Posts by Vidhuma

“Aging with Wisdom: Reflections, Stories and Teachings” by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle

Aging with Wisdom

Available from Amazon or Indiebound.

The book’s title describes a daunting challenge. For our aging to have the blessing of bringing us wisdom – who does not wish for this? Most of us, by the time we have reached middle age, have had up close experiences with the aging of family and friends. We know that aging brings many guaranteed changes, most of which are unwelcome. We understand that decline and losses are inevitable as we age. And we have learned that wisdom and aging have at best an uncertain relationship with each other. No matter how much we hope and imagine our aging will be graceful and will be touched by the hand of wisdom, we all, when we find our attention unable to be distracted from the reality of our old age, disease, and death, wonder with trepidation what truly lies in wait. So this book’s title is easily heard as holding a kind of promise. Not only is it possible to age with wisdom, this book will tell me the way.

Aging with Wisdom is not a how-to book. It is, as promised, a record of Reflections, Stories and Teachings. These reflections, stories and teachings are the very personal ones of Ms. Hoblitzelle. The people we meet, their stories, the experiences described, all have a richly personal intimacy. The reader is kindly and deliberately invited into her world of encounters with truly remarkable teachers, family and friends. Indeed, at times the writing is framed as if in a personal conversation as the “dear reader” is asked questions or commented to directly. Sometimes this works successfully, sometimes it has an awkwardness as we can never quite forget that the people and experiences of her personal world are quite different from those in our own.

The experience of aging is woven skillfully throughout the various lives we come to know, and throughout the reflections, recollections and hopes that are shared with us. This is a high accomplishment. A book whose focus is on old age, disease and death goes right against the three things, as is written in Buddhist teachings, “the whole world wishes to avoid”. Yet this book addresses all three directly, fearlessly and engagingly. Drawing the reader’s direct attention to the losses, real and threatened, that aging brings is done in a respectful, even gentle way. It contains no harsh truths or face-slapping realities of the effects of aging. The tone is one of encouragement; a reminder that our life experiences have value if appreciated rightly. The adventure of our facing our own aging and death honestly, as with other great adventures we have endured, will require openness, learning from others, humility, and courage. The author, and the people we meet in the book — the “Wayshowers” — exemplify why this adventure can be a worthwhile one.

The “Aging” referred to in the title is quite straightforward. The “with Wisdom” is less so. This may be because aging can be defined with some easy, specific, and generally agreed upon understanding. Defining wisdom is more slippery. Most dictionary definitions include in their definition of wisdom some combination of “knowledge”, “experience” and “judgement”. Thus we have the Oxford Dictionary definition of wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgement.” Aging certainly brings with it experience. An increase in knowledge (general or specific) usually accompanies experience, so a natural connection exists. But judgement? The relationship between judgement and experience is not straightforward or predictable. The same for the relationship between knowledge and judgement. Aging with Wisdom leaves the wisdom aspect turbid. Sometimes the wisdom seems to be used in the more generic “counsel of elders” sense. At other times, particularly with the personal stories and with the “Wayshowers”, the wisdom seems to be of a more spiritual nature, having to do with a sense of inner peace or clarity. In Buddhist traditions wisdom usually refers to a deep understanding of “things as they really are”. In other spiritual traditions wisdom may have other meanings, for example in Abrahamic traditions it may be accepting the will of God. So the book leaves a question about the nature of wisdom and its relationship to aging. Does aging courageously and with full attention to declines, losses, diseases, death mean one attains to a kind of wisdom?

Aging with Wisdom is a book well worth reading. It turns our attention squarely to our own thoughts, associations, images, worries, and confusions about our becoming old. And to our own death. It does so in a way that is gentle, compassionate, kind and fervently personal. It gives inspiration and encouragement. Any reader who receives this from a book has a been given a rich and rewarding gift.

Available from Amazon or Indiebound.

Read More

“Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows,” by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle

reviews
1 Comment

Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows

To be clear from the start, this book is worthy of the rich praise it has received. The inner jacket liner contains three pages crammed with accolades from what could be easily construed as the Who’s Who of leading contemporary spiritual leaders and health professionals. The book is a moving and loving story of this extraordinary couple’s experience.

It is a love story. It is a love story written from the deeply touching and personal perspective of a remarkable woman living through her equally remarkable husband’s dementia and death. The book covers the six years from his first symptoms to his death as she emotionally lived the various pieces of their life together as it changed profoundly. The book is drawn from her journals, giving the reader the direct expression of her emotions as they went through her.

