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Renaissance Advice for a Long, Happy Life

6 Jul

Cornaro

An unpleasant demeanor in older adults has more to do with individual factors than with one’s chronological age. Self-reflection, however, is always a good thing, and will keep you on track when it comes to how you really want to live your life—at any age. Apart from differences in personality (for example, those who had a biting personality in youth often become caricatures of themselves in old age), there are many reasons a person might display animosity towards others as they age. Examples include feeling marginalized by society, not having a full social life, lack of interests, projects and hobbies, or not feeling well physically. Additionally, Erik Erikson , best known for his psychosocial theory of human development, believed that bitterness often sets in when a person feels regret towards the end of the lifespan.
Renaissance humanists were actually the early precursors of modern day gerontology. The works of Luigi Cornaro (Trattato della Vita Sobria, 1558) and Gabriele Zerbi (Gerontocomia, 1489) emphasized the importance of lifestyle on “virtu”, or aging well, which makes their writings seem more like interesting self help manuals than stuffy medical treatises. Neither of these Italian medical scholars treated old age as pathological, and both believed that a vibrant old age is perfectly attainable. Here are some guidelines that provide us with age-old wisdom for a happy long life:
The “non naturals” often written about in that era, referred to external influences (i.e., outside of the internal physical realm of the body) that promote or hinder well-being as we age. Throughout our life, but especially as we age, we need to pay attention to what we eat and drink, the quality of air we breathe, how much rest, sleep, and exercise we get, what kind of clothing we wear, and the kind of thoughts that we allow to occupy our mind. Cornaro espoused the principle of moderation at mealtime; believing that if we eat less we will live longer than those who overeat. His own dietary regimen included the regular consumption of light broth with an egg, poultry, and saltwater fish. Behavioral psychologists who work in the field of weight loss today, often employ some of the mental techniques, now called “ aversion therapy”, that were first brought to light by Cornaro. For example, Cornaro wrote that it was important to abstain from even looking at “delicacies”, and to imagine them as not delicious, but as “filthy, sordid and detestable”.
Zerbi also advised those in their golden years not only to eat moderately, but to eat foods that promote health in various organs of the body. Treats could include honey, fresh cheese, figs, pistachios, and a bit of good wine. Exercise should be done only in moderation, and not to the extreme. Sleep should be long and restful, without lingering too long in bed. An upbeat mental attitude was also deemed important with respect to healthy aging, and to promote this, Zerbi recommended stimulating conversation, (something that Cornaro also advised); as well as exposure to music, and surrounding oneself with objects of visual beauty.
Practicing good mental and physical health habits now will very likely lead you to enjoy the precious gift of your life each and every year and especially as you move into old age. Remember to make each day a celebration— of your well-being!

 

Good Manners NEVER Go Out of Style

2 Jun

giovanni della casa

 

Although we need to cut human beings (including ourselves) some slack for their imperfections, I can hardly blame people who tell me they are turned off by a lack of manners from those around them. Let’s face it, etiquette is really about civility and consideration for others. Some of you might not be turned off by a dining mate who licks his/her fingers as they eat; a driver who picks his/her nose while driving; a date that regularly passes wind while in your presence, or a friend who eats off of your plate without having been invited to share. Others will be turned off, and it can actually ruin relationships!.

That said, if despite some initial tolerance, a gentle request does not result in behavior change, there is not much you can do other than let go and move on, gradually spending more time with those who are better versed in the kind of social graces that make your life harmonious and beautiful . No, it’s not a stuffy perspective. A lack of manners is a indicative of a lack of consideration for others. Both men and women, young and old, can display off-putting behaviors that make us want to walk (or run) the other way.

Distinguished Florentine poet Giovanni della Casa wrote Italy’s classic book on the rules and regulations of courtesy: Galateo: A Renaissance Treatise on Manners , in 1558. To counter a Zeitgeist occasionally infused with acts of barbarism , della Casa wanted to emphasize the importance of living a civil life of courtesy, harmony, and dignity. Della Casa covered every angle of etiquette from table manners to how one chooses to dress, because in his time, the outer person was believed to reveal who the person really was on the inside. Exterior grace, he believed, should be married with social conformity, in order to produce personal and collective eloquence. While good manners were considered to be the guidelines to the attainment of virtue, Della Casa  also categorized bad manners according to which of the senses the behavior offended. Vices and offensive conversation should be replaced by beauty in thought word and deed.

Della Casa’s campaign to promote good manners is hardly trivial. Evidence for that is the way you feel when you are in the company of someone who is maleducato!

