Monday, 5 May 2014

The Compassionate Mind

As you may already know from reading my blog over the past several months, I am committed to finding more peace in life. This commitment to find inner peace has lead me down a path that I never would have expected: learning about, practicing and teaching meditation. In order to fully embrace this passion in my life, I have decided that this will be my last post in Alzheimer's Spirit. I am moving forward in making a difference in a new way which naturally builds on my past and aligns with my future dreams. I want to help people find more peace from within, and have started The Compassionate Mind as a way to educate people about meditation and train those that are interested in learning the powerful yet simple techniques. 

When I reflect on the relationship between my long and fulfilling career in nursing, working with people experiencing dementia, and I my new passion and focus on meditation, I ask myself, "how are these two very different things related?" The answer is now very clear to me. Dementia taught me that all that really matters is the moment, and that when we're not living in the moment, we suffer. Dementia taught me that I wasn't very good at living in the moment, and tended to focus most of my attention on the future. My meditation practice is now teaching me how to live more successfully by being present for my life. I want to share that with others, because my life mission has always been about alleviating suffering. 

I would be honored if you visited my new website, left me a comment and signed up to follow my new blog. 

I wish you love and many peaceful moments!!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Do You Ever Feel Impatient?

Do you ever feel like you're impatient with the person who has Alzheimer's disease or with the disease itself? If you do, you are not alone and the feeling of impatience can lead to a lot of suffering. If we're being honest with ourselves, there are so many reasons to be impatient when we are dealing with this disease day in and day out. There are the never ending repetitive questions, or stories, the misplaced items, the emotional ups and downs, the layers of clothes, the hoarding, the pacing, the lack of understanding, the struggles over personal hygiene… the list goes on and on.

A light bulb went on for me the other day when I read that impatience is a sign that your needs are not being met. I'd never really thought about it like that before and so I started to pay attention to the times that I felt impatient. Sure enough, there was a pattern, and it was usually because I felt my needs weren't being met. It is no wonder that people dealing with dementia have impatience as there constant companion!

Recognizing our needs are not being met, begs the question: How then do we get our needs met? I think the fair response is somewhere other than from the person that has the disease. It is impossible to expect that they can meet our needs and unless we change our expectations we will continue to struggle and feel impatient. Without this shift we will continue the impatience, guilt and further impatience cycle. In this scenario, nobodies needs are getting met.

In a previous post, Chose to Practice Patience with Alzheimer's Disease, I described how you can chose to be more patient with the disease. I don't think I did the topic justice!  I think it's much more constructive to recognize the feeling of impatience as an opportunity to look inward and explore our feelings of impatience and our expectations. The important thing is to recognize we're feeling impatient, and let it pass on through. The biggest challenge is to not beat ourselves up over it, and just accept it and observe it like a third party. The very act of doing that will transform the impatience and we may even get a chuckle out of it.

How have you handled impatience with Alzheimer's disease? Do you believe it's a sign that your needs are not being met?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Learn to Go With the Flow With Oprah and Deepak

I am so excited to share about an amazing opportunity to participate in an ALL New 21- Day Meditation Experience, Finding Your Flow starting April 14, 2014.

If you've ever wondered about meditation, or want to get back on track with your practice, this is a wonderful opportunity to be part of something that can make a difference in your life.

Finding Your Flow, is a free, 3 week journey where you'll be guided "as you discover how to experience and influence your own energy flow- a dynamic current that brings more joy, love, and fulfilment to you…through you…and for you."

What has flow got to do with Alzheimer's disease? EVERYTHING. Our energy not only affects us, but those around us. And, the more I learn and practice meditation, the more I have come to learn that the only place to find true peace is by going within.

Meditation can be intimidating if you've never tried it before. So this is a wonderful way to go with the flow, find some peace and take Oprah and Deepak up on their gift to us.

I have participated in the last two, and I am always in a better place when it ends and am sad when the 21 days are over.

Learn more about it and sign up so we can meditate together!!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Does Alzheimer's Change the Definition of Love?