See also

The theme and tone of the book are both poignantly captured in a phrase that is the Postlude to the narrative, “Dance me to the End of Love,” a line drawn from a Leonard Cohen poem. The book is a dance in its delicate movement, its cadence and its intimate flowing emotion. The reader is watching lovers dance, from inside one of the dancers. It is sweeping love story between two extraordinary people who, as we learn from the book, and feel from its author, have each lived extraordinary lives.

Title: Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows: A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s
Author: Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle
Publisher: Tartcher/Penguin
ISBN: 978-1-58542-827-4
Available from: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store, and Amazon.com or Amazon.com Kindle Store.

The extraordinary qualities of the writer, of her husband and of their lives together are stamped throughout the book, from the jacket liner to the back cover. This entices the reader; gives a sense of wonder and awe to the experience of the close connection with their lives, their struggles and their needs, each of them, to come to so ordinary a thing as death. It is a strength of the book; two sparkling, talented people who lives have soared above us in a glorious flight of remarkable accomplishments, experiences, encounters, facing together an ignoble debilitating illness and the commonness of death. This also is a puzzle for the reader.

What is so very extraordinary about the lives of the writer and her husband removes them from what is all too ordinary, the plight of most people and families who face the same challenge. When we bring to mind the estimated 5.4 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disorder, and their 14.9 million unpaid caretakers we are carried to a different and less exalted reaction than the one we are left with at the end of this beautiful and extraordinary experience. Every family’s story, of course, is different and singular.

What is incongruent is that we cannot conceive of most of these millions (millions that will swell in a few decades to tens of millions in what has been described as an epidemic) as extraordinary. We cannot conceive of these millions having the resources financially for the care that is described in “Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows”. We cannot imagine millions having the homes in Vermont and in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We cannot imagine millions with the support of a large network of loving and distinguished friends, and of renowned spiritual leaders. We cannot imagine millions dying peacefully in their homes surrounded by loving caregivers.

In this way the ordinary and the extraordinary are juxtaposed too nearly. We suspect the wreckage of dementia on the many millions and their families is something quite different than what this book has told of. We suspect that so many die alone. We suspect that so many are broken by the financial impossibilities of good care. We suspect the isolation and loneliness of those families who cannot afford care, who chose to leave their jobs to care for their stricken relatives, whose world then becomes a small one of long and weary days and sleepless nights. We know of the number caretakers who die early, earlier than their loved one with Alzheimer’s. We know of those who live with Alzheimer’s much longer than the six years described so movingly by Olivia Hoblitzelle, many of whom, unlike her husband, dwell in silence or are unable for years to remember who is in the room with them or what they did or said two minutes ago.

So we remind ourselves that “Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows” is a particular story about particular people. It is a tender and touching love story that can give us comfort and inspiration. It is not about us. But may still be a help to us. The “Suggestions” at each Chapter’s end may be practical reminders for some of us. The “Seed Thoughts” also at the conclusion of each Chapter will be consistently useful to us (“May I cultivate compassion toward myself and others”, May I find new ways of handling my negative emotions.” “May I accept the challenge of this situation”, “Let me be calm”).

“Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows” is uplifting for us in the way that all stories of courageous struggle are. And it brings that us that sweet and painful poignancy of all powerful love stories.

Read More

“Mindful Therapy: A Guide for Therapists and Helping Professionals,” by Thomas Bien, PhD

book cover Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

If, as Henry Thoreau says, “An honest book is the noblest work of man” then Thomas Bien has produced a noble work. His latest book, Mindful Therapy, is an honest effort to bring together mindfulness and psychotherapy. Its primary audience is the broad collection of diverse mental health providers, presumably to include all manner of persons engaged in the, as Dr. Bien refers to it, “healing art” of psychotherapy.

This audience embraces a wide spectrum of personalities, training and theoretical orientations. Attempts to appeal to them as one audience is a challenge most authors undertake with trepidation, or apology. Mindful Therapy makes no curtsies to its readers’ professional identities, and aims itself simply at “helping professionals,” one and all. Herein is one of the book’s strengths and weaknesses: a strength in that his approach has a clarity, a straightforwardness and a freedom from professional terms that will appeal to a general, and not necessarily sophisticated, population; a weakness in that the reader seeking more depth or more intellectual satisfaction or simply more science may be disappointed.

Dr. Bien skillfully weaves through his book the essentials of Buddhism, of which he has an excellent understanding. Although Buddhism is the foundation for his practice and teaching of mindfulness, he is not in any way offensively preaching to others. His focus is on the spiritual healing that can be so important and so efficacious in psychotherapy.

He explicitly envisions psychotