When We Lead with Love, We Help to Co-create the World to Make the World a Better Place for People with Dementia
In a recent training to Bring Dance to People with Dementia, I greatly appreciated a participant’s question, “Why do you specify heart, when speaking of Body Mind Spirit?”. Holistic practitioners commonly speak of the Body Mind Spirit, but few mention the heart specifically. A google search yielded 5,000 entries with heart included to as many as 33 million who speak merely of Mindbody.
I believe that when we leave out the heart, our emotional center, we leave out the core of what is important in human endeavors. Emotions motivate our behavior; difficulty regulating our emotions get us into trouble. And by us, I mean no less than the planet.
I was taught that in yoga, the posture of standing with hands clasped behind the back, bending forward, and allowing the weight of the arms and shoulders to deepen the bend is the symbol of yoga, the union of mind and body where the heart is above the head. Another participant in the recent training pointed out that this posture also opens the heart.
It is by paying attention, bringing mindfulness to my body, my movement, my meditation, my dance, my dream life, and my experience of the world through my senses that I know what I know.
Why articulate heart?
From the people with dementia with whom I work, I have learned that love is the most important thing. I learned this first by observing how many people with advanced dementia blow kisses. People who otherwise may not follow my directions, often blow kisses when I do. And how do I come to see them as my teachers? Because they are closer to their essence than those of us who are busy with more worldly functions and because they see through to essence.
Mr. J, a participant in a recent group, told me after group, “I’m learning from you.” When I asked what he was learning, he said, “I was a minister and (as he wags his finger) I told people what to do, but I didn’t pay attention to their interactions. Now I’m learning about interacting.
For far too long, the narrative about Alzheimer’s has been “the long slow death of the self”. “The lights are on but nobody’s home.” It is time to change the narrative. In leading a dance/movement therapy group, as I approach each person, even those I’ve never met before, offer my hand, and look into their eyes, I see the self within each person light up with recognition. They respond to me because I intentionally greet them with love in my heart, which they see in my eyes. They know they are being seen.
Why articulate heart? The political and post-election discourse has been hate-filled, disrespectful of many, to put it mildly. Such pre-judged, bigoted behavior is not to be tolerated. Righteous people of every major religion would surely spurn such behavior.
Only when each person is safe, will everyone be safe.
My tendency in leading a group with people with dementia who behave in a disrespectful way is to sometimes name, sometimes ignore, the behaviors in the moment. But hopefully not to ignore the person. Every person’s needs must be met. It is only when each person feels safe that all people will be safe. In this moment, when bigoted behavior threatens to become the norm, it is vital that we all recognize this fact.
At the same time, we should have learned from the Holocaust that we mustn’t ignore such acts of hatred. Yet those acts are happening everywhere, all around the world.
The powerful, the powerless, and responsibility
In last summer’s Memory Bridge retreat led by Dr. Michael Verde, Michael provided evidence that the tendency for humans, as all mammals, is to establish and continually fight to maintain hierarchy. However, we CAN learn to relate to one another differently – to relate as social equals.
I truly do not understand an individual’s personal need for power. I guess it’s good that I have chosen the line of work which I have then, and not a political path. It is clear from history that political power often leads to abuse of power. It is also clear in most facilities that care for older adults as well, especially when limited training is offered.
I much better understand what it means to be powerless. Certainly people with dementia are pretty powerless. Similarly, their caregivers are often powerless. Artists tend toward that as well, although thankfully there are those who do assume power. I say thankfully because artists often accept the responsibility of reflecting back what is going on in a society.
When one has power, I believe one must be responsible for those who do not have power. It is important that the person/ group with power should invite everyone to feel empowered, to be responsible and to voice their needs to the extent they are able.
I believe that every person has the need to be seen. Dance/movement therapist Dee Wagner who delights in learning and teaching about the Polyvagal theory, shared this, “We are social animals. In the 1940s, social psychologist Abraham Maslow named belonging as a survival need. In his hierarchy of needs, only food, shelter, clothing and safety are more important than belonging.” When we feel a sense of belonging, we begin to “relax our dog-eat-dog energy and find some room to figure out how to be a team player. We can breathe again and relax our muscles.”
One need only watch young babies in a room full of adults to see that we need other people. I’ve observed young babies turn their attention first to their primary caregiver – the one whose voice they know the best. Then to the secondary caregiver, and so on until they have looked at every person in the room. As they become just a little older, babies become fascinated with other young people.
All we need is love
Well maybe not all, but once our basic needs are met, we need love most of all. We demonstrate love by listening, by paying attention, and by valuing. In the current, post-election climate, I recognize that I need to bring love. I need to do that in community. We need to bridge the divide, somehow, even to those who want to hate. We must be warriors of the heart.
If we put our hearts first, as manifested in our relationships with one another, we help to co-create the world, to make the world a better place.