that dictates whether your volunteer work helping others will increase longevity or not. Evidently, longevity is not enhanced if your seva is for self-oriented reasons such as boosting your own ego or for gaining work experience. 

Being Open
          Being open and, in particular, being open to new experiences, helps everyone handle change and helps us adapt to challenging problems. This isn’t just reserved for the elderly. However, being open isn’t easy to quantify and it’s very subjective. Personally, when I’m open I’m not as dependent on the opinions of others, and I don’t angst out as much about “doing it the right way.”

          Like the labyrinth, there may be a maze of paths that get us to the end. What do you believe? Even if you don’t agree that these things increase longevity for sure, at the very least they make for a more pleasant person to be around while we’re among the living.

Contact me at antoniasseniormoments@hotmail.com or
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