This is the fourth of four essays written under the common “…SPIRITUAL UNDERTAKING.” The first was IT IS ALL IN THE BALANCE, the second was MY JOURNEY IN LIFE. The third "HOW AA LED TO AD AND FROM THERE TO MY DISCOVERY OF BUDDHISM. "These four essays are part of the book I am writing: FROM AA TO AD A WISTFUL TRAVELOGUE
HOW MY DIAGNOSIS OF ALZHEIMER'S IS PUT TO GOOD USE IN THE EXERCISE OF THE WAY OF BUDDHISM
Buddhism is my way for approaching my world. Through utilizing the way of Buddhism I have dealt with my diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). I am not a religious Buddhist. I was a Catholic, firmly understanding and educated in my belief system. In following that belief system I later, in mid-life embraced Judaism. I today remain a Jew.
When confronted with AD the student in me tried to understand the consequences of my having this disease. This search for understanding led me to the study of Buddhism. Embracing the mind set and the practices of Buddhism I was enabled to deal with my diagnosis in a far better way.
I do not recommend Buddhism as a religion. Buddhism is a Way. The Dalai Lama and so many of the writers I have read say, follow your own spiritual mentors, the ones with whom you are the most comfortable. Apply the Way of Buddhism to their guidance and you will find the peace and serenity available in it.
Robert Thurman, movie star Uma Thurman’s dad no less, wrote a wonderful book entitled: The Jewel Tree of Tibet. It is his approach to the Buddhist aphorism “The way to happiness is in seeking the happiness of another not yourself.”
In his book Thurman describes a tree standing on a small island in the middle of a large sea. On the tree are jewels. The jewels are the spiritual mentors of the person who meditates before it. The meditator (you) sits on a hill on the shore overlooking the tree. Below the meditator is a valley filled with all of the people for whom the meditator seeks happiness. The mediator breathes in their pain and suffering, taking that as his own, and beseeches his spiritual mentors to relieve the pain and suffering of those whose relief he seeks.
I find this a beautiful metaphor for Buddhism in practice. At the begining is the icon of it that I have drawn digitally and use in meditation. On it my jewels include my Christian, my Jewish and my Buddhist spiritual mentors.
I use this picture during meditation. It offers me a sense of peace and depicts the essential of what meditation in Buddhism is for me.
When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease my initial reaction was this:
Alzheimer’s came out of the blue, no warning, it just hit! There I was, “wham,” nowhere to go; it would not leave me; it would not go away; it was beyond devastating to have to cope with it and all its ramifications.
It became my lot in life. Why me and not someone else? Haven’t I had enough?
We in this life are continuously in search of happiness, continuously seeking freedom from suffering. Why does the suffering keep coming back?
Buddhism in its Four Noble Truths gives answers:
1. Life means suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
(I have italicized the Four Noble Truths here and in the later portion of this essay. I have provided textual explanation of the Four Noble Truths in the essay entitled PART III: HOW AA LED TO AD AND FROM THERE TO MY DISCOVERY OF BUDDHISM which preceded this essay.)
Taking what is explained, applying it to my experience in life, I conclude it all means this:
The adage of life: “It wasn’t supposed to be a rose garden!” is quite correct. Life includes suffering along with happiness. Happiness is easy to deal with. We accept it as birthright and look for more.
We have a greater problem with suffering. If there are evident reasons for it acceptance is easier. You rob a bank; you have to go to jail. That seems as it ought to be difficult as it is to accept if you are the robber. Too often the reason is not evident. If suffering comes on by way of random occurrence with no understandable reason for its cause, that is far harder to accept.
When suffering seems to have no basis it invites the question “Why me?”
All of my life I have been incredulous over the proposition that tragedy can happen so readily, suffering can come at random with no apparent reason. Why? Why is there so much suffering, so much suffering caused by random events? Why is it so disproportionately placed on some, with no reason, and not on others, some of whom might qualify better for it?
These are the questions that scream for answer none of which can be found within this life.
This of course leads one to search beyond this life for some kind of answer.
Religion provides the first line of answer to this confusing predicament we all face. Religion offers answers; it also offers ritual with promise of reward. Often the embrace of the religion and its ritual gives solace for the pain and heartache produced by suffering.
Others do not need the explanation of religion. Life is full enough to sustain them through the difficulties encountered in life. For them that it is enough.
My answer is found in Buddhism.
My life has been filled with reverses. I have suffered loss innumerable times. For the many successes that were mine too few ever lasted, too many turned to defeat. Life was difficult, I sought solace in alcohol. That all but destroyed me.
Wresting my life from the clutches of alcohol addiction taught me there is a way we can reverse misfortune. We can convert a negative event into a positive one. My addiction to alcohol became the transformation of my life. This happened because my addiction forced me to accept life on its terms and not as I would have it.
I was forced to accept the Four Noble Truths. My experience of turning it over in all of my affairs invoked the Four Noble Truths for me. I could step back, look at each event, accept its reality then seek a way to deal with it in a positive way.
I knew because I had learned “Turn to your higher power for help. That higher power can and will take care of the problem, take care of the event complicating me.” This worked!
How does this fit into Buddhism, into the Four Noble Truths?
(1.) Life means suffering. A simpler way of dealing with this concept is to look on life as necessarily including suffering. It is our lot in this life to suffer from events the happening of which we have no evident control.
(2.) The cause of suffering is attachment. When events occur we embrace them fully as ours. We do not treat them with any objectivity. By this I mean, when suffering happens we dwell on the aspect of the suffering it causes and do not look any further. It hurts and we dwell on that.
We take into account that (3.) the cessation of suffering is attainable. How is this possible, how can we attain cessation of it? The explanations contained in my third essay of this series which gives an overview of Buddhism in Noble Truth # 3 it is stated: “This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering”
The simplest human activity I found in countering the desperation I felt with my diagnosis of AD was to say “So, what are you going to do with it. Muck around in the pain of it or alternatively see how you can make the best use of it!”
This is what I did 34 years ago with alcoholism. I turned my alcoholism over to the care of my higher power. As a result of this undertaking it transformed my life. My alcoholism is the best thing that happened in my life. It led me to recovery and forced me to use the way of recovery to my advantage. Is the same thing possible with AD?
I turned my AD over to my higher power. The result was phenomenal. I looked for the good in this terrible event that had occurred, namely my diagnosis of AD. I found much good in it.
I was diagnosed at a very early stage. This gave me time to remain at a functional cognitive level. At this level I was equipped to dedicate my life which included the curse of Alzheimer’s to some good purpose.
That good purpose among others is to be an advocate for matters concerned generally with AD and specifically with Early Stage. As it concerns Early Stage, one of my causes in advocacy is the proposition that the longer we stay in early stage the longer we have a favorable quality of life. This is to our benefit and the benefit of our caregivers, our families and our loved ones. It saves them wear and tear caused by our needs because of our disability and it saves the cost of care for them and for society at large,
There is reason to believe it is possible to prolong early stage by our becoming involved in creative, positive and social activities. I have discussed this in other essays I have written.
Taking action on this decision has been quite beneficial for me.
It has taken me out of my self centeredness and committed me to the help of others consistent with the admonition of Buddhism, that being, to commit your love and compassion to relieve the suffering of others. Buddhists call this concentration: Bodhicitta.
It has given me reason for having AD as I join the reality of it with the opportunity of doing some good with it.
Above all it leads me on a (4.) a path to the cessation of suffering. The suffering from my AD has reversed itself becoming a blessing. It gives me the opportunity to do good with my remaining years in my current condition.
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