June 23, 2019 Eldercare Discussion

Notes by Dave Moriarty

Report of the DLM Member Eldercare Discussion Group Meeting – June 23, 2019 

We discussed eldercare & aging issues—including political engagement and BuddhismdementiaelderhousingBuddhist end-of-life medical supportmind training and ways to develop our new Buddhist Eldercare blog.

Aging & Elder Care

–  We began with discussion of an aging issue for our times, i.e., how to cope with the stress of modern life.  Participants said that the news was full of fear, anger, terrorism, cruelty, suffering, and especially political strife and that this sometimes leads us to feel helpless.  This led to a discussion of Buddhist approaches for coping and political engagement.

– One of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers to advise Westerners on political and social engagement was Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Naht_Hahn 

His mindful and non-violent approach to engaged Buddhism was admired by the Catholic Theologian Thomas Merton and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.  He was a leading advocate for peace during the Vietnam War and helped inspire and guide the founders of the American Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the late 1970s.  Two books that describe his political philosophy are:

o  Thich Nhat Hạnh; Robert Ellsberg (Ed); Sr. Annabel Laity (Intro).  Essential Writings.  Orbis Books; Maryknoll, NY; 2001; 163pp.  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1020248202

o  Thich Nhat Hanh; Jack Kornfield (Intro).  Being Peace.  Berkeley/New York: Parallax Press; 1987/2005/2009.  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/730045839

The situation of the world is still like this.  People completely identify with one side. One ideology…. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.  Doing only that will be a great help for peace. 

The only thing worthy of you is compassion—

Invincible, limitless, unconditional.

Hatred will never let you face

The beast in man.

One day, when you face this beast alone,

With your courage intact, your eyes kind,

Untroubled (even as no one sees them),

Out of your smile will bloom a flower.

from his poem for young Buddhist peace workers in war-era Vietnam; Ch 5 -Working for Peace, in Being Peace (1987) by Thich Nhat Hanh.

–  Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF)  https://www.buddhistpeacefellowship.org  See also WikiPedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_Peace_Fellowship

–  The Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) is a later spinoff of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) with a greater emphasis on Buddhist meditation, study, and social engagement

… The idea behind BASE was originally conceived by [BPF co-founder]Robert Baker Aitken during discussions at a BPF meeting held in Oakland, California in 1992, although it was Diana Winston who ultimately saw this vision through.  She was somewhat disheartened to find that many of the BPF members were not actively engaged in meditation, so she set out to develop a “training program that would integrate Buddhist practice, social engagement, and community life into one organic whole.”[11] …BASE participants combine weekly meetings for meditation and study with fifteen to thirty hours a week working in hospices, homeless shelters, prisons, medical clinics, and activist organizations.

The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition by James William Coleman.  Oxford University Press; 2002, p18.  

–  A member suggested that we take the middle way by involving ourselves in political action that is guided by love, compassion and mindfulness.  We agreed that a Buddhist approach could include participating in peaceful demonstrations, not out of anger but based on compassion; and, partnering with other faith communities

–  A participant mentioned that Shambhala was a western Buddhist group that was politically and socially active. See Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta  http://atlanta.shambhala.org/.   

–  The authors of a recent book are among the most politically and socially active American Buddhists.  Judging from the comments of the publisher’s editorial reviewers, the book is especially valuable for white Buddhists who wish to have a better understanding of the multi-generational effects of white privilege and systemic racism on Buddhist communities and persons of color—including the personal stories of the authors—with insights on how to respond with compassion and social transformation.

Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation.  by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah Ph.D.  North Atlantic Books; 2016; 248pp.  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/986822841

Bridging the world of spirit and activism, they urge a compassionate response to the systemic, state-sanctioned violence and oppression that has persisted against black people since the slave era.  With national attention focused on the recent killings of unarmed black citizens and the response of the Black-centered liberation groups such as Black Lives Matter, Radical Dharma demonstrates how social transformation and personal, spiritual liberation must be articulated and inextricably linked.

