The word “empowered” has become like a great bald eagle – without wings.
Used with impunity by slick Madison Ave. copyrighters to sell everything from annuities to underwear, the word no longer soars over canyons and river beds, or boldly plunges 3,000 feet in death-defying mating dives. Sadly, the once great word now limps on broken talons in landfills, searching for mealy worms.
But that all changed last evening.
Yesterday, at 7:30 p.m., 20 residents and staff from the assisted living community I call home gathered around the fireplace in our community room to practice zazen meditation.
Hey, wait a minute . . . what does all this have to do with senior housing?
A lot. Be patient.
Zazen, a word with Japanese origins that means “just sitting quietly,” is the foundation for Zen Buddhism, and the centerpiece of mindfulness training.
Forty years ago, as a trainee at Shasta Abbey, a Soto Zen Buddhist monastery in Mt. Shasta, California, I awoke at 4:45 a.m. and quickly made my way to the Zendo, the meditation hall, to sit quietly for 40 minutes; day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Yet, I had no idea how zazen would one day change my life.
Last night I scripted a new chapter in The Book of Life – waiting 13 years in assisted living for the opportunity to share what I had learned 40 years ago in a Buddhist monastery. Forty years of just sitting quietly was transmitted last evening like “a spark that springs up between two stones.”
Among the 20 or so that sat in meditation last night, there was an 82-year-old woman who suffers from an aggressive form of dementia. One characteristic of her disease is a cruel dyskinesia that makes it extremely difficult for her to remain still for any length of time. She also talks, non-stop, day and night.
I invited her to join us in meditation, and to my surprise, she accepted. But the big surprise was still ahead. For the entire 20-minute session, she sat quietly, and from what I could tell, dyskinesia-free.
Now, a new chapter in my life unfolds as daily meditation again becomes a reality; this time with 99-year-old residents and 20-year-old aides sitting in meditation on either side of me.
A truly empowering experience.
- Meditation as a therapeutic intervention for adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease–potential benefits and underlying mechanisms KE Innes, TK Selfe – Frontiers in psychiatry, 2014 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Meditation for adults with mild cognitive impairment: a pilot randomized trial RE Wells, CE Kerr, Journal of the …, 2013 – Wiley Online Library
- Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands Singh Khalsa – Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease – content.iospress.com
Annette Hutchins says
This is a great thing you are trying to do and doing.
I love your message, but am mostly commenting to thank you for taking back a great word from the mindless word-abusers. Well done, and perhaps another one of your (our?) superpowers.
Ken Helander says
We had many similar experiences when I co-lead a therapy group using meditative exercises in a nursing home about 35 years ago. That group, a lot of years of working with elders, and being able to accompany my own father along his journey through dementia convinces me that Alzheimer’s affects the brain but it does not touch the soul.
susan troccolo says
Thank you endlessly for posting articles of value. This speaks to our moment; our fears, the possibility of release from our fears. Meditation has helped me with anxiety that arrived unbidden after having cancer twice. The example that the writer used of a woman that couldn’t stop moving (or speaking) was very powerful. It is a key to something many of us may need in our future…and in our present.
J. James Cotter says
Incredible. What a great contribution to your lives.
An inspiring story, thank you!