Valentine's Day was just a few days ago and that got me thinking about love and our feelings towards our loved ones who are experiencing dementia. Does Alzheimer's disease change our experience of love?  What is love and how do we define it? It's interesting that you could ask a million different people about how they define love and come up with a million different responses. I think that's why it's so complicated and then you throw Alzheimer's disease into the mix and wow it becomes even more complicated.

I wonder if we would feel more peaceful about our experience with Alzheimer's disease, if we understood how we defined loved and were willing to change the  definition to fit with the circumstances. It is common that love is viewed and experienced in the context of giving and receiving. Although, we know that ideal love is giving without expecting anything in return, if we're being honest most of us are not wired in that way. Love is a connecting and a feeling and Alzheimer's disease changes the connection. The rules of love in this relationship have changed and the very foundation from which our relationship and love was based crumbles. How do we deal with that?

I read a very moving article about a young couple who are facing early- onset Alzheimer's disease in the Dallas Morning News. In the article, the wife whose 37 year old husband has Alzheimer's disease has redefined her definition of love.  Kam Manthe shares, "I honestly think it's situations like this that are true love.... It's all fine and dandy to love someone when they're leaving you romantic notes, when they're sweeping you off your feet.  But this is unconditional love.  This is love you give knowing he can't give anything in return."  Redefining what love looks like in the midst of dementia, would appear to have resulted in finding some peace in the difficult and painful situation. I think it illustrates so beautifully that "clinging" to the past and what has been lost prevents us from finding new ways to define and show love.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes that, "The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers."  What I love about this definition is that it fits for everyone in all circumstances. If you're giving your attention to the person with Alzheimer's disease and you're in the moment with them, that's love in my opinion. Not trying to change anything, just accepting what is. I know that is so hard to do and we struggle with it in our lives at the best of times. I want to share a moving video from a previous post, Love Transcends Alzheimer's and Dementia,  because it shows love in action.

Share your stories of love to inspire others going through a difficult time.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Grandma Is Not Defined By Alzheimer's Disease!

My thoughts and beliefs about  people who have Alzheimer's disease or dementia was challenged the other day when I was watching an episode of the Long Island Medium. In case you aren't familiar with the show, Theresa Caputo (the Long Island Medium) connects with people who have crossed over, died, are no longer in the physical world or whatever else you want to call it when someone passes away.

Watching this show, as well as many other sources of information, has reinforced my belief that the soul or spirit lives on when a person leaves their physical body. When this happens, whatever physical, emotional or spiritual difficulties people are experiencing disappear and what is left is pure love and wholeness. I know that there are as many beliefs about this as there are people on this planet, but I really try to keep an open mind and ask myself what if...?

During one of the shows, Theresa met a grand daughter of a woman who had died with end stage dementia. In the final stages she was no longer able to communicate and her grand daughter would share her stories from her day with her, read to her and communicate with her sharing her life without expecting anything in return. Through Theresa, the grandmother shared that she wanted to thank her grand daughter for continuing to speak with her and treat her as though she didn't have Alzheimer's disease. She appreciated and was aware of all the stories she told her, even though she couldn't express it at the time.

When I heard this I got goose bumps! So many of our assumptions rest on the belief that the person doesn't know the difference, doesn't know if we visit or not, won't remember our time together. What if...they actually do, and what we say and do actually does make a difference. What if....when the person dies they become whole and are aware of everything that occurred in this physical world even if communication is limited by dementia? What would you do or say differently?

Of course, none of us really knows what goes on behind the Alzheimer's disease and what happens when a person dies. In a previous post, When Saying "Good bye" Is Beautiful, I shared my experience of being with my mother in law as she passed away, and some of the powerful things that happened. I do believe that if we come from the belief that the person with Alzheimer's is at some level aware, we might communicate differently. I know that I would have read to Jessie more, sang more, shared my day more, went through old pictures more often.  I would have continually reminded myself that even if she couldn't express it, she was aware and grateful!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What Do Mount Kilimanjaro, Alzheimer's and Meditation All Have in Common?