…Their illuminating argument goes beyond a demand for the equality and inclusion of diverse populations to advancing a new dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies systems of suffering and prepares us to weigh the shortcomings not only of our own minds but also of our communities.

(Excerpts from the publisher’s description]

–  See also this 2017 article that gives a concise overview (with several relevant references) of “Engaged Buddhism”, described by the author as a practical, contemporary, political movement led by Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Aiken, the Dalai Lama, Joan Halifax and others.

Engaged Buddhism, Anger, and Retribution.  By Ewan Kingston. Ethics and International Affairs; Carnegie Council; June 2017. https://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2017/engaged-buddhism-anger-retribution/

…The prime political virtue seems to be peace. …Engaged Buddhists stress that political change occurs via individual transformation. …[and] appear to be concerned first and foremost with finding skillful means (upaya) to reduce suffering.  …To achieve peace, they say we must eschew retributive justice—the practice of inflicting penalties on wrong-doers, because it is what they supposedly deserve.  ,,,we are more intimately connected with those who do wrong than we often want to think.   Only when anger falls away…we find the peace of true, interconnected happiness. (Excerpts from the article)

–  Another member discussed why she stopped being busy and how she now has more appreciation for nature and the ancient Eastern and Western philosophers.  This includes the Roman philosopher Seneca, who believed that nature is a god.  She said that this belief was similar to those of Asian philosophers…in other words, “All roads leads to Rome”, i.e., we can learn from the wisdom of other cultures and spiritual traditions.

–  Another attendee observed that she hadn’t thought of herself as an older person, but when her children graduated last month, she saw it as a sign she was aging.  We discussed how such an insight can be helpful in shifting our priorities more toward spiritual pursuits. 

–  Another member said that older persons who have dementia were great teachers for him.  He told of going with such a man to a Burger King restaurant, who— while there—showed him how to be totally in the present.   

–  For additional insights on Alzheimer’s Disease and consciousness, he recommended a book by Elmer Green, PhD, which is based on his scientific exploration of consciousness and musings on the wisdom of ancient spiritual practices and beliefs—including Buddhism.  Elmer Green PhD, was a physicist and biological psychologist, who was best known (with his wife Alyce, who later developed Alzheimer’s) for his central role in the clinical biofeedback movement.

The Ozawkie Book of the Dead : Alzheimer’s isn’t what you think it is.  Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, CA; 2001.  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/49359566

–  We discussed how caring for a loved one with obvious dementia who is in denial can be exasperating as well as secretly comedic for the care partner.  Getting a neurological exam was felt to be important in identifying the specific type of dementia and learning how best to help and support our loved one.

–  To find suitable housing and care options for such a loved one, it was suggested to hire an experienced geriatric care manager (with no financial interest in potential referrals) to assess the family’s needs and desires.  Two potential dementia care residences in the Atlanta area were suggested by participants:

1.  Sunrise in Buckhead  https://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/communities/sunrise-at-buckhead/

2.  Orchards Senior Living in Brookhaven  http://orchardseniorliving.com/brookhaven/   

–  One member mentioned his interest in finding suitable housing options for older persons, including those with dementia.  We discussed the Green House housing and person-centered care model supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (https://www.thegreenhouseproject.org/).  We also discussed potential variations on that model that might include tiny house cottage courts like the ones being pursued by the City of Decatur and others interested in affordable housing.  See an overview of Decatur’s Workforce and Affordable Housing program@https://www.decaturga.com/planning/page/workforce-and-affordable-housing.

End-of-Life Care

A member described her recent health scare and trip to the emergency room, which gave her a great opportunity for some Buddhist end-of-life practice.  While there, she was very fortunate to be visited by a physician who was a longtime member of our DLM sangha.  He wrote the word Om on the whiteboard to remind the hospital staff that she was a Buddhist and also reminded her that she should concentrate on having a clear mind. She said she now hopes he will be her “death doctor” and will be available when she is actually dying to advise the other medical staff in the hospital or hospice about the particular end-of-life wishes of a committed Buddhist practitioner.   Fortunately, no serious illness was detected after several tests and our dear member was released from the hospital on the following day in good health. 

