Jan 13, 2013

Alzheimer's Care and Spirituality

In Part I of this article, I discussed the ideas of acceptance and surrender. I would like to talk more about how to do this. Based on both psychological research and the beliefs in many Spiritual traditions, what seems to be most helpful is to identify one’s feelings and then let them go or release them.

By Donna McCullough
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

It is important to “touch” your feelings (notice them and accept them) but there does not appear to be any benefit to sitting with the feelings for any length of time.

A Spiritual Perspective on Alzheimer’s and Caregiving

For those who are struggling with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease this may sound like a great idea but something that is hard to accomplish.

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One way to do this is to learn to witness or observe yourself having your thoughts and feelings. You recognize that the feelings are not you but instead they are an experience that you are having, and then you take a deep relaxing breath and let the feelings go.

There is a beautiful book called “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer that clearly describes this process in great detail.

I would like to discuss the ideas in this book as they relate to the experiences of a caregiver or someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Michael Singer starts with the question “Who are you?” If you stop and think about this question, what would you say? Some might say I am a teacher, a father, a wife, a daughter, an intelligent person, a caregiver, a person with Alzheimer’s disease...but none of those are really you.

You are not a teacher (that is something you do but not who you are) because you could change professions and yet you would still be you. The same is true with thinking of yourself as being a father, spouse, an intelligent person, a caregiver, and Alzheimer’s patient. You haven’t always had Alzheimer’s disease, so that isn’t you either...it is something that you are experiencing. So, who are you? This is a difficult question to answer. Let’s look at it another way.

Michael Singer suggests thinking about the following:
"When you were 10 years old and you looked in the mirror and you saw a 10 year old body and when you look in the mirror today and see an adult body, then who are you?"
What you look at changes, but the ONE DOING THE LOOKING does not. You are not what you see in the mirror, you are the part of you that is aware of what you see in the mirror. This can be a tricky concept to get so please hang in there!

Let’s look at the thoughts that we have and how these relate to "who you are."

People often identify themselves as the thoughts that they have (e.g., “I am so tired today. I wish that I did not have so much work to do. I feel burdened. There is never any help.”). But thoughts are always changing so how can the thoughts be you? They are not.

You are the ONE WHO IS LISTENING to the thoughts in the head. This is the part of you that might say something like "Every time I see Mary I feel angry." This part of you that is the listener or the observer is neutral. It does not get upset, or tired, or make judgments. It has no fear. This part of you that just listens or watches was with you the day you were born. It will be with you tomorrow and every day thereafter. This is the part of you that is connected with your soul. It is here today. Right now all you have to do is move your awareness to this part of you.

The reason that I am discussing 'who you really are' is to help you to recognize that you are more than you think.

You are not your feelings, nor are you a diagnosis or an experience that you are having. If you can begin to see yourself as the one who watches or notices your experiences than it will be far easier to let go of limiting feelings and thoughts and perceptions.

As you begin to identify yourself as the part of you that observes your experience instead of identifying yourself as your experience (e.g., “I am depressed” becomes “I am the awareness that a part of me experiences depression.”) you will begin to experience a sense of freedom from the problems in your life.

So the first step is to move the focus of your awareness from 'I am a tired, frustrated caregiver' to 'I am the part of me that observes that I feel like a tired, frustrated caregiver. I am the observer.'

In Part III of this article I will discuss more about these ideas.

Also see:

A Spiritual Perspective on Alzheimer’s Disease and Caregiving (Part 1)

Donna McCullough, PhD is a psychologist with a private practice in Laguna Hills, CA and co-founder of Affirmative Therapy Products.
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