Alzheimers disease · compassion · death and dying · dementia · emotional suffering · emotions · family · health · love · mental health · mental suffering · neurobiology · psychology · relationship

Love remains…

When Alzheimer’s disease progresses—annihilating ability to word-find, understand language, and speak cogently to loved ones—what remains is affect; particularly affection. In the early stages, this disease has periods where sufferers exhibit highly reactive emotions that often present as angry, nonsensical or delusional. These periods are particularly hard on close relations and caregivers.

One very difficult experience I recall happened eight years ago in a favorite Upper East Side restaurant. Mom and I were dining and suddenly her neighbor came up to the table to say hi. Startled that she didn’t recognize him, Mom launched into a hysterical rant about how I was planning to kill her. Increasing agitation caused her to suddenly get up and leave the restaurant. I ran after her knowing she would never calm down if I caught up with her. So instead I followed her as she wandered the streets agitated and lost; finally ending up at her building. From across the street I saw her smiling and talking with the doorman. When I entered the lobby she sneered at me. Then let me accompany her up the elevator and into her apartment. She never spoke of what happened in the restaurant. Just as she never admitted to having Alzheimer’s, even through the five years she spent living in a Memory Care facility.

Four months ago her deteriorated physical condition required a transfer to a medical model nursing care unit for memory patients. Though it is considered the best unit of its kind, it is nothing like the family-oriented, loving memory care environment she thrived in. She no longer eats and sleeps most of the time. Mom is making it clear: I am ready to bring this horrible last 10 years of my life to a close.

For the last four years Mom has not known who I am. Yet, when I arrive, though she cannot speak much, she immediately brightens in her affect. The love is palpable. She laughs when I make jokes. I can’t tell if she understands anything I say, but her eyes display interest as I relay the goings-on of my life. I hold her hand when she lets me. Play Beatles songs she and my Dad adored. If she gets agitated I stand behind her wheelchair holding her shoulders gently to restore parasympathetic response.

These days it is especially hard to leave at the end of a visit, knowing it may be the last time I see her alive. Sadness pervades the field between us. We stand together in the awful knowing that she, a highly intelligent and deeply caring woman, has been utterly decimated by Alzheimer’s. And even so, our mutual love remains… triumphing spectacularly over this dread disease like a victorious army refusing to lose its most precious treasure.

Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist practice · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · compassion · health · integrative psychotherapy · meditation · meditative experiences · meditators · mental health · mindfulness meditation · mindfulness psychotherapy · neuroscience of meditation · podcast · psychology · psychotherapy · wellness · wisdom · yoga · yoga therapy

Meditation is not a performative act

Listen to Groundless Ground Podcast Episode 60

This is a very special and quite different kind of episode to finish out Groundless Ground Podcast Season 5. I have a frank discussion about the pitfalls of packaging and delivering meditation as a performative act in health contexts with Donna Sherman—clinical social worker and teacher of practical wisdom from yoga sciences, mindfulness meditation and behavioral sciences. Since Donna has studied extensively in the Tantric yoga tradition and I have expertise in Buddhist psychology, we interview each other about the ancient science behind Yogic and Buddhist meditative practices. Donna’s Therapeutic Yoga Nidra is the NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) practice I refer to my patients. And Donna is also a longtime dear friend and colleague from whom I have learned so much. It is hard to imagine a good life without her along for the ride! And wow, 5 years and 60 episodes. What an adventure Groundless Ground has been and much gratitude to every listener! GG listeners continue to be my greatest inspiration.

Buddhist ethics · Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · compassion · mindfulness · psychology · social media · virtue

More Perfections of Post.news

Saul Tobias offered on Post.news a lovely explication of the six pāramīs (generosity, virtue, wisdom, zeal, patience, concentration) from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. You can read it here. Following in Saul’s footsteps I would like to add how the following forms of virtuous conduct can be applied on Post.news and all other social media sites.

The Theravada Buddhist tradition (the teachings of the historical Buddha found in the Pāli Canon) teach ten paramitas. They are as follows: generosity, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, zeal, patience, truthfulness, determination, goodwill, equanimity

Renunciation: Restraint is a profound tool for creating a social media environment that is both thoughtful and informative. Renunciation means the impulse to post harmful content gets recognized and assessed internally for wholesomeness and usefulness to the community at large. Renouncing self aggrandizement and posturing can go a long way toward fostering civility and care in a social media environment. 

Truthfulness: This paramita seems self-evident yet so hard to put into practice in daily life. Our internal distortions, negations, evasions, and biases show up full force in social media. We so want our own views to be affirmed and yet disagreement can be a rich part of human interaction—as long as there is a commitment to honest debate and deep listening.

Determination: Once again, the historical Buddha was a big fan of checking ignorance and reactivity in thought, word and deed. Determination to respond thoughtfully takes a lot of zeal to be real instead of getting lost in habit reactivity and posturing. 

Goodwill: Also translated as friendliness or lovingkindness, mettā is an altruistic aim to resonate a kind of love which is unfettered by self-interest and bias. In the Udana Nikāya, the Buddha famously said, “Searching all directions with your awareness, you find no one dearer than yourself. So you shouldn’t hurt others if you love yourself.” Applied to social media, attention-seeking can often lead to posts that emphasize benefiting oneself rather than seeking the welfare of others. Goodwill and renunciation complement and strengthen one another. 

Equanimity: This paramita is for me the outcome of practicing the preceding nine paramitas. In Buddhist psychology equanimity is described as a neutral feeling tone of experience or a mental quality of impartiality. Equalness as a perspective builds distress tolerance and cognitive-affective flexibility by lessening self-absorption or what is known in pop psychology as ‘taking things personally’. Recognizing humanness and its inherent imperfection is a wonderful virtue to practice as one engages in social media. All humans are prone to misapprehend primarily because our perceptual apparatus views everything through one’s own mind-psyche-experiences.

May this post be of benefit to all who read it!