My best advice is to be the example you want to see in those around you.  When we ourselves behave in a graceful, considerate manner, we might just become a role model for those around us.

 

Attending a Funeral as a Gift of Solidarity

4 May

fAMIGLIA

No one likes to talk about it, but I will.

A reader once confided in me about how guilty she felt for not being able to go to the funeral of her best friend’s mother. She claims she felt awkward, and just wouldn’t have known what to say. Now she wishes she had been there for her friend.

In Italian communities a wake is an event that marks a major transition in the lives of all those affected by their loved one’s death. The purpose of attending a wake—or a wedding, baptism, or other major occasion— is that it brings people together in solidarity. Solidarieta’ is the foundation of Italian life.

The truth is, we all have a hard time with wakes. They are not happy occasions by any means, and often they dredge up emotions pertaining to our own losses. They are, however, a necessary part of community. The support we provide our friends in their time of distress will actually serve to help them to recover from crises more quickly, and that act of solidarieta’ will strengthen the bond of friendship and trust. Our presence alone—even without words—will mean the world to a friend who has just lost a loved one. The focus should be on that and no one will notice our own personal awkwardness or discomfort.

Researchers at the University of L’Aquila explored the psychological aftermath of the 2009 earthquake, by examining suicide rates from data collected by the Italian National Institute of Statistics. Suicide rates typically increase after disasters, especially among people who are emotionally fragile to begin with. Not in this case. Instead the number and rate of suicide following L’Aquila’s disaster actually decreased. Resilience and posttraumatic growth seemed to be a result of what the researchers called “protective factors” that offset some of the strong physical and psychological distress of the catastrophe that affected 105,000 inhabitants. The protective factors that lead to posttraumatic personal growth and resilience may be attributed to how community pulled together in volunteering efforts and reciprocal caring behaviors. In other words, being there for others in their greatest time of need is a gift that goes far beyond the actual acts of kindness you perform for them. Your very presence is a comfort that helps them to feel stronger in the face of crisis.

While wakes may upset us, the focus needs to be on the those we care about in their time of need. Cards and hot casseroles are great, but being there when they are saying their final good-byes is an act of generosity that a friend will remember forever.
Al bisogno conosce l’amico. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

For more support and tips in getting through loss for you (or as a gift to your friend), read Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy (HCI Books).

————–

 

How to Make Life Transitions Easier

27 Apr

TRICEPTS

Many of us face tough decisions on the heels of what would appear to be an unexpected derailment of our Life plans. While it is important to spend time reflecting on which new path to forge, often we waste time either fretting about the event itself that has thrown us off-course, or second-guessing the decision we made and wishing we had made another. There is something you can do to make committing to your toughest life decisions easier: Collaborate with the inevitable.

Roberto Assagioli, Italian psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud once surprised his accomplished student Piero Ferrucci with his reaction to Ferrucci’s announcement of having been drafted by the Italian military. Dr. Ferrucci, had been working for a year with Assagioli and was initially furious at the interruption of their mentorship in the area of psychosynthesis, only to have it forcibly replaced by 15 months of donning a military uniform, memorizing marches and handlings arms. In his book “What We May Be”, Ferrucci tells of Assagioli’s reaction when he broke the distressing news to him. Much to Ferrucci’s surprise, Assagioli did not commiserate with him.
“Great”, replied Assagioli, instead. “Now you will learn how to collaborate with the inevitable. This will be a most important part of your psychosynthesis training.”

Assagioli’s response stunned Ferrucci at first, until he realized that every challenge we face, becomes part of the lessons that form the School of Life. Resisting reality only tempts us to become bitter and blame people and things outside of us for things not going the way we want them to go. Some things are beyond our control. You cannot both try to hang on to the past and move into the future simultaneously. You made a rational decision recently involving some event that would take you to a new chapter in your life. Now ACCEPT the reality that goes along with such decision. Assagioli believed that instead of grumbling or complaining about an unexpected situation that would appear on the surface to derail your plans, extract all of the benefits you can from whatever situation you are in. Often, these ‘benefits’ involve your freedom of thought and how you choose to perceive your situation.
When Assagioli was imprisoned by the fascists for his antiwar views in the 30’s, he recorded his insights in his book “Freedom in Jail”. These notes described the freedom he recognized in his own ability to extract the benefits of his jail experience by taking on various perspectives regarding his situation. Instead of self-pity or bitterness, he could look at his time in prison with a sense of humor, with a curious interest, as a period that would allow him some time for reflective thinking about philosophical issues, reviewing his past life, analyzing scientific problems, or using the time as a spiritual retreat.

