Uncanny – I just finished reading Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.
I found his simple acknowledgement right at the beginning of the book that ‘the best of us did not return’ from the concentration camps incredibly moving.
It was the first time that I had truly thought of what it took to survive in those conditions – perhaps the very life ‘skills’ that see youths ASBO’d and imprisoned are what would keep you alive there.
It’s an uncomfortable thought – what would you be prepared to do to keep yourself alive, at the expense of someone else?
Strangely, just like Alison, this week has seen my first introduction to Vicktor Frankl! He was briefly mentioned on the BBC programme ‘Imagine’ and he struck a chord with me. The programme was examining the worth (or not) of the self help movement. The programme has inspired a flurry of research on my part this week. Others featured that I’ve been exploring are the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and his wonderful philosophy of ‘mindfulness’ and also the guys involved in the development of Cognitive Therapy. I was delighted to see your post. Thanks so much for the link. I have had a very inspiring morning listening to Frankl’s interviews.
What he has to say seems very relevant to the problems we are all facing at present, particularly the environmental mess we have created. When he talks about the Will to Meaning becoming frustrated, leading folks into a search for pleasure or power as compensation, this seems to me a very good reading of the way our society functions. Consumerism is the ultimate search for pleasure born out of what seeems to be an existential vacuum. I feel hope when I read the above quote because it suggests that this critical stage that we all find ourselves in, has the potential to be a catalyst for the rediscovery of the deeper meaning of each of our lives.
The endless striving for that elusive ‘something’ be it perfect lifestyle, product, perfect partner, drives us ever deeper into that vacuum it seems. Frankle states that when you stop striving you realise that happiness is potentially already within you; when you engage with your own life, opening yourself up to the meaning, purpose and service that your life possesses, you find that, as Thich Nhat Hanh comments, you are already home. In that deep soul connection with ourselves, with others, with nature, is our salvation it seems. Have you ever read any Aldo Leopold (another recent discovery for me)? He wrote, ‘We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in…when we see land as a community to which we belong we may then begin to use it with love and respect.’ I think the act of opening to the deep meaning in our lives is intimately connected to our sense of belonging and our ability to feel kinship with others and place; in a world of alienation, this act connects us to all of creation; we start to care about what happens to us, to others, to this world, and as Frankle states, we begin to recognise the responsiblity and choices we actually have to make those much needed changes.
His message is particularly helpful in enabling us to guard against the paralysing fatalism that such seemingly insurmountable problems can trigger. Not only that, it warms the heart to be reminded just how resilient and extraordinary the human spirit can be. Thanks so much for this post – I have lots of reading to do! :0)
But what if one doesn’t recognize the fact that the situation their in can not be changed? Does one become a Don Quichotte, an outcast, or even worse? Is this the point where people call out to the Gods to intervene?
I think each situation has to be judged individually. There are certainly some situations where change can and should be brought about; an idealistic belief in the power of change is very important. However, life sometimes deals us experiences that stretch our own inner resources to the point of breaking – these can become the proverbial brick wall that we bang our heads against, when perhaps a different response is required. My sister began to suffer from a mysterious neurological problem in her forties, first believed to be Parkinson’s. The debilitating symptoms that limited her movements led also to severe problems with her digestion – in short she refused to eat and eventually starved to death. The psychological impact of the illness, the deep grief at the loss of her old life, the uncertainty and seeming misery of the future, led to her early death, not primarily the illness. She kept hoping for a saviour, looking for an external change that would give her old life back to her. She sunk into a hopelessness, deeply resistant to any strategy that might have enabled her to feel more empowered, or helped her to engage with her life (as it had become) and illness more positively. No-one can judge another for not being able to cope with such an awful event but it became clear to my family that without first accepting that life was never going to be the same- that certain things couldn’t be changed – she would never actually be able to claim a life of meaning and hope. Frankl resonates very strongly with me because I saw first hand what happens when we can’t make that inner shift. There are some things in life that we have little or no control over but we always, even in the most tragic and desperate of situations, have control on how we choose to deal with these; in fact, those very choices are the things that actually make or break us, not the events. My sister’s death was a tradegy not only because she died so young – still very afraid and struggling with what had happened to her – but because she had become an exile in her own life. Frankl challenges us with the question: when something monumental hits us, breaks our known life apart, do we see ourselves as helpless victim or do we seek to find what it is that life requires from us? In doing this we remain, regardless of the challenges, fully present in our lives; life retains meaning until the last breath.