–  We also discussed the potential value of having a death doula at the time of our death—especially one who is a practitioner of the same spiritual practice.  Jim reminded us that he has been trained and certified by INELDA as a death doula, as are founders, Tom, Justin and other staff and board members of Compassion House for Living and Dying.  Jim said that a Buddhist physician would be a great member of an end-of-life support team that would include palliative care specialists and death doulas. See http://inelda.org/ and http://compassionhouseforlivinganddying.org/ 

–  To better equip ourselves to face the challenges of aging and dying, a suggestion was made to study the profound Seven Verses of Mind Training. See an overview of these teachings given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which are periodically viewable via live video on his website: https://www.dalailama.com/teachings/training-the-mind  

The first seven verses of the Eight Verses for Training the Mind deal with the practices associated with cultivating the method aspect of the path such as compassion, altruism, aspiration to attain buddhahood, and so on. The eighth verse deals with the practices that are directed toward cultivating the wisdom aspect of the path.

Other Matters

–  We devoted the last portion of our meeting to discuss the future of our new Buddhist Eldercare blog recently launched by Marjorie.  Based on its lukewarm reception, we considered whether to give up on the blog or try a different approach to sustain it.

–  Our hope was that the blog would provide new opportunities to share more information on resources and events in a timelier manner within our group as well as benefit to others outside our group, who might be interested in Buddhist approaches to aging, eldercare and end-of-life challenges.

–  Although the blog has been available for several months, there has been very low use of the blog website and only 6 of our 110 eldercare group members have subscribed @https://buddhisteldercare.com/ to get new postings as they are added.  There have also been few contributions to the blog.  Based on this participation, the blog appears to be eligible for hospice (less than 6 months to live).

–  However, because there is no other blog on the internet dedicated to the Buddhist perspective on aging, caring, dying and grieving, there is great potential for the blog to benefit many Buddhists and non-Buddhists who are, or will be, struggling with these concerns.

–  Based on the good work in getting the blog started and its immense untapped potential, we decided to pursue some ideas suggested by participants on ways to expand and improve its utilization.

–  Some blog ideas suggested by the group:

  o   encourage more members of our eldercare group to sign up

  o   remove links and block data sharing with outside social media (e.g., FaceBook, Twitter) 

  o   market blog to other DLM members

  o   market to those on the Atlanta Georgia Buddhist email list

  o   generate more useful content for posts and the website

  o   migrate content from the old DLMcare website to the blog website

  o   market website and blog to even wider audiences (later)

  o   track utilization data to evaluate progress

  o   recruit a person interested in Buddhist eldercare and aging to build and market the website and blog

There was a consensus that our most crucial need was to recruit someone who shared our goals and was willing to take the blog to its next stage by building content and marketing the blog and website.  This volunteer might be: 1) a Buddhist practitioner on our DLM Eldercare list; 2) a local practitioner in the broader DLM member community; 3) a graduate of the Emory CBCT program; or an Emory, Agnes Scott, Oglethorpe, or Georgia State graduate student majoring in gerontology, chaplaincy or Buddhist studies

If you know someone who might be qualified and interested in volunteering for this role or know faculty at one of these schools who might have a qualified student who would like to do it for their dissertation or class project, please let us know.   

To help us develop this blog and see for yourselves how useful it can be, please subscribe by entering your email address at @https://buddhisteldercare.com/.

In our next meeting we hope to devote a portion of our meeting time to discuss the possibility of identifying health professionals, who are knowledgeable of Buddhist end-of-life practices and would be willing to advise us on how to improve our chances for a good death—given the legal and practical limitations of medical and hospice care at the end of life.

Thanks to all who participated in our regular monthly discussion on June 23rd.  Our next  meeting was on Sunday, July 21, 2019 (watch for notes coming in August.) The 3rd Sunday meeting for August will be August 18, 2019 at the usual time of 10:30–noon.   All are welcomed.

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