SPIRITUAL HEALTH IN THE FACE OF DEMENTIA

Have you ever ridden into a box canyon? It is difficult to see the way out and the walls threaten to cut one off from all that is normal.

Caring for a loved one challenged with dementia can feel like that. It is wearing. For those who cannot afford help it can be exhausting and frightening. All who provide care in these circumstances, paid or unpaid, need aid themselves.

Dementia is not a specific disease, according to Mayo Clinic. Rather, it “describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning”. The caregivers in such a situation become the providers of necessary daily functioning for those who seem unable.

The Mayo Clinic Staff continues with advice to caregivers in such circumstances: “Providing for a person with dementia is physically and emotionally demanding. Often the primary caregiver is a spouse or other family member. Feelings of anger and guilt, frustration and discouragement, worry, grief, and social isolation are common. If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia: 1) Ask friends or other family members for help when you need it; 2) Take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual health”.

Perhaps focusing on this last point, spiritual health, would help in great measure to meet the physical and emotional needs of anyone caring for those exhibiting dementia. But how does one achieve “spiritual health”?

For me, it includes addressing fears by gaining a sense of God’s infinite love for us.

Unaddressed, fear can block our recognition of needed answers in giving care, it can overwhelm us in apprehension for our own safety, and plummet one into a sense of depression.

But when fear is spiritually overcome the practical impact can be liberating. The perfect example of this was when Christ Jesus, whose fearlessness consistently brought healing, encountered a tragically insane Gadarene man called Legion. Despite this man’s miscreant reputation, self-destructive tendencies, and social isolation, Jesus spoke with him normally and showed his Christly love for one who’d probably never received such restorative attention. That fearless care not only calmed him but cured him permanently.

Could this be possible today? Yes. Even the Mayo report allows, “Some causes of dementia may be reversible”. So, why shouldn’t a caregiver, expressing sufficient spiritual love, not only overcome his or her own fear but extend this sense of God’s love to the one being cared for such that the condition may abate? Over many years in the periodicals of my church there are accounts of various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, being reversed through a spiritual understanding of God’s healing love.

Many in the business of extending care to humanity have found strength in a more divine motivation for doing their work. I find this statement from a seminal writing on the relationship between spirituality and health encouraging: “It is proverbial that Florence Nightingale and other philanthropists engaged in humane labors have been able to undergo without sinking fatigues and exposures which ordinary people could not endure. The explanation lies in the support which they derived from the divine law, rising above the human. The spiritual demand, quelling the material, supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids, and forestalls the penalty which our beliefs would attach to our best deeds.” (S cience and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, p. 385)

Filled with love for God and mankind, divine inspiration can lead us out of the box canyon of apprehension, lifting our thoughts above the shadowy dimensions of caregiving, and brightening the way of those in our charge.

This article will be published in the Arizona Silver Belt Newspaper, August 5, 2015.

Effective Path to Natural Healing


 

Why are so many people reaching out for more natural forms of healing today?

For instance, a young mother recently expressed her delight in having her second child born naturally, instead of by cesarean delivery, experienced in her first childbirth. A close acquaintance is keen on natural oils, herbs, and supplements to augment her family’s health. A naturopath friend diligently seeks to cure his patients by re­balancing the normal physical elements found in the human body, in order to exclude more invasive measures. The Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona strives to discover complementary or alternative means to standard medical approaches, broadening the possibilities for healing.

Perhaps these are all evidences of seekers wanting something better than to be classified as merely a chemical compound, and to work from the premise that each individual is a whole person, and therefore responsible for their own health.

Such an expansive aspiration can attract the criticism of those at ease with the more conventional model of healthcare.

Natural healing, for example, is described, in part, by Wikipedia as pseudoscience. Naturopaths and others in this field, devoting their life to natural healing modalities, understandably don’t take well to the “pseudo” prefix, synonymous with “fake, false, feigned.” Who would? This narrow point of view, perhaps, stems from the habit of considering health as just a limited, matter­based experience without more.

