to the Earth,
"You owe me."
With a love
the whole sky.
Many of us living in our 'developed' countries live lives that are filled with anxiety, frenzy, even discontent. We seem to have so much to do, so little time. Play, just hanging out, feeling at peace inside, with oneself and the world, seem almost impossible for us to achieve. We desire to be caring and kind but are too rushed to find time to practice it. So we attend mindfulness workshops, yoga classes, practice meditation, listen to 'easy' music on the radio. One possible solution lies right in front of us: Take a look at many of our elders, especially the very old, the forgetful and very forgetful: What have they learned to be so at peace?
Our Ashram community aspires to look at elders as our teachers who have much to offer us.
Elders teach us that we can look at life backwards. Rather than thinking that we only need to be successful materially, we are learning from our elders that success is also a psychological and spiritual journey. We learn patience, presence, relating, we learn that being with is as important as doing to. We learn that taking time to relate to others builds community and makes us feel better. We become more content. Feel more at peace. So much of the research today reveals that the way we are socially connected to others, how much of a community surrounds us, determines our physical and psychological, even our spiritual health.
The only control we humans have available to us is how we look at our world, how we view others. We can train our minds in such a way that when we 'see' elders we see beauty, wealth of spirit and experience, we 'see' a desirable way of being. Seeing a desirable way of being, we desire to achieve who they are, what they stand for. Elders are beings filled equanimity, with kindness and compassion for others and the world. Once we have trained our mindset, our viewpoint, in such a way, we will look at eldercare communities as learning communities where we younger in age can learn to be at peace with ourselves.
Eldercare communities thus become ashrams, psychological and spiritual learning communities for us to deepen our lives, to stay connected to our humanity, our spirit.
Why is this ashram model important? Without valuing what so many elders stand for: slowness, deliberateness, equanimity, relatedness, presence, care, and love, many of us will continue to be harried, ungrounded, deeply unsatisfied people searching for meaning and peace. And we will surely not survive this experiment in human consciousness as our adult values of material strive which places achievement in power, status and money above the elder values of connectedness and spirit, is simply not sustainable for us and planet.
All the wisdom traditions over the last 5000 years of recorded human history speak to at least one invariable truth: All is one and one is all or, in other words, as within so without, as above so below. It is not that we will find peace when everything falls into place. Rather, when we find our peace, everything else will fall into place.
The elder ashram is based on this time-tested truth and aspires to put this wisdom into practice.
Find your peace and then everything will fall into place.
The term ashram (Sanskrit: आश्रम, Sanskrit pronunciation: [aːɕɽɐmɐ]) comes from the Sanskrit root śram- (श्रम्) ('to work’). According to S. S. Chandra, the term means "a step in the journey of life". In contrast, according to George Weckman, the term ashram connotes a place where one strives towards a goal in a disciplined manner. Such a goal could be ascetic, spiritual, yogic or any other. At Elder Ashram our goal is to live in community, feel valued, experience meaning and purpose, sense connection and care, enjoy relationship and love. Sign up and become part of a movement for a more respectful care of our elders and us elders to be.
When I tell people that I work with individuals with various forms of forgetfulness, including Alzheimer’s, Vascular, Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementia, among others, the response I usually get is: “How can you do that? It must be so depressing to be around people like that!”
Deeper into the soul – how do we do that anymore in today’s fast-paced world? We may enter into the richness of this question by asking: Why do we live? For what do we struggle? What is the meaning of suffering? And why do we age? What are elders for?
By Helen Avery
Many of us wonder what we can do to live our best lives. Before spiritual teacher Ram Dass became the man he is today, he was asking questions of his beloved guru, Neem Karoli Baba. One afternoon, Ram Dass asked, “How do I raise my kundalini?” Maharaj-ji provided an unexpected answer, simply stating, “Feed everyone, serve everybody.”
It takes a while to explain what a gift it is to be with the forgetful ones. In contrast to usual interactions, the forgetful don’t come to a relationship with a whole lot of preconceived ideas or a rigid mindset. The moment that went before is gone – irretrievable for the most part. They live in the now. All they have to go on is what you bring to them – now.
As with the loss of one of the physical senses, the other senses become heightened, more acute. So it is with forgetfulness. When logic or data points grow dim, when words don’t work, a state of “knowing” – feeling, sensing – becomes more acute. I, as the visitor, can’t hide or obfuscate, or skim the surface of ‘truth’. They “know”.
I become forced to learn a new language; one that is honest, apolitical; a language that includes an admission of “I don’t know”, when I don’t. I must learn to listen, not with my ears; see not just with my eyes, feel a message sent, without touch. I have to pay attention. I have to be present, now.
The privilege of working with the forgetful has been en extraordinary gift to me. The opportunity to compile these vignettes, recorded – in their own words – by the amazing psychotherapy interns at AgeSong, has been an honor. My greatest joy would be if you, the reader, would see the exquisite beauty residing in the souls of those we call forgetful. It is our hope that reading these everyday exchanges will open your heart and light the way.
These are big questions seldom asked today. Yet these questions, and how each one of us tries to come to terms with them in our own lives, lie at the core of this book on Forgetfulness.
To address the question of how we deepen our soul is to enter different terrain than we are used to traversing in our everyday lives. Space and time begin to take on a different quality.
Case in point: One day we were waiting in our senior care home for a visitor and decided to sit next to one of our elderly residents. After acknowledging one another with small nods, we sat in silence on the small couch. Ten minutes later, the elderly man rose and said, ‘Thank you for sitting with me,’ then slowly walked away, pushing his walker ahead of him.
Thank you for sitting with me. How simple—and how hard to do sometimes.
A client once opined that we age—become an elder—because we need to complete the circle of life. She reminds us that the purpose of life is to be joyous, something children seem to know and practice intuitively. This correlates well with an Australian Aboriginal tribe’s belief that as we pass on from this life to another, a council of elders will perform an exit interview, so to speak, and ask us one central question: Did you create and live enough joy in your life? An unusually profound question.
I want to highlight a basic attitudinal shift: Dementia is our teacher, not a disease to be belittled. In this spirit we want to replace the diagnostic label of dementia with the everyday word and concept of forgetfulness. Rather than simply a disease, forgetfulness has purpose and meaning; rather than people simply in need of our care, people with forgetfulness can teach us about life and living; rather than a burden, people who forget offer us an opportunity to deepen ourselves, deepen our souls.
We began with a sketch....
This required of us an attitude of service, of looking at our elders as people who has something to give to us.
Like people, we are evolving with our ideas and practices. We are learning. We do know we want to support elders, want to integrate them in our lives, want to allow ourselves to learn from them all they have experienced and understood. This is our challenge and our aspiration.
"As you become an elder, you change inside. With rank consciousness, your personal relationships become deeper. Your group and city are glad to see you coming. Issues and problems are not only to be solved; they are paths to community. Your community realizes that the way it deals with conflict determines history."
Joy is the transformation of our suffering, not the escape of all we have to face.
Your vision will become clear, when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.
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A Community Supporting our Elders as Teachers