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The Mind

Without becoming overly philosophical, I am intrigued by the ‘mind’ and what happens to the subjective experience of the Self as we age and our cognitive abilities change. We hear people say “he has lost his mind”. Can one “lose one’s mind”? What/where is the seat of the mind – is it a purely cognitive function of the brain, or is it an intricate symphony of many instruments that fuse into a harmony of knowing? Is the mind factual or emotional, or a combination of facts and feelings that we ascribe certain meanings too?

We know that feeling in the gut when we get shocking news – and feel ‘gutted’. Well, we have exactly the same feeling when we get exceptionally good news or when we get a fright – it is all in the gut! But, we somehow process the ‘gut feeling’ based on perceptions of good or bad or happy or sad.

Is the link between the emotional experience and the interpretation of this experience short-circuited for the person living with cognitive impairment? Do they just express emotions not really knowing what they feel?

The subjective sense of Self, mindfulness and emotional awareness of people living with dementia is (in my opinion) elevated to a much higher level. Their intuitive sense of their own vulnerability is like standing naked on the highway – vehicles rushing past at incomprehensible speed, people staring, hooters blaring.

Very few stop and offer assistance. It must be unbelievably frightening.

Often their only defence is to withdraw, to go inward more and more, to consciously cut off. And as Naomi Feil once said – “become living dead people”. Not because of dementia, but because the world simply is no longer their place of belonging. It is the world that robs them of their identity, security, connectedness, autonomy, meaning, and joy. (The Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being).

When a person living with dementia is seen as someone who can no longer grow, a slow death sentence is imposed – again, not by the disease, but by society.

Growth is spiritual, it is our own ‘becoming’. It does not have to entail learning new words or concepts. Growth can be a meaningful journey of becoming your true Self, divinely connected. Of truly becoming the new, different you, being with your own Self, learning to dance with the dis-ease rather than to fight it. Learning to honour the new reality. Exploring mindfulness of spiritual awakening.

I so hope that we will start learning from some African cultures who revere older people who’s minds have changed. That we see this as a progression to a higher state of being – “with one foot on the other side”. Imagine a world where we seek to understand this state of being in order to learn from it…

I will never forget, as long as I live, looking into the eyes of my maternal Grandfather when he stopped communicating verbally. I looked straight into his soul, seeing the most mindful human being that ever crossed my path. I saw his respect for nature, his love for his family, his life of devotion to his God, and his unconditional love for me.

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