If Assagioli could take the most adverse personal circumstance and turn it into a number of positive possibilities with only the power of his thoughts, you can do the same regarding your impending transition—by collaborating with the inevitable and changing your thoughts regarding what is happening to you. Instead of focusing on how much you dread leaving the familiar, begin to try out different attitudes that focus on the benefits of what lies ahead. Think of how many new adventures you are lucky enough to experience. Try to image how great it is to have a chance to start your life from scratch again. Be strong. Keep body and mind fit. And be the person that you aspire to be by daring to step out of your comfort zone and embracing the glorious gifts of each new day.
Make a list today of all of the benefits you can possibly think of that come along with your upcoming life change and don’t’ let yourself focus on the negative feelings of fear, self-doubt, and the desire to grip on to a part of your life that is now meant to be put behind you.

Now go forward with confidence! I look forward to reading your comments of personal victory.
Un abbraccio
Raeleen

How to Make Your New Surroundings Feel Like Home

13 Apr

osprey

(Photo courtesy Rich Tortorigi)

 

At various times in our lives, we are called to find a new place to call “home”. Whether downsizing from a large to a smaller house; embarking on a cross-country move required for work purposes, or fulfilling your dream to explore another part of the world, there is no question that moving can be scary. The way to counter that fear of the unknown is to take action.
There was a time when the city of Rome was surrounded by enemies, and the only way it could survive was by taking the offensive. The Roman army grew from an unpaid citizen’s militia to the world’s most powerful professional institution. Rome was victorious because the Roman soldiers were relentless, tenacious and courageous in making the first move. They used innovative techniques as they expanded their territories and incorporated what they learned from other cultures.
You too need to be relentless, tenacious, and courageous about taking this new challenge into your own hands. Feeling “lost “after moving into a new home is quite normal. Your surroundings are unfamiliar and you don’t know your new neighbors—yet. Take the offensive. Don’t wait for someone to show up at your door and ask to be your new best friend. Fill up your time planner with the people, places, and events that can be found where you are now. Throw yourself a housewarming party. Learn what community events will be held in your new town will be doing this summer and incorporate some of the local flavor (restaurants, stores, activities) into your weekly time planner.
Of course even when you have followed these suggestions to a tee, there will still be moments of loneliness that seep in when you least expect it. That is called LIFE, which, like an ancient Roman mosaic, is not perfect when examined too closely, but still a breathtaking masterpiece when taken as a whole. You are evolving into what you are meant to become: a confident, self-sufficient woman, who is capable of both letting go and embracing new turf. You are being called to let go of the pain associated with the loss of having had your loved ones all under one roof, and embrace a new cast of characters who will eventually fill your heart with joy and happiness, even if they don’t share the same last name.
On a day to day basis, pick 2-3 of the following exercises and see them through for six weeks. Before you know it you will notice a more permanent change and a place to truly call your home!
• Join a local place of worship in your new neighborhood and get involved with their activities.
• Invite a few of your new condo neighbors for a pot luck house-warming party at your home
• Bake a batch of biscotti, put on the machinetta and invite your sons over to help you enjoy your new home and munch on a homemade goodie.
• Get a dog and walk through the streets of your condo complex. Fellow dog walkers love to stop and share conversations about their pups and yours.
• Have a 20 minute telephone conversation each day to stay in touch with family members who live farther away.
• Buy a great bottle of wine and invite some friends from your old neighborhood to help you pair it with just the right cheese when you invite them over for movie night in your new place.

These are just a few suggestions; you will no doubt come up with many more but you must resist the urge to let self-pity lead to inertia. We all battle loneliness and often it is a result of moving residences so you are not alone. The solution to feeling lost in new surroundings lies in summoning up the courage to take consistent action to bringing into your life all of the elements that will soon become familiar. Like the Roman soldiers, you too, can be victorious in conquering new territory.

Banish Indifference if You Want More Sex Appeal

25 Mar

bench

 

Sardinian born Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a controversial figure because of his political views. He was one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the 20th century and spent much of his life analyzing social and political issues. Imprisoned by Mussolini’s Fascist regime, he filled more than 30 notebooks with his thoughts while incarcerated. One of the quotes he is noted for is his perspective on “indifferenza”, indifference. Whether we agree with his views or not Gramsci risked life and limb for his passionate vision for society, and openly admitted his hatred for indifference. Living, he believed, meant taking sides. Taking a stance. Having an opinion, and standing up for what one believes. Indifference, to Gramsci, meant passivity. Feeling alive was about making decisions and following them through; which was the guiding principle of his own life.

