What does it take?
by Ray Buch (from Lansing Area Parkinson Support Group Newsletter, June 2011). Ray has been a clinical social worker, flat-water paddler and kite flyer through his entire adult life. He delights in his wife and lifelong companion, Lindy, his two adult offspring, his 93 year old dad and an insatiable curiosity.
What does it take to stay upbeat in the face of a siege on one's health (or on one's self). When every day is a battle and no matter how many battles are won, the chances of winning the war are nil. Under these circumstances, we should find that nearly everyone is depressed or despondent. The fact that everyone is not depressed or despondent is worth understanding.
We often begin to understand something difficult by studying an extreme example of the issue. One of the most difficult chronic situations to "get through" is being a prisoner. In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote Man's Search for Meaning. A survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club in 1991 deemed it "one of the ten most influential books in the United States." Frankl searches for the reasons some survived the German concentration camps and some did not. He learned that aside from the harshness of the situation, if a person retained the belief that he had freedom to choose (whether to be sad, despondent, angry or not), his chances of survival went up remarkably. Sometimes it was the belief that others were worse off, or a moment of camaraderie; at other times it was an imagined image of a beloved person (wife, lover, parent even God).
I've talked with some of the individuals who have had PD or other chronic conditions over a longer period of time. They indicate that the essential element for managing one's self is to choose to "stay in the present," "be occupied with what can be rather than what might be," and "prepare for tomorrow, but live in today." The guidance is to maintain one's mind in the present. Some psychologists believe that increased levels of anxiety come from trying to solve the future problems of one's life without having enough information. The idea is that the mind continues to cycle back over the same unresolved questions because no new information has been acquired to help resolve the problem. The obvious answer is to provide new information, which is why many people with PD spend a great deal of time reading about
every aspect of the disease. However, there is little possibility of getting much information about how things end up for them.
A.J. Heschel, one of the most prominent religious thinkers of the 20th century, used the term radical amazement to denote being constantly aware of the large and small things, processes and events as a means to being aware of and in contact with God. This is very close to many of the meditative aspects of yoga: constantly being in the present. The many forms of yoga and the preoccupation with practice attest to both the difficulty and reward that comes from "staying in the present."
Perhaps a less ethereal and more common example of "staying in the present" might be useful to many of us. Consider for a moment the idea of celebration. The dictionary has two common definitions.
• To celebrate a holiday or commemorate a special day like Christmas, Independence Day or Thanksgiving where we spend some time thinking about the special issue being commemorated and enjoy a certain amount of revelry.
• To proclaim, publish, praise or make a ceremony to acknowledge.
It is this second type of celebrating with which we are familiar that is similar to radical amazement. Imagine if we were able to maintain the awareness of not just one idea or situation or beautiful thing every day, but maintain that same level of delight, joy and awareness of many, many things every day. We certainly wouldn't have much "brain time" to be over-concerned about what might happen five or ten years in the future.