This “more” is not just alternative matter ­ such as oils, herbs, and supplements ­ but a different idea of substance itself. I’ve found that the idea of what’s “natural” is truly expanded when we cease tying it to matter as the “must have” cause and effect. By definition, matter is a limitation because it excludes all that is spiritual. The magnificence and universality of divine Love’s impulse to all mankind is missing — an un-healing limit to place on one’s health.

Ancient and current examples of natural, spiritual healing by divine Love exist. The master Christian, Jesus, healed the servant of a Roman Centurion in response to the soldier’s confidence such healing could transpire without physical intervention and with no diagnosis of matter (Matt. 8:5-­13).

A more recent healing is one of my own. I was freed from a blistered eye, which had become blurry and painful. The situation was alarming. But with persistent prayer to understand the presence of this universal healing Love, and how it is naturally accessible to all ­ as it was to Jesus, to the Centurion, and to many others ­ the condition on my eye cleared. I was healed.

After a decade, there has been no remnant of that experience – no lingering worry of a recurrence. Where did I get my confidence in this divine Science (capitalized to express this God­-based healing system)? It grew from my study of such statements as this: “The physical healing of Christian Science results now, as in Jesus’ time, from the operation of divine Principle [a term for God], before which sin and disease lose their reality in human consciousness and disappear as naturally and as necessarily as darkness gives place to light and sin to reformation. Now, as then, these mighty works are not supernatural, but supremely natural. ” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, p. xi: 9-­15)

Perhaps it is this spiritual thought, available to all, that is the most effective path to natural healing – healing not dependent on matter, but recognizing that God is indeed forever with us, and, as a result, harmony, health, and healing are present and natural, now as always.

This article was published by The Arizona Silver Belt, July 8, 2015.

 

A Harp, Harmony, and Healing

 

As someone who loves music and has experienced healing, the article, “Healing Sound” ­ in the spring edition of the Arizona University Alumni magazine ­ struck a chord.

Healing sound is when hearing music moves someone in a coma to regain consciousness.

At least, that’s what happened when Carrol McLaughlin, distinguished professor of music at the University, played her harp for just a few minutes at the school’s Medical Center. A comatose patient stirred, pulled off his oxygen mask, and thanked her.

In a more scientifically rigorous experiment, 100 patients were split evenly between a music group and a control group. The latter group just rested quietly. The music group listened to Carrol’s improvisational harp music, that was intended to tie­in with each individual patient’s natural pitch. While the playing did not have a significant impact on the physical measures of the patients’ conditions, it notably reduced the pain experienced for those in the music group by an average of 27%.

But the most interesting outcome was still to follow.

“When the experiment ended and McLaughlin had packed up her harp, a nurse asked her if she would mind performing one time more. A dying man, not in the study, had heard the music. He was to go into hospice later that day and asked if the harpist would play for him. ‘I played’, she says, ‘and I felt great energy from him.’ Afterward, his puzzled doctor found him so improved that he changed the hospice order and sent the man home,” says the Alumni magazine’s report.

This is beautiful, inspiring work. However, the use of a harp, or other forms of music, to achieve better health is not new. The Bible records how Saul, then king of Israel, sought out David to play his harp to relieve him of an “evil spirit”, which today we might see as depression or some other sort of mental illness. [I Samuel 16:23]

Might there be a consistent spiritual dimension here, beyond the music itself? What if there were no harp available to play? Would the harmony that music expresses and the health­ generating results it appears to inspire be lost? Is the harmony we feel from music actually external to us or is it a part of each individual’s essential nature?

The professor says she seeks to key into the natural harmonic in the individual, believing that there is one in each of us. She is expecting the music she is playing to connect in a deeper, health­giving way. And it does. Beethoven, who struggled with deafness, could still “hear” his symphonic compositions mentally­­and we have been the beneficiaries of that fact. But we need not face the challenge of deafness ourselves to feel and value the presence of soundless harmony in our lives. We need only recognize that harmony, at a spiritual level, is an innate part of consciousness coming from a loving God, expressed by each of us individually.

