Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sitting With Alice

2 Heart Lessons From the Ones With Dementia

Part I

"I feel lonely", she tells me, her voice so faint I have to strain my ear to understand.

Alice* is another long time resident at Zen Hospice, whose old age dementia has wiped out most of her thinking brain.  I can feel her loneliness, and I let her know in my own words . . . She nods, and gives me her usual big smile. "What is this place? Is this home?" Short phrases, big fears. She's relying on me, her alter memory, to orient her again, and again. 

After a while of shared sweetness, I start noticing the unpleasantness. All inside, and made up of boredom, with a strong flavor of aversion.  And soon, the relief from suddenly knowing. Thinking brain -mine - is not liking being forced on a diet.  I have come to depend so heavily on thoughts to give me a sense of substance. Unbeknownst to her, Alice is teaching me a big Dharma lesson. 

Grateful for the wisdom gained, I 'return' to Alice with a new sense of ease.  Boredom, frustration still there, but no longer getting in the way. Feeling heart has taken the center stage. When the time comes for me to leave, Alice teaches me yet another lesson, this time in caring. "Make sure to watch your step."

Part II

I read the post I wrote a few days ago about 'Letting the Heart Open Wide'. And I am shocked. The conversation I had with my mother then, is the same, word for word, as the  one I had with Alice today. Only this time, I am left with a different residual feeling. With my mother, our few minutes together on the phone had left my heart wide open for her pain, and my pain, and the love that bonds us. With Alice, the luxury of more time gave me the chance to explore the heart even more.

Feeling much gratitude for all these heart and mindfulness lessons from the ones supposedly 'without a mind' - dementia, from Latin 'demens' = without mind -

* Not her real name.

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