Category Archives: Spirituality

Forget Control: Remember Breaking Through

imgresToo many times, after I’d spend time with my mom, I’d come home and instantly misplace my car keys or forget a phone number. The panic rocketed through me, the fear almost knocking the breath out of me, and I’d think, “I’m losing my mind; it’s happening to me.”

I recently read an insightful and reassuring blog by Mary O’Malley, author of What’s in the Way Is the Way. Mary offers a creative and spiritual perspective on the concept of forgetfulness. Here are some excerpts from her work.

It’s a Breakthrough, Not a Breakdown

By Mary O’Malley

A friend of mine is struggling right now. He has been the caregiver for his spouse for quite a few years and lately, he often feels disoriented, confused, and has had trouble remembering things.

He said recently, “Mary, I think I am losing my mind.” He went to his primary care provider, but so far, all of his medical tests are negative. So, what is going on?

I believe that my friend is experiencing an initiation through fear. He thinks he is having a breakdown, but I call it a breakthrough.breakthrough Losing our mind is one of our biggest fears. Most of us think our mind has been our safe place; we believe it needs to be on top of everything and in control. It has given us a false sense of security our whole lives. When we believe the mind is checking out or losing control, we have a hard time accepting it. But we are not in control; life is in control. We are all going to completely lose control at some point. Our bodies are going to break down. We are all going to die. And there is actually something inside of us that is totally okay with all of that. Life loves us enough to give us the exact set of experiences we need in order to become free from fear, including the experiences of confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.

Often we think we are in control, but are we? Are we in charge of our breathing? Some people would say, “Yes.” But just try to stop your breath. We can make it shallow or deep and we can hold our breath, but ultimately we are not in charge of our life force: We are being breathed by life. Stephen Levine, author, poet, and spiritual teacher, says, “May you be so lucky to come across something you can’t control.” This is where we find the healing.

The Tibetan Lama and founder of Naropa University, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gets to the heart of what we are exploring here when he says: “If there were no confusion, there would be no wisdom….imgres-1

Chaos is workable…not regressive.
Respect whatever happens, chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.
Respect the upsurge of energy that is emotions, no matter what form. … Let yourself be in the emotion, go through it, give-in to it, experience it….. Transmutation involves going through such fear.”

In other words, confusion is a necessary part of our spiritual awakening. What would your life be like if you trusted it all, even deep fear and confusion?

To read Mary’s entire blog, please visit:  http://www.maryomalley.com/2014/12/07/its-a-breakthrough/

To learn more about Mary and her work, visit:  http://www.maryomalley.com/

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Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Stepping into Your Own Caregiving Pilgrimage

imgres“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart…and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.” Carlos Castaneda

I love this image of looking breathlessly: so many times during our pilgrimage through dementia with my mother and later with Ron’s parents, we had that spark of wonder and connection that transcended all else.

Of course, other times we felt like we’d lost the path and were disconnected from our creative selves. During such times of uncertainty and struggle, I like to seek out inspiring people. I recently had the privilege of interviewing two such women and I wanted to share the experience with you.

Please click here  and join Maggie Finefrock and Lydia Smith on a fascinating spiritual pilgrimage. Then take their tips and create your own “everyday” pilgrimage.

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“Your soul knows the geography of your destiny and the map of your future. Trust this side of yourself. It will take you where you need to go but it will also teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.” John O’Donohue Wisdom

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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An Old-Fashioned Holiday

This holiday story from Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey celebrates the spiritual aspects of living with dementia.
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When I walk through the doors of the nursing home, I find my mother in her wheelchair, right in front of the medication cart, right behind the central nursing station, where nurses, delivery people, staff and family members congregate. Mom is bent over, her baby doll lying across her lap. When I walk up to her, I ratchet up my energy and widen my smile. I am preparing to clown her into a reaction.

Later my father will ask if I think she recognized me.

“No,” I will have to tell him. “She did not recognize me. But she did smile.”

The smile is important.

My hand waving and head bobbing does its work: Mom does smile, and I can tell she is in her own current version of a good mood.

