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How do we nurture our Selves? What do we do to feel fulfilled, to feel nurtured, to have a sense of Belonging, Connectedness, and Meaning? To feel that we are Growing, Joyful Beings, Secure and Autonomous in our Selves? Especially the Autonomy of Being, to feel that you are indeed the master of your own ship, that your wellbeing is internally controlled, that you are free from the manipulation of others. Is it even possible to break free from the internal dialogue that stems from our earliest childhood messages, especially the negative ones? How many of us go through life thinking that we are indeed “good enough”?

Earlier I wrote about detachment and disconnection. It would seem that many of us spend our lives trying to detach ourselves from the early childhood traumas of bullying and unintentional parental harm, the ignorance of teachers who tried to t us all into one box, the societies that did not know how to deal with anyone who did not t the ‘norm’. These messages are so deeply entrenched that they in fact often rule our every move – the way we connect with others (or not), the way that we present ourselves, and the way we interpret everything that comes our way. It is often the filter that colours the way that we see the world, and the way in which we interact with the world.

As we grow older, these very filters are the ones that bring about existential fatigue. We become tired of walking into the same walls or dead ends, making the same mistakes, and falling into the same traps over and over again. It is only through in-depth therapeutic work that we begin to understand these neurological pathways and see the way in which they direct our Being-in-the-world. The more we explore our inner world, the more we begin to see patterns of behaviour and understand their origins. Yet, this is often only the beginning of our inner journey. The real work starts when we can create new patterns, and new neurological pathways that will determine a new way of being-in-the world. This is when our real journey starts in Life when we begin to feel and see new ways, new connections, and new experiences. For many of us, the privilege comes only with old(er) age. For me, this journey started at the age of 50.

I have just celebrated my 54 birthday in beautiful Vienna. Unplanned, I realised that I also celebrated my 20th birthday there in 1985. It feels like a lifetime away. I think back to the person I was then – confused, hurt, angry, uninformed, unformed, overwhelmed by existential angst, fuelled by a homicidal rage against the world. Somehow, I could not imagine that my life would amount to anything much. I was truly lost. Somehow, Life took me on this most remarkable journey of discovery. First, 25 years of unlearning, undoing the damage of a childhood spent within a context that just did not know what to do with me. From 45 to 50, I was in limbo, trying to make sense of a career and forever refusing to grow up. And then I turned 50. Glorious 50! Suddenly it all started coming together, I started to see the wood for the trees, to see beyond my own limitations and to be aware of my own sense of Connectedness. It was while walking the Caminho in Portugal that I came unto my Self and for the first time felt a true sense of perspective on this thing called Life, and the Divine Connection that all Life on earth and beyond holds.

It was also here that I learned that this discovery is indeed a part of the development of the older brain – from 50 to 55 we develop certain new neurological pathways that give us the ability to look inward, to truly discover our Selves, to see the bigger picture and to do self-reflection. We begin to see a clearer picture of our Selves within the greater scheme of things. We are given the opportunity to detach from the patterns that dictated us in our earlier years, and we can “loosen up”, get rid of these patterns and discover a new sense of Self, one that we can co-construct with the Universe. We are now at the age where, if we allow ourselves to be in tune with the Greater Good of the Universe, we are breathed into Being, intricately Connected and guided. With this comes a whole new way of expressing our Selves. We now have the opportunity to develop insight, empathy, and kindness, even if only towards our own Selves. We somehow can stop beating ourselves up.

For many of us, it is as if we start seeing the magnificence of Life for the first time. We are open to new people, new experiences, and a renewed sense of wonderment. (I remember a BBC interview with Winnie Mandela a few years ago. The interviewer asked her about Stompie and the dark period of her life after she got divorced from Nelson Mandela. He said to her that he could see that she has changed, and asked her what brought about this serene change in her. She smiled beautifully, looked him straight in the eyes and said “I became a Grandmother”). With old age often comes a softness, a gentleness. Of course, not everyone embraces this gift, as many had not bothered to get rid of blueprints and destructive patterns in their earlier years. Life offers a gift, but it is for us to embrace it. If the earlier work was not done, it is often impossible to embrace the Gift of Growth in our later years. For many, this is a sad, bitter, lonely path of decline into old age.

What then is this thing called “dementia”? Is it only about disconnection and detachment? Is it a place of suffering and darkness, a special kind of hell? Is it caused purely by the deterioration of the brain, or physiological destruction? Again, I think we need to distinguish between “remembering” and “knowing”. How will we know what the person with dementia knows, what they think, see, and feel? Well, we will never know unless we start thinking differently about them as people who are thinking differently. As Dr Al Power so poignantly says, “We have to change our minds about people whose minds have changed”. Imagine if we constructed a new understanding of people living with ‘dementia’ as Sacred, Spiritual Beings. As people who have left behind their one-dimensional stay in this realm, being partly

Connected to another Realm that we simple beings cannot yet see. Imagine how we would treat them…we would come to them as our teachers, to simply be in the Presence. We would honour them, revere them, hold them in the highest esteem, and gently care for them. Imagine how they would react to this. We would always make sure that they are dressed beautifully, give them the purest and best food, make sure they are never distressed, and that their surroundings are calm and serene. What if…

The socially constructed reality that we have created is so different. Tom Kitwood implored us to always show “respect, recognition, trust” in our bestowing of ‘personhood’ upon those living with dementia. Instead, we have created the exact opposite. Now that I am growing older myself (yes, I know 54 is hardly OLD) I am beginning to see more and more how wreckless we are as if we are indeed immortal. It will not happen to us, we are invincible. This is about ‘them’, not about ‘us’. I have always maintained that the only question we need to ask ourselves when thinking about person-centred care, or even personhood, is “How would I wish to be..?” IF I end up living with memory loss, how would I wish to be? And yes, please assume that you will know exactly what is happening to you. Sit still for a second. Imagine yourself being diagnosed with ‘dementia’. Let the thought sink in, feel it. Others will start thinking on your behalf, making decisions about your life, where you will live, and what will happen to your house, your pets, and your furniture. You will forfeit your identity for that of ‘patient’. As the world withdraws itself from you, with it will go your autonomy, security, connectedness, joy, meaning, and growth. Not because of your diagnosis, but because of the way that the world positions you.

Now – ask yourself again, “How would I wish to be?”, and start to prepare yourself. Take the time to look deep within yourself to understand who you really are, what is important to you, and what defines you. Start to create new neurological pathways, discover new things, and explore new ways of Connecting, of Being. Start living in other dimensions of Consciousness, whatever that might mean to you. Meditate. Listen to music that lifts your Soul to higher levels of Consciousness. Fall into nature. Instead of growing up, start growing down (thank you Nader for this great image). Use the brain’s gift of looking deeper and deeper into your Self, into the magnificence of the Universe. Learn about the stars, and seashells, expand your horizons, be daring, and be your Self. Make new friends. Start to paint. Write your Story. Create new neurological pathways that will override the inevitable atrophy and leave you in a place of eternal well-being. There is so much more to us than our hips, our knees, our bowel movements and our cognitive function of remembering.

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