Archive for Aging

Who Am I? 1.2 % Neanderthal!?

clinic-doctor-health-hospitalThis is the fourth in a series of “who am I?” posts. My curiosity is a factor of aging. Now that I’m no longer distracted by professional challenges, family duties or the need to earn a living, I find myself pondering more and more the wonder of being human in this amazing world. How is it that I fall asleep for eight ours each night and waken in the morning, oblivious to what’s happened during the night? How do I continue breathing twenty-four hours a day, even though “I” am not doing the breathing?

Recently I started wondering about how we, as the human race, developed.

If you’d asked me about my ancestry a few months ago, I’d have told you I’m the result of a long line of blond, blue-eyed men and women. My light-skinned forefathers and foremothers immigrated to Canada from England, Ireland and Scotland. They chose to settle in southwest Ontario. End of story.

That was before I sent my cheek swab and $100 to the National Geographic’s genome study. For my $100 they told me about other ancestors: those who predated written history.

Here’s what they said: My ancestry began in Africa. In fact, our whole human race originated on that warm continent. My particular group of ancestors migrated out of Africa around 60,000 years ago. They were the first group of modern humans to leave Africa. These early members of my tribe, who had dark skins, kept moving northward, eventually leaving the African continent completely. When they got to Europe they found a world that was covered in ice sheets. As the ice retreated they settled in whatever European lands were now habitable.

Life in a cold climate had its problem. Their dark skin blocked out too much of the weak sun’s vitamins. Over time, in order to survive in the cold their skin grew lighter and lighter so they could absorb Vitamin D.

Narrow noses replaced flared nostrils since breath had to be warmed before it hit the lungs. Of course, their relatives who remained in hot countries kept their dark skins and their physical adaptations to a hot climate.

78% of my ancestors ended in Great Britain and Ireland. 16% went to western and central Europe. The fascinating thing is this: my ancestors (and probably yours) weren’t the only inhabitants walking about on two legs. Our ancestors met with another hominin group, the Neanderthal. These two lines interbred. That’s how I ended up having a DNA of 1.2% Neanderthal. If your ancestors left sub-Saharan Africa for Europe and Asia, you too have some Neanderthal in your DNA. 2.1% is average. Interestingly, early humans who stayed in sub-Saharan Africa and did not migrate, have no Neanderthal DNA.

Other than finding I had Neanderthal ancestors in my lineage, there weren’t any big surprises: 12% Scandinavian, 9% Central European, 5% Southern European, 2 % Eastern European and 2% Jewish Diaspora.

Knowing the scientific history of our human species is important. How can we be racially biased now that we realize the colour of our skins results from adapting to the climate in which our ancestors lived? If some people remained dark-skinned in order to survive the blazing sun, while pale skinned people evolved to absorb sufficient energy from the sun, where’s the social judgment? We’re all the product of the human race’s ability to adapt in order to survive.

I’d like to hear from you. What do you think? Are you interested in having your own DNA analyzed? If you are, you can go to www.genographic.com.

Mary Maxwell on Getting Old


Hope you enjoy!

Who Am I Without My Husband?

pexels-photo-271897When I left my marriage I was in my late 70’s. For 55 years I’d been one half of a couple. Moving out to live on my own meant adapting to a whole new world as a single woman. What was that like for me? It’s easier to talk about the advantages of being on my own. The disadvantages are more subtle and harder to articulate.

Everyone can understand the freedom of organizing your own space and, indeed, living your whole life just as you want it. There’s the joy of waking in the morning and asking yourself what’s most important today and how to organize the time ahead. The only commitments are those you’ve agreed to. Nobody else is in your space asking for compromise or having other ideas of how you should spend your time.

Then there’s the living space that’s all yours. No need to put up with that ugly chair your partner loves: the one that takes up half the living room. Nor must you tolerate the mammoth oak desk that won’t fit anywhere but the dining room. When you live alone, you get to organize each room just the way you want it.

