Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creating the Space

(cross-post with Presence Care Project blog)

Amazing things can happen with folks who are living with dementia. They can start speaking intelligible words after months of muteness. They can start relating and smiling again. They can move their previously frozen limbs. They can sing entire songs. They can show flashes of insight. So many possible surprises.

However, the conditions have to be right.

First and foremost, the person needs to be given the time, and the mental and emotional space to BE. That means no rushing, no outpacing, no talking over, no ignoring, no assuming. Instead, we are to practice being present for them.

How does that work?

First I take a chair and I sit . . . down. Down at the person’s level, mirroring her own sitting. And I take the time to relax into my body, and to let my mind settle. Becoming aware of the sensations in my body, and of breath. Dropping below the habitual level of discursive thinking and emotional reactivity. I create space within my own mind. Sitting with her, I practice what is commonly called mindfulness.

Something usually happens then. Mindfulness starts working its magic not just on me, but also the person I am sitting with.

I notice my friend’s body starts to relax, and I can feel her mind loosening as well. There is an overall sense of joint resting within a vast expanse. For her this is especially important, as the newly created space and stillness gives the tenuous connections in her brain a chance to take again. She can ‘re-ment’. She was mute and now she tells me “thank you”.

If electrodes were taped on my friend’s brain, I am pretty sure, we would see dramatic changes in her brain’s activity and connectivity. Mindfulness by proxy . . . Maybe a new avenue for neuroscience research?


  1. Wow! Very inspiring! I often think about the potential of meditation for kids and very elderly. There seems to be something about it that connects one being to another. I have heard that some animals respond to meditation as well. Keep up your good bodhisattva work, and thanks for letting us know!

  2. Thank you John. This is especially important for folks like persons with dementia who have lost the ability to initiate things, and for whom mindfulness practice is no longer an option.

  3. Relational mindfulness, mirror neurons, attunement... we are wired for it. I've called it being clear inside, making space, and it is my life's work as a parent, a gift I endeavor to offer my children.

    Thank you for the work you do.