People in general are attracted to those who live their lives passionately. Many find it difficult to make a decision because they are afraid to “take sides”; afraid to commit. If you make a decision and the outcome turns out to be less than wonderful, you may be blamed for it. Those who are closest to people who are indecisive end up feeling burdened by having to make all of the decisions. The wishy-washy personality is quickly perceived as disinterested in the day to day on goings of their own life .No one wants to be around that kind of psychic inertia.

The way to turn this around is to be passionately involved with each day you are given. Turn your passive indecision into active preferences. Start by asserting yourself in making small choices and then move your way on up to more important ones. Tell your friends and family which restaurant, movie or guest menu you would prefer. Voice your preferences regarding which outfits you like best on your partner, what vegetables you want to plant in the garden this year, and exercise your right to make decisions about yourself without asking anyone else’s opinion—how you want your own hair cut, what color suit you feel like wearing, etc. This doesn’t mean you should act bossy or controlling. I can assure you that once you start playing a more active role in your life you will be perceived as incredibly more sexy and attractive .
Here’s to stepping out of “indifference” and into taking a stance!

——–For more on rebuilding  a life after loss, read “Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy”

 

 

Where True Beauty Lies

10 Mar

Rae at beach                                                                           Photo courtesy of Rich Tortorigi

Exaggerated worries over how we look can distract us from focusing on who we could be.  I often hear women comment that men seem to age better than they do. Panicking about getting older,  they rush out and make a rash decision about going under the scalpel. Perhaps what we really need is to stop running from age, and start developing a new perspective on our eternally youthful inner beauty. Italy’s top beauty expert Diego Dalla Palma casts doubt on the misconception that men age better than women. In his book, La Bellezza Interiore, Dalla Palma admits that aging causes many of his clients the heavy burden of bitterness and suffering; especially if they try to deny the inevitable.  Aging also, however, can bring with it wisdom, an unparalleled wealth of experience, and the ability to take joy in the moment—something we can’t always accomplish in our youth. The author encourages his readers to consider the balance one acquires with age, and the gifts aging brings despite what it seems to take away.

As one who wrote my doctoral dissertation on body image, I would encourage my readers to value aging more. Not everyone makes it to a ripe old age, so to have your good health at 57,  67 , 77 and beyond—is a gift that far outweighs the emergence of a few crow’s feet. Dalla Palma claims that two indispensible characteristics that help us to make the most of our golden years are charisma, and a great personality. When we develop those two aspects of ourselves, it matters little whether we are male, female, chronologically old, young, wrinkled or taut- skinned. When we drink the sweet nectar of life’s precious moments, the people around us are uplifted by our spirit, and warmed by our example. We inspire others when we are living our best life at any age.

Sometimes, bitterness in old age reflects a fear of death.  If that is the case with you, it might help to seek a professional to talk to, a religious figurehead at your place of worship, or even some reading materials (philosophical, religious, etc) that can provide you with insights, some enlightenment, and even some peace of mind. Marco Aurelio, the Roman philosopher said “he who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation”.  In Meditations, he reasons that if we lose the ability to feel sensations after death, then we won’t feel any harm anyway. If our sensations change, that means we are experience a different kind of life, different than the one we have now, but we would nevertheless be very much alive. Thus it makes little sense to fear the end of this life. It makes more sense to keep on living life to the fullest for as long as we can.

Here are five ways you can reap the joy of each day:

1.       Cook yourself at least one delicious fresh meal every day, even if you live alone. Meals don’t have to be fancy to be exquisite, nor do they have to have 4-6 courses. Nutrient rich foods prepared in Mediterranean-style will help you to feel alive and strong.

2.       Invite friends over once a week for game night. It could be bocce, briscola, or scopa, but it is important to have friends come over to share some laughs on a regular basis. You will feel at least ten years younger if you maintain a rich social life.

3.       Follow your interests. Whether it is painting, traveling, reading, or stamp collecting. Now is the time to really pursue the activities you feel passionate about. You will have more knowledge and also great stories to share, which will draw people into your life.

4.       Do something kind for someone else every day. Altruism keeps your heart young and flexible; whether it is a gratuitous smile, a gracious offer to open the door for someone, or treating the person behind you in line to a caffe’ latte.

5.       Finally, make sure you get enough sleep each night. We all vary as to the amount we need, but keep in mind that the body needs to be rested and restored on a regular basis. Only then can you function optimally, avoid cravings, and erase the word “crankiness” from your vocabulary.

Now walk away from that mirror and towards the adventures in life that reconnect you to what counts!

©Raeleen Mautner, PhD., LLC 2014, author  Lemons into Limoncello

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