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On Mind and Consciousness

Allow me to share this in a new post…in one of my musings on the mind, I asked my friend Nader Robert Shabahangi his opinion on what is mind and consciousness. Here is his reply:

“So, let me say that I have little clue as to what is mind and consciousness. I studied philosophy and psychology, became a psychotherapist, and rather than knowing more after some 30 years of practice, I know less, way less. I stand in awe of human beings, who they are, what they do and do not do, how rich, utterly complex, how completely beyond my comprehension they are. The same is true for forgetful folks, very forgetful ones, who I see as my teachers, as folks who I just love dearly. I will never forget the teaching Tim, my first forgetful resident, gave me some 25 years ago. He was 62 and had been a professor at a very good university. His two sons brought him to me saying he could not live alone any longer as he had stopped speaking and would leave the stove on. What he taught me is that he did not want to remember the death of his wife of some 40 years who had died of cancer just a few years earlier. So he forgot. This story emerged by happenstance and is too long to describe here. But suf ce it to say, I never looked at forgetting the same. Many times I envy those who forget and are so very present in the moment. I am jealous that, in my eyes, their world seems more focused. For me their is no de-mentia, truly a word that should be part of a long legacy of professional hubris expressed through other words such a ‘retardation’, ‘insanity’, or calling people I don’t understand ‘stupid’. And that is all it is, in my mind: we don’t understand and value forgetting so we make it wrong, a disease. Why? So we can feel better in our so-called normality?

Anyway, this topic of forgetting is so close to me because when I think of forgetfulness I just have real people and their names in my mind, remember my encounters and my interactions with them, how much they have given me, how deeply I respect them for who they are. I long to understand them with the hope that, with their help, I can understand myself better. As I puzzle about who they are, I am reminded that I have little clue about who I am. As I walk beside them, I have learned and learn how caught I am in ways of being that are mysterious to me. I am humbled by the realization that many times I ll my days in ways that seem senseless, shallow, and superficial to me. Forgetfulness reminds me of my humanity. I am grateful to all those teachers, forgetful and those less so, that remind me of what really matters.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Nader that we should let go of the word “dementia”, as it is demeaning and stigmatising. I know many forgetful people who are not demented… If we can start creating a world where we truly honour people for where they are at, being curious about their reality and being-in-the-world, there will be far fewer people in nursing institutions. People will no longer “suffer from dementia”. They will be, as Nader points out and I have mentioned before, our real teachers.

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