Bedtime? Getting up time? It’s entirely up to the single occupant of this space. You go to bed when it’s right for you and get up when your circadian rhythms signal you’ve slept long enough. What’s more, you sleep through the night without another body disturbing you. Naturally, you eat what, when you want.

There are many benefits to being single and, as I said, they’re easier to talk about than the downside. Mostly the downside has to do with loneliness. I found this especially uncomfortable when I was travelling alone. At night, the couples staying at my B&B would head for the fancy restaurants or the lively entertainment in the town square. I don’t know about you, but I head for plainer family-type restaurants when I’m alone. The dancing and excitement of the square at night felt unsafe for a single woman.

Then there’s something about male energy being a natural match for female energy. Frankly, I miss male company. I’m not sure whether this is biological in us humans. Maybe it’s social programming. Whatever it is, I miss my husband’s physical male presence. He’s also the one person in the world who can complete my thoughts and who shares with me more than 55 years of experiences and memories – which is not to say – I regret leaving my marriage to live alone. I don’t.

pexels-photo-233223Life is pretty good these days. Harvey and I are friends. We are both living the way we want to. He enjoys gardening and caring for the house we bought together in Kingston. I’m happy as a tenant in an apartment building. Every time I hear workmen out cutting the grass or shoveling the snow, I smile broadly, so happy that I didn’t have to hire them, organize them or pay them. All of that household stuff just gets done. You may remember my post about my “summer cottage.” (That’s the next-door yacht club where I get to eat and swim while somebody else does the work.)

It’s definitely desirable to be good friends following separation. It’s relatively easy for us since neither of us set out to give the other a hard time over financial settlements. In fact, the other day I went over to Harvey’s house to work with him on some financial matters. He cooked dinner for both of us and we ended by watching television and talking the way two old friends share time together. After all, I spent most of my life with him. Why not strive for a harmonious relationship now that we both get to live the way we want to?

Who am I? According To Eugene Gendlin

pexels-photo-185801It was 1980 and I’d just graduated with a Masters Degree in Social Work from The University of Toronto. Now I wanted to synthesize the western psychology I’d learned at school with what I knew as a yoga practitioner. You see, I believed that since we hold our memories in our bodies, nothing really changes unless change happens in the body. If I wanted to be a mainstream therapist, I needed to find a way that non-yoga people could experience change in the body. (In the 1980’s the current psychologies didn’t talk about the body.)

I was really excited when I heard about Dr. Eugene Gendlin. Dr. Gendlin developed Focusing, a sort of inner yoga that taught people to pay attention to their body’s physical response to life’s situations and problems, thereby gaining a deeper level of awareness than was usually available. In other words, the way in which the body holds a person’s stories is released and new information is available to the person who knows how to Focus. To put it another way, you gain access to your unconscious.

And so I headed for The University of Chicago where Dr. Gendlin was presenting a weekend workshop. I was in search of a new guru to guide me through this new stage of my life. Dressed in my best grey flannel suit and black pumps, I headed for The University of Chicago expecting to find an auditorium filled with a couple of hundred people to hear this genius I’d recently discovered. You can imagine my surprise when I was shown to a sitting room with a circle of a dozen chairs. Suddenly I felt very shy and intimidated. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be meeting my new guru in such an intimate setting.

I took my seat in the circle and noted a group of men out in the hallway. One of them, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans was smoking (this was the 80’s.) I figured he was the janitor.

Then the janitor entered the room and took a seat. Not only did he take a seat along with us educated folk, he welcomed us to the weekend. This was my new guru?! But he smoked. The rest of the weekend was just as confusing – and – changed my life.

If you’ve read my previous blog you know that the “who am I?” question is a very important one for me. I tried so hard to be a good person, to move toward enlightenment. And now, my new hero, Dr. Gendlin, was telling me that if I just peeled off the layers, if I got closer to whoever I really am, I’d be just fine. We’re born authentic and life forces us to skew our personalities to fit in. By paying attention to my body’s messages, I’d move closer to my true Self, or as Swami Radha called it, my Higher Self.