Writing of Beethoven’s deafness and of how Mozart “experienced more than he expressed,” Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Mental melodies and strains of sweetest music supersede conscious sound. Music is the rhythm of head and heart” [p.213].

So can a harmony which is beyond audible sound also reach the heart and restore a disturbed consciousness?

In this same book the author states: “Harmony in man is as real and immortal as in music” [p.276]. Does this suggest that harmony is actually a condition of our reality, and if we catch sight of that through a better spiritual understanding of ourselves it can quiet discordant thought and bring healing?

In times of discord experienced outwardly, I have indeed found that to be the case. I have felt the peaceful, Soul­filled strains of divine harmony inwardly, and that has brought calm and joy, disarming tension and lifting my thought away from the pain or stress. There is no harp involved but there is a listening to inaudible chords of the spiritual “rhythm of head and heart”.

So whether it is the sensitive melody emanating from Dr. McLaughlin’s harp, or the quieting spiritual psalm of the music of Soul, ­ the divine presence available to all ­ there is help at hand. We can find harmony in our lives and bring health to the fore in sound healing.

*This article was published in the Arizona Silverbelt newspaper on May 20, 2015.

Love Leads Out of Hopelessness

 

Sitting at my desk, I look at a painting which depicts a young Lakota daughter leading her horse out of the trees into a clearing. It speaks to me of the spiritually innate nature of love, which we each possess, that can help lead the lost out of darkness.

Arizona has over twenty tribal entities of indigenous Americans. They make up one quarter of the State. How fortunate we are to be in their midst. I recently visited the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, Old Oraibi, on the Third Mesa in the Hopi nation. Aside from the persistent winds, it is quiet. The animals are not shy; they are friendly ­ like the somewhat hidden community. There is a spiritual peace and modest strength in this place, despite the obvious needs. It is difficult not to love these people and to connect with their love of all that is around them.

In contrast, I was moved by an article in The Christian Science Monitor (April 13) that addresses high teen suicide rates on native American reservations ­ a health problem for them and for all of us, as we do not live in isolation. The article cites experts who say this situation includes unemployment, alcoholism, drugs, school dropout rates, poverty and deprivation, all adding up to a sense of hopelessness.

This challenging condition is not limited to reservations, of course, but can be found everywhere. How is hopelessness displaced? The article mentions traditional tribal concepts such as having compassion for others, comforting those who are in pain, and interacting with those who exhibit suicidal tendencies. Also, the local reinforcement of cultural identity helps dissipate a sense of not belonging.

But is there more that could be done?

Yes. Hopelessness need not lead to mental darkness and depression, nor the taking of one’s life. This is not a new challenge. And, while some economic resources may well be part of the solution, as indicated in the Monitor article, the spiritual resources needed to break the cycle of depression are not limited nor are they untested.

One can read in the Scriptures where the prophet Elijah was sent to a widow in a distant town to find nourishment. When he approached her, he learned that she was planning to take two sticks, make a fire, and cook the last meal for her and her infant son, and then die. As a widow in her society, at that time, there was no purpose for her life and she could not sustain herself. But Elijah asked her not to be afraid, to forego her intent, and make a small cake for him first. She did. The outcome was that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry”*. Elijah gave her the supply she most needed ­ the recognition of being loved by God, the infinite, divine Source of all good. And, when she expressed her understanding of that idea by defying her fear of lack and acting unselfishly, that brought to light the practical provision she needed.

That capacity to prove the practicality of spiritual good is possible for all of us today. A woman of spiritual depth and love for mankind, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote this statement on the first page of her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, ­­­ a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love.” Understanding just how much God loves us and expressing that by our love for others can lift us and them out of the darkness of fear and hopelessness.