What a year this has been! It was a year ago that my husband and I celebrated at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I didn't realize it at the time, that it would be the start of a year with much personal growth. I wrote an article about the lessons I learned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and how they could be related to Alzheimer's disease. I now realize, that the lessons go much deeper than that!

So... what do they all have in common? They all test our ability and are a barometer for how skillful we are at living in the moment and actually being present for our lives. I knew when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro that I wasn't very good at really experiencing every moment. I spent a lot of time listening to my music and audiobooks and obsessing about whether my solar charger would work, because god forbid I should be alone with myself and my thoughts! Most of the time I spent worrying, fretting and avoiding my feelings as apposed to bearing witness to them and accepting them. Every night I would lie in the tent and drown out my thoughts with my audiobooks.

For the past year I have been studying and practicing meditation in an attempt to be more comfortable with myself and experience more of my life as I'm living it. Although I have a long way to go, I know that I have come a long way. I now can go for a run without my music, I notice more things in nature, I can focus on other people more when interacting, I can actually taste and notice the food that I'm eating.  I feel calmer and have come to understand that "thinking" isn't the answer to my problems or challenges. I have also realized that avoiding or trying to drown out our feelings doesn't make them go away!

Alzheimer's has been the ultimate gift and barometer in that it has given me an opportunity to practice being in the moment. When I can be in the moment with someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, I can enjoy the time spent together as I'm less apt to be "thinking" about the past and worrying about the future. For this reason, I will continue my connection with people and families experiencing dementia, as a way to practice and cherish the connections which transcend words, time and space.

Thank you to those of you who are living with and sharing your experiences with dementia. We have a lot to learn about ourselves and this disease can help us to do that!!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hold Thoughts In A "God Box"

"I am God. Today I will be handling all of your problems.  Please remember that I do not need your help. If life happens to deliver a situation to you that you cannot handle, do not attempt to resolve it. Kindly put it in the SFGTD (something for God to do) box.  It will be addressed in My time, not yours.  Once the matter is placed into the box, do not hold onto it...." (Internet chain letter by unknown author).  

Have you ever had a thought that continually creeps into your mind and you can't seem to let it go? A God Box is a tool that I recently learned about and that I've started to use in my life. I wish I had known about it when we were struggling to deal with Alzheimer's disease. There were so many times that we felt a lack of control and worried about the unpredictable nature of the disease and the uncertainty of the future. How does one deal with that?  The use of a God Box (or any other name if "God" doesn't resonate with you) is a wonderful solution.
A God Box is a place that you can write down your fears, worries,  or prayers on a piece of paper and pop it in the box to let it go and turn it over to a higher power or something other than yourself. Whenever you find yourself mulling something over in your mind and can't seem to let it go, there is something really powerful about writing it down and putting it in a box. It doesn't have to be a fancy box,  just anything that will hold your thoughts.
The neat thing about a God Box is that you don't need to believe in God to use it or get the benefit from it. The catch is that once you write it down and pop it in the box, you need to let it go. This is not an easy thing to do, but with practice you can get better at it. If something keeps coming up in my mind after I've put it in my God Box, I remind myself that it's in the box so I don't need to think about it.
The kinds of things you put in your God Box is really a personal thing.  I sometimes put things I'm worried about, or other times I put prayers or wishes for other people who may be struggling, or I put some sort of positive affirmation that I want to manifest in my life. One thing for sure, anything that can be written down and released will create space in your mind and thinking for creative solutions and problem solving. Focusing on the same old problems with the same old thinking, doesn't serve us well!!
Wendy Leung wrote a nice little article in The Globe and Mail, called "The God Box: transferring your troubles to a higher authority." She also includes the dos and don'ts of keeping a God Box. If you're into electronic tools, there's an app which offers a virtual God Box to keep track of your worries.

If you've ever used a God Box or an equivalent, I'd love to hear from you. Has a God Box made a difference in your life?