(This Blog Post is adapted from my book Pathways to Stillness)
Stillness, and its inherent peacefulness, is accessible anytime and anywhere. I agree with those who say it is our natural state, covered over by the “monkey mind” and distractions. A very powerful example of this is a particular Tai Chi class that I teach at York Care Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the city where I work. I have been teaching classes in various locations for over twenty years, and in nursing homes and retirement residences for ten years. Some years ago, I was invited by the activity director of the centre to try a class in the Alzheimer unit. I agreed, without any expectations. I arrived for the class, and put a CD on with soft music.
The staff person asked the residents if they would like to attend and assisted them to gather in the lounge area. Six residents sat down and watched me as I began the class, which, by the way, is a seated program, which I designed for special groups. One resident was able to follow many of the movements; two had their eyes closed and were clearly listening to the music; another was sleeping; and two were staring at me with curiosity. But there was something else happening at the same time— there was a palpable stillness in the room, a wonderful peacefulness. In subsequent classes, I sometimes sense this peacefulness—and I stop talking and just hang out with the participants.
I discussed the results of the class with the staff person. She said what happens here is huge. These are folks who are constantly in motion, who do not usually sit still for more than a few minutes, who often have fear and confusion in their eyes. However, during this class they are quiet and their eyes are calm—the staff person agreed that they clearly felt the stillness. To me this means that, unlike the stereotype that dementing persons are totally lost, there is also a still-ness present—they are still there.
I continue to learn many lessons from this group: First, we should not make quick assumptions about what is going on within a person with dementia. Just because a person’s thinking mind is confused does not mean that they cannot experience stillness. One of my Dutch colleagues conducts a similar class in The Netherlands. She says that when they are doing Tai Chi, “the disease is not there and we go straight to the stillness.” Second, these folks are able to contribute to my experience of stillness when I am sharing the class with them. And third, as I mentioned at the outset, stillness is possible anywhere and anytime. If they can find it, so can you.
I highly recommend personcentreduniverse.com as a great site for more wisdom and guidance on this topic. It is a company started by graduates of our Gerontology programme at St. Thomas University. I am very proud of them!
Pathways to Stillness Blog
My Blog is about how you can discover your own Pathways to Stillness, and why that is so valuable to your life. We will explore what it means to lose and regain our sense of “our story” in the midst and aftermath of loss—negative beliefs about aging and how we can make them more positive, and the many benefits reaped by creating a refuge of stillness within.