We need not be bystanders. There is enough inherent love in each of us to see and support this generation’s emergence from whatever darkness threatens their sense of identity. Like that young Lakota daughter leading her horse out of the trees to a clearing, we should pray to see this generation led by divine Love into the “clearing” where their life­purpose is fully evident and their path to fulfillment is engaged.

*I Kings 17:14 (NIV)

Published April 22, 2015, Arizona Silver Belt Newspaper, Globe, AZ

Healthy Heart

 

It’s February. Hearts are everywhere. At this time of year many express their love for someone, or for everyone, in heart-shaped gifts. And who doesn’t recall being in primary school, giving or receiving the small heart sweets that had messages like “I LOVE YOU”, “BE MINE”, or simply “LOVE”, stamped on them?

These, coupled with a valentine placed in a decorated shoebox, made for a happy day. Why? Because of what accompanied the sweets and the cards – the sentiment of being appreciated and loved by classmates. That kind of thought lifts us. The trek home on Valentine’s Day was filled with joyful chatter, partly because we felt good about receiving gifts but perhaps even more so for having given them.

Could there be lessons to learn from that? February is National Heart Month in the US. There are many articles about exercise, diet, and healthy habits that focus on the heart as an organ of the body, which we should take care of. That goes without saying. From a standpoint of physique we think of the heart as central to life, indispensable to longevity or even activity. It is vital. But could there be something more to heart health – something found in that primary school experience?

I think there is. Beyond physique, “heart” is understood to mean the center of a person’s thoughts and feelings, the innermost part of our being. It also points to qualities such as courage, sincerity and the cherishing of someone or something. Those are true expressions of the heart. What is common in all of these connotations of “heart” is the focus of thought on others, not just oneself. As a child, this sort of focus brought us jubilation and energy, enriching the heart, and it can do so as adults, too, because it is precisely opposite to the self- absorption and fear which stress the heart, mentally and physically.

I felt this when I was driving home from my office one evening in heavy traffic, weighed down by various pressures at work. I suddenly began to experience pains in my chest and found it difficult to breathe. While seriously disturbed by this, I knew I had a caring family waiting for me at home, ready to greet me and appreciate what I was doing. I felt their love and looked forward to returning the same to them when I saw them. And, more importantly, I had a heartfelt awareness of God’s always-present love, divine Love, embracing us all. As a result, the stress left my thought and my physical condition also normalized.

Such cause and effect is indicated in a statement written by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who over a century ago surmounted an oft broken heart to found a church based on Christian healing.

Referring to the divine Mind, God, she wrote that “…there must be a change from the belief that the heart is matter and sustains life, to the understanding that God is our Life, that we exist in Mind, live thereby, and have being.”

She continued: “This change of heart would deliver man from heart- disease, and advance Christianity a hundredfold. The human affections need to be changed from self to benevolence and love for God and man; changed to having but one God and loving Him supremely, and helping our brother man. This change of heart is essential to Christianity, and will have its effect physically as well as spiritually, healing disease.” [Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, pp. 50-51]

We can all express a generous and happy heart and, undoubtedly, a healthier heart, from as simple an act as placing a card in a decorated shoebox – or whatever the equivalent would be today – blessing both giver and receiver.

This article was published February 13, 2015 in the following newspapers:

Sedona Red Rock News

Lake Havasu City News-Herald

and will be published February 18, 2015 in the Globe Arizona Silver Belt

Stop Aging

 

 

How often have you asked a child, “How old are you?” It is innocent — like asking a neighbor about the weather. But the message behind the question to the child is an affirmation of a learned habit of focusing on age. That focus develops attitudes and assumptions that take on the aura of reality, when they are but myths.

 

The thoughts you might carry around about aging are not all supported by experience or data. Some of these common habits of thought about age are simply wrong. When we say that age is just a number, we need to be careful. What does the number represent to us? Is the number loaded with connotations that we have brought to the party?