In response to your question, I guess it’s important to be able to distinguish if a refusal to believe that something can’t be changed is making a positive difference. If a person is paralysed, one could refuse to believe that person will not walk again, holding on to the hope of a miracle, which might or might not happen. Or one could accept what has happened and then build a new life of meaning within the limitations of that situation. It might be that to hope for a miracle that never comes is less productive than actually grieving, accepting and moving on. Again, each of us has to decide for ourselves and no-one can really make those choices for us. None of us can really know how we would react until we are there faced with the challenge. It’s a tough one isn’t it?
Hennie, I think the issue you have identified reveals a very complex emotion – that of hope.
Where someone can’t see or find hope then in some instance they start to become an outcast themselves (less they bring down the rest of the group). Typically, that is when they need someone to assist them – whether that person is physical or esoteric.
I have been catching up on things here, having been away a few days, and have just read this post. As ever I am moved by the wonderful contributions that arrive. Hennie I have just read your article for Touchstone on early Dementia and was moved to tears. It is very touching. I wonder if it would have a place in this blog?
Thank you Hennie. I’ll put it here, because I think it’s the right place to share it with Maria, David, Alison & Charlene, and if others find it that’s ok too. Your essay is extremely moving – very powerful and intimate, and yet it is good to share it. It feels like a gift of love. Thank you. I hope by having it here in the comments rather than as a separate post we honour it with the boundary it needs. Those who need to find it will find it.
Just a note for those reading this, Hennie refers here to one of the key meditations we do in The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids called the ‘Light Body Exercise’.
Dementia – Bringing home the child
Lord, it is time; the summer has been grand.
On the sundials your shadow cast
and on the fields the winds be sent.
Command the last fruits to refine;
for two more southernly days they strive.
Urge them to completion and drive
the last sweetness into the heavy vine.
Whoever has no home now, will not built one anymore
Whoever is alone now, long alone will he remain.
Will wake, read, write long letters,
and through the avenues back and forth,
wander while the leaves are drifting
It happens to people, mostly older than 65, but sometimes still in their late 40′s, to a little bit more men than women. Sometimes it sets off suddenly, in another case in bigger or smaller steps, still another person just slowly slips away.
The memory staggers, at first one can’t quite remember what happened about an hour ago, in a more advanced stage you have forgotten what happened one minute ago. You just can’t learn new things, something is really wrong with the imprinting. Often the character changes, people become more aggressive, or even softer, more complaining, more talkative, or more quiet. The body also gets affected, a foot, a hand, the mouth has weakened. Talking becomes more difficult, in the end you lay on the bed, in need, until one day you can ‘t even swallow anymore. But often one has passed away, before reaching this stage.
Dementia. A collective term for brain diseases with the above mentioned visible and noticeable characteristics. Doctors discern more than 80 types of dementia, but they can only be sure about the right diagnosis post mortem, and sometimes there even can’t be found a cause. There isn’t any real therapy, although blood thinning substances seem to have a tempering influence on the process of dementing. In the early stage of the disease physiotherapy helps regaining some strength and maintaining as good a condition as possible. Logopaedistic aid is given to improve speaking, breathing and swallowing. In the long run this therapies won’t keep the patient from becoming immobile and the nursing home has become his residence.
Again I was awoken by the cold, early in the morning, one December day. ‘My quilt is much too short.’ I call my wife and rage against her, that my quilt that I have for five years already, is much to short, it isn’t 2 meters, 1.80 meters at best and she has lied to me about this for all these years. I keep on ranting about this all morning, until she has had enough, takes out her measuring tape and measures the quilt. 2 meters long. I pick up the quilt and hold it in front of me and see that it is much longer than my height and I am 1.80 meters. I am convinced. Later on my wife says that you can’t buy any quilts shorter than 2 meters. She is right, I remember. She buys me a new quilt, 2.20 meters. I feel ashamed and I am happy with the quilt.
A dementing person in the early stage often has good insight in what is happening to him. In some people brain functions seem to restore themselves quite a bit, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with them, in other patients these functions disappear permanently. Some of them can live quite reasonable with their disease for 10 or 20 years, but most of them deteriorate more quickly. On average the a person dies 6 or 7 years after the diagnosis has been made.
To my wife life in worrying about me is far from easy. She misses the sexual intimacy, but even more the emotional intimacy we used to share during many years. I often don’t get anymore what it is all about, I am somewhat lost in my feelings. And then there are of course the worries about practical things : I still take care of my pills myself : Do I take the right ones at the right time? Sometimes I am not sure about this myself. My wife suggested that she would take care for my medication, but I am not ready for this yet. Sometimes when I take a stroll she is afraid I will start to wander, especially when I have a bad day. And she fears the loneliness if I will suddenly die, or when the disease will have crippled me that much that I have to stay at the nursing home, no longer able to communicate properly. I once heard somebody say about dementia : “He had the disease, she suffered from it.”
I merge in spirit with my core tree. It is January and fairly mild. I can feel how happy he is, he sucks in my soul. I feel warm and it is pleasantly quiet in my head. I feel that I am looking around me from a great height. I am long and slim, and rigid, hard but flexible and full of life. Slower than human beings, White beam I am called, my berries are floury but sweet after they have been cooked. I call him Jacob. I have called him by that name since I met him after I “saw” where I could find him. After we spent some time standing and lying in this way I want to detach myself from Jacob and return to my place in bed. He won’t just let go, calls me back, we are one again, again I say goodbye, but he takes me back. After this third time I come to myself , more clear than before this going together, more relaxed. I give thanks to Jacob, not longer tied to him now.
Solo Ritual of Timely
Needed : a candle and matches or if you don’t trust this an electric light ( e.g. a torch on batteries)
Prepare by taking some time of rest and placing your candle
Light your candle; speak / sing Awens
Open your circle
Say a prayer if you feel that is the right thing to do now
Bring light to the directions
Do the Light Body Exercise
Take a point from your memory, about 1 hour ago
Try to remember what has happened since that point, you needn’t be very detailed, until you come to the moment where you are now in your ceremony
Stay a while here and now; enjoy the relaxation
Imagine the things you are going to do in the coming hour
Become aware of your body and gradually let the Light Body fade
Close your circle
Put out your candle / lamp
In line with the processes going on in my brain, I begin to remember my childhood more and more, the time in class, the time in kindergarten and the time before that; day and night at home except when I am staying with granddad and -mom. The memories are very vivid, I am there again, I am again who I was during the event that I am remembering.
The child in me comes alive and threats to take over. In the old days this state was know as “grow childish”, not to be mistaken for “acting childish”, which means that someone keeps hanging on to a simple view, where he knows better or “being childlike” what indicates someone who has never become an adult. It is very tempting to give in to the child. Still I feel that it is better to lead the child to the big world, in the end I am an adult, and not even a young adult for that matter.
Sometimes the child is happy,playful with weird thoughts and jests; one can laugh with me, although some times it gets out of hand. On other occasions the child is sad and cries about the most futile things happening. And sometimes it is stubborn, nagging, a nuisance. It acts on impulse, it is pedantic and it is quarrelsome. And it forgets quickly and swiftly changes moods. On other days it slumbers; I am my almost old self again and I wonder… The loss is big, hard to bare. The other day, my wife said to me : “I think now I understand how you were as a boy scout.” I used to tell her stories about the things I experienced when I was a boy scout. She could never relate to that very much but now with me behaving like I do she suddenly understands how beautiful these days were to me. My wife gets to now me still a lot better, although much to her grievance.
The child and I are getting closer and closer. I fall over every now and then and it is difficult to me to keep my balance. They give me a walking aid and I am no longer allowed to take strolls without company. Communication is messy, I can hardly understand what is being said to me. My speech is difficult, my wife often doesn’t grasp what I am saying, also because my articulation is bad and my voice is that soft that it can hardly be heard. The child (but is it a child?) and I live huge adventures in our head, but we can’t share them anymore. Sometimes I am very exited and strangely, in these moments I can make myself reasonably clear.
Ritual of Timely
Needed : a candle and matches or if you don’t trust this an electric light ( e.g. a torch on batteries) Something to eat and drink.
Prepare by taking some time of rest while your wife places the candle
My wife lights the candle; she speaks / sings Awens and invites me to join in
Open the circle; my wife supports me while we are walking around the circle
My wife speaks :
May I find peace at the core of my being
May I find peace in the Grove
May I radiate peace throughout the world
She lets me say every single sentence together with her
I am seated or lie down on the bed
My wife greats the North and stretches out her hands while saying : “May peace reign the North”
My wife greats the South and stretches out her hands while saying : “May peace reign the South”
My wife greats the West and stretches out her hands while saying : “May peace reign the West”
My wife greats the East and stretches out her hands while saying : “May peace reign the East”
My wife turns to the center, making a giving gesture while saying : “May peace govern the World”
The last words I say with her
Do the Light Body Exercise
My wife says the body parts out loud, from foot to scalp, and I repeat her words
We are quiet / meditate for some time
We eat and drink, while trying to talk about what keeps us busy
My wife lets us get aware of the body and lets the awareness of the Light Body slowly fade
We give thanks
We close the circle
My wife puts out the candle / lamp
One day I am being taken to the nursing home. I can hardly stand and only shuffle a little bit with support. It isn’t very clear if I do understand much of what is said to me. I don’t know if I miss myself or other people.
Ritual of Timeless
When my wife visits me, she kisses me, she talks to me about all day life.
She does the Light Body while she softly moves her hand over the quilt that covers my body.
on such a day I want to die
in the softness of night
just wander off
in the shimmering morning light
in such an hour I want to live
just a bit lose from sadness
awaiting a new love
forgetting fear for a moment
now I want to hush
be simply simple
to get no more thoughts
light and lighter, small at last
This is a perfect example of the natural ebb and flow of ourselves, our planet and our universe being ever-changing, shifting, adapting – where one thing gives, another takes – where situations remain fixed (which is an illusion – it will also change, in time, as all things do) the observer must then be the initiator – which is to say that, given enough time, the situation will also change if we are patient enough! Human beings are experts at initiating change quickly – otherwise we would have never evolved as we have. Being able to judge the precise moment to initiate change is the part where one must use his/her instincts! Let’s hope we can all stay clear enough in our hearts and minds to make changes for the better!
This is a perfect example of the natural ebb and flow of our universe being ever-changing, shifting, adapting – where one thing gives, another takes – where situations remain fixed (which is an illusion – it will also change, in time, as all things do) the observer must then be the initiator – which is to say that, given enough time, the situation will also change if we are patient enough! Human beings are experts at initiating change quickly – otherwise we would have never evolved as we have. Being able to judge the precise moment to initiate change is the part where one must use his/her instincts and wits! Let’s hope we can all stay clear enough in our hearts and minds to make changes for the better!
I missed your article in Touchstone (yet again neglecting to renew my sub! – bad Druid!) – I am so pleased to have been able to read it here. I was deeply touched and humbled by your honesty. Your experience is a very poignant one for me with regard to my own family situation – I am so grateful that you have shared this with us. We have talked lots about nakedness here – physical and spiritual – about what it means when we connect with others at that deeper level. Your article speaks from that deep place and touched that place within me, and I feel sure in all who read it. Philip is right, it is a gift of love. I know that this will be scant consolation for the challenges that confront you, but you have helped me face some stuff I have been running from – I can’t begin to explain how much this means to me. I am so grateful to you Hennie. Thank you.X
Philip, thank you so much for placing Hennie’s article here.
Thank you Maria. I am happy that my words still can be of some use. However I am aware that what you consider to be a choice for nakedness (and I agree with you) from another point of view could be interpreted as loss of decorum. Come to think of it, how would it be if we all gave up some of that (the decorum I mean)?
Not sure I had much to begin with! :0) Actually that’s a big fib – I was a Sunday School girl with a deeply devout Methodist mum: decorum was high on the agender! However, my Dad was (and is) very eccentric (a whole different view of what decorum might be) and so you will have to forgive me, I’m probably a very confused individual! How would it be if we gave up some of that decorum? Probably rather nice (I think!?).
Hennie – I really enjoyed reading that. I found what you wrote enlightening; it’s a subject that I try not to think about (you know the kind of superstitious thing – if you don’t ever think about Dementia it won’t ever reach out its boney finger and poke you in the ribs).
Thank you Philip for replicating the article here, otherwise I would never have been able to read it.
My friend’s father has dementia. They live next door to one another. My friend finds it all very wearing – the relentlessness of the disease – the struggles with his father every day and night. He becomes frustrated with his father’s behaviour. If I may, I’d like to print out your article and show it to him? I think he will be able to shift his frame of vision (not all the time) to help cope with his father’s deterioration.
Hello, Alison. It is like so many things in life, you never really pay all that much attention to it until it hits you. Please print the article, it does me good . Sharing it was one of the reasons that I wrote it, another reason for writing it was that putting it in words brings a bit of catharsis; I hope it will work in the same way for your friend and his father.
Today, I am lying on my bed most of the day. When I walk outside of the house, my wife has to hold me, and we can go for 25 meters and then must return. I am using a lot of oxygen through nose canules; my heart beat is very irregular. But my brain/mind is functioning much better than I expected back then. Still, the Great Change, the Enigma, the Goal is very near; it feels undescribable.