Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Alzheimers and Spirituality

I was recently visiting in the Alzheimers ward in one of our long term care facilities. It can be painful to be with those whom you know and love, who can no longer use their minds reasonably. My wife’s mother suffered with debilitating Alzheimers for 10 years before passing away. My own mother, still living, suffers with short term memory loss. This is sad yet real as all the organs of our body deteriorate with age and a plethora of other causes.

So many of us in our western society limit the identity of our human lives by our capacity to “think.” That is to say, we limit the experience of our lives to self consciousness alone. What happens when my brain becomes ill? What happens when my self consciousness loses its capacity to reason and understand? Am I somehow less human? Less worthy of love? In other words, is our human capacity to connect, to be in communion with, to love limited to the “thinking” mind alone?

Spiritual practice is about learning how to navigate all the various levels of the mind, and to connect with and live out of our deeper Self, our deeper Unitive Mind, which is much more than our dualistic self consciousness. We are more than what we can think! Thanks be to God.

So when I am on the Alzheimer ward, or with my mother who can’t remember what she just said, our capacity to be in loving communion is not limited to her deteriorating brain. There is something much deeper going on between us (in fact, there is something much deeper going on between you, me and all of creation).

In order to discover this deeper Unitive Mind, deeper loving communion, we have to learn the “work of silence.” Maggie Ross, in her book “Silence: A User’s Guide,” says that “Humans have lost their relationship with the original silence from which, and within which, we evolved; silence that is essential to language, insight, poetry, and music. This loss of communion has gradually eroded our humanity, for what makes us human is not language, tool use, artifice, or self consciousness - current research is showing us that many animals have these gifts as well - but rather the ability of the human mind to come full circle and forget itself in silence.” Silence is the deep and universal love language of God resonating in every soul, and indeed in all of creation. Spiritual practice is about learning to die to our surface and passing selves, and to open up to the flow of our deep silent Love. Spiritual practice is about learning to see this silent Love in the face of every other - regardless of their minds working right or not. We are more than our thinking minds. So, we need to learn to die before we die in order to live. As Lent approaches, it is another invitation to enter into the wilderness, enter into the Silence, with Jesus who shows us how to die to self and rise to newness of Life and Love.

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