 

Anne Tergesen’s article in the Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2014, makes the case as to “Why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong”. For example, many assume that cognitive decline is a necessary part of the aging process. Dementia, more specifically, Alzheimer’s, weren’t part of the everyday conversation a few decades back. Today, by just existing in the media flow, those terms are constants and so is the fear they engender. The impression is that a majority of elders are subject to that condition, and we are advised to be alert to the early signs of its onset. This is incorrect.

 

It isn’t that these conditions never appear in the elderly but lapsing into these conditions is partly a function of attitude, not just stereotypical expectations of brain function decline. “Over a 38-year period, the decline in memory performance for those ages 60 and over with more negative stereotypes was 30% greater than for those with less negative views, says Becca Levy, an author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the Yale School of Public Health”. So, the lesson seems to be, don’t buy-in to the negative stereotypes of aging.

 

Also, with respect to the concern about the prevalence of depression in the older members of society, there is actually less evidence of that condition in later life (5.5%) than in earlier (8.9%). The reason is that people with more life experience tend to focus on positive rather than negative emotions, memories and stimuli — tending to see more of the good than the bad in situations.

 

Finally, it was encouraging to note that those 65 and older scored higher than all other age groups in the following dimensions of overall thriving in life: life purpose, supportive relationships, economic life, sense of community, and having health and energy to get things done.

 

This statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written by the woman who started the Christian Science Monitor in her mid-eighties, has been a wonderful inspiration for many in maintaining a barrier to the encroachment of age-based stereotypes: “Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood. Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise.”

 

So, we need not accept the decline in life outlined by popular presumptions, but rather seek to fulfill our promise, which is always expanding, and stop aging.

Published February 4, 2015 in the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper.

Health: Dependence or Independence?*

 

 

Dependence is certainly not what a toddler wants after learning to walk, or a teen after getting a driver’s license. They don’t seek to return to dependence on that which they have outgrown. They are overjoyed at the progress they have made in taking charge of their life and asserting their independence.

 

But is regression from independence a risk in regard to our health? Are there aspects of typical, modern health care that foster dependence? Can our attitude and thoughtfulness help avoid this dependence.

 

A young adult friend was in a serious automobile accident and consequently immobilized because of broken bones. A skilled and attentive surgeon set the bones and prescribed rest and low level activity that would aid recovery. Medications were included to control pain and address other precautions. This was normal protocol. The young adult adhered to the regimen initially, but unwelcome side effects accompanied procedures, and he wanted to diminish or cease the usage of the medications. He respected medical opinion, but he did not hesitate rethinking the nature, duration and intensity of these prescriptions as an independent thinker.

 

Expecting healing, rather than perpetuation of chemical assistance, helped him diminish the dosages until half way through the expected program there was no need for pain medication because there was no pain. Why? Because, in part, this young man was not perpetuating the thought of the accident. He held no ill will toward the drunk driver who T-boned him. He felt and showed much gratitude toward the emergency room personnel, asking on departure to go back to thank one of the nurses for the special care he had received when he was first brought in. He turned the physical challenges into a lesson of patience. In short, he had refused to depend upon the stereotypical victim conduct of anger, pity, or self-absorption. The result was a quicker recovery, both emotionally and physically, and freedom from continuing chemical dependence.

 

Good outcomes from maintaining an independent and open thought on the path to health have been evident for centuries. One finds Biblical precedent in the woman who, having spent her wealth on seeking medical help for her chronic bleeding without relief, reached out to the spiritual representative of health at that time, Christ Jesus, and was healed through reclaiming her own spiritual independence from the matter-based norm that had not helped her.

 

Like this woman and the young man mentioned above, we can be grateful for the caring received from skilled and well-motivated professionals without slipping into dependence. We can search out the spiritual qualities like graciousness, gratitude, humility and forgiveness, which bring confidence in the inevitability of good health and strengthen one’s conscious independence toward life-affirming decisions.

*Published December 10, 2014 in  the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper in Globe, Arizona.