What about spirituality, I wondered. For Gendlin, the felt sense, the body’s physical response to whatever we’re doing, tells us when we’re on track and when we’re deviating from our right way of being, Uncomfortable body signals tell us something is not right for us. When the body is happy, that’s our signal that life is moving forward as it should.

Who Am I? If I want to access my authentic self, I have to listen to my body. It will guide me in knowing how to go forward. This was a new way of approaching the who am I? question.

What could be more spiritual than Gendlin’s description of the felt sense?

Your physically felt body is part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact the whole universe.

This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is your body as it is felt from the inside.

All of which just goes to show that you never know where you’ll find your spiritual guide.

My love and gratitude go out to Dr. Gendlin who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Swami Sivananda Radha : Who Am I?

buddhaWhen I was a young yoga teacher, I was fortunate enough to have Swami Sivananda Radha as my spiritual guide and guru. Swami Radha was a western woman trained and ordained as a swami by the great Swami Sivananda of Rishakesh, India. This remarkable woman was the first feminist I knew personally. (This was 1970.) I was fascinated by her views on women’s roles in the modern world. As well, I’d never met a truly spiritual woman who shaped her life through meditation and the study of scriptures. She challenged me with new ways of thinking and perceiving the world.

Swami Radha was born into an affluent Germany family, trained as a dancer, married into an old Prussian military family and lost everything in the Second World War. Her husband was jailed and ultimately killed by the Nazis. Her newborn baby was, she believed, allowed to die by the hospital where she delivered. At the end of the war, she could have had her old home back, but when she went to see it, a young family was living there. Sylvia, her name at that time, made a decision. “Revenge Ends Here” Seeking a peaceful way of being in the world became the purpose of her life. She moved to Canada, took a job in an office and began searching for a way to live without violence. Her studies of spiritual works and her practice of meditation ultimately led her to Swami Sivananda in Rishakesh where he recognized her special qualities and sent her back to Canada to bring the teachings of yoga to the West.

A major part of my training was the “Who Am I?” exercise. I would start with the obvious roles and biological facts. She would keep asking until I had to admit I was none of these personality aspects or social roles.

“I am a woman, Harvey’s wife, Frank’s mother, my mother’s daughter, a yoga teacher, etc. etc.” I’d finally exhaust my ideas but Swami Radha would still be asking me who I was. The correct answer and the ultimate result of this search was to realize that, once I got past what I could claim as “me,” the correct answer was Light. As Light I was connected to the Light that exists throughout the whole universe, in every creature and every thing, in the stars and in the stratosphere. Swami Radha explained that Light was the closest to the invisible force in all of us that we humans were able to imagine. I was encouraged to imagine Light streaming into my body.

So, why is Swami Radha on my mind these days? It’s because of my time spent recently in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. There during my month of winter vacation, I attended meditation classes at the local yoga centre. These classes took me back to the early days with Swami Radha. Non-Dual Meditation was being taught. I’d never heard of it, but I’m always eager to explore unfamiliar concepts.

Imagine my amazement when I found myself hearing Swami Radha’s teachings with my old ears and aging mind. Phil, the teacher, was describing the very things Swami Radha had taught. He said he learned the most from Tibetan Yogis. Swami Radha had a Tibetan teacher. Phil didn’t refer to Light. He encouraged us to feel the invisible life force in all of us and in all creation. He called it Non-Dual Meditation and explained it in terms of Quantum Physics. Amazingly, he said, it reflects the new science.

I’m hooked! What’s in a name? Whatever these ancient teachings are called, they’ve opened for a whole new fascination and understanding that’s just right for this time of my life.

I hope to continue to write more about this in future blogs. I’d love to hear your thoughts.