“Music in the dining room,” the activity board reads, so I wheel her in that direction. An elderly man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat passes us in the hallway.

santa

“Look Mom, there’s Santa,” I tell her.

Having been brought up Jewish, Mom never was all that enthralled with the Claus mythology and she has not changed.

A white-haired woman is in the dining room, busily setting up for the music program. Several patients are already gathered. The woman takes out a microphone, a boom box, an illuminated plastic snowman, and a small silver bell. I continue wheeling Mom down the far corridor, liking the sense of companionship I have from this movement.

As we stroll, a nurse carrying a plate of lettuce walks past us.

“She must have been a good mother,” she says, nodding at the way Mom is holding the baby. “She must still be a good mother.”

“She is,” I say.

I have never really said to my mom, “You were a good mother.”

Now I realize she was.

I can see that Mom is enjoying the ride. She loved movement when she was younger and was far more adventuresome than Dad when it came to airplanes, ski lifts, fast cars, and speedy boats. For her, biting breeze across the face was thrilling, not threatening. Until she became a mother, that is. Then she abandoned her pleasure in the heights and speed and concentrated on making sure we were slow, safe, and centered.

We roll back into the dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little. jingle bells

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved from the memory care into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

I think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar and baked. When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.  challah

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas songs. She did not willingly go to Christmas parties. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past, ruffling her hair and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time. She is smiling, though really not at me. But I am sitting beside her while she is smiling and that makes me happy. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, nudging her, shaking a bell almost in her face, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

white christmas

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that nose, Mom laughs. For several minutes, Mom stays fixated on the scarlet nose, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed. Then, Thelda dances away and Mom’s face glazes back over.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah. holiday pic

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

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Six Creative Thoughts on Acceptance

letting go of control

Recently we have had the pleasure of talking to people from various Alzheimer’s Associations. One piece of wisdom many of them have shared:   Accept persons living with dementia as they are, without trying to change them.

Here are a few quotes that remind us of the power of acceptance and an inspiring story from Annabelle Montoya of the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter.

Click here to hear a great story from Annabelle

accepting life as it isAcceptance

 

patiencehappiness

     monkey with bird

 

 

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia:   Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Eight Wonderful Ways to Heighten Your Caregiving Experience

Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths.                                                                      — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

mountain

How do we appreciate our lives as a care partner when we’re worn, torn and forlorn? How do we feel our creative spark when we don’t have time or energy for our usual forms of renewal?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing some leading creative caregivers for an article on Conscious Caregiving for Natural Awakenings. Click here to read this article.

I’ve also found inspiration on the blog Zenhabits.net, where Leo Babauta offers great ideas for making the most of life. Leo generously shares his wisdom with anyone who wants to learn from and with him. Here are two of my favorite shots of his inspiration.

Treat an activity like a sacred ritual

Every single thing we do can be done as an afterthought, or it can be elevated to something sacred.

Washing your hands? Take a moment to realize how much of a miracle this act is (many people don’t have water for basic hygiene), take a breath, and truly pay attention as you go through this sacred hand-washing ritual.     washing hands

Do your dishes the same way: every dish a miracle, every sensation elevated to a new importance, every drop of water a gem worth paying attention to.

This applies to every activity: caregiving, writing, responding to an email, listening to a friend, playing with your child, taking a shower, going for a walk, paying bills. Worthy of your full attention, worthy of joy and appreciation.

Your Intention Creates Your Greatness

Start by admitting that greatness comes from making a difference in the world.

Being an example of compassion is one way you can make a difference.

It doesn’t matter if you achieve the result you set out to achieve — you can’t control the result, but you can control your intention. And you can show up, every day with that intention.

Carve out the time. Put aside everything else. Realize that life is limited and precious and amazing, and you shouldn’t waste a minute of it.

compassionPursue this compassionate work with single-minded devotion. This one thing matters, and all else can be put aside for now, unless it’s in support of your work. (Good health supports your work, including a whole-foods diet, exercise, and sleep.)

This compassionate work, with good-hearted intention, pursued with single-minded devotion: this is greatness.

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Here’s to all those sacred acts of daily caring and to the intentional and loving care partners, bringing greatness into the lives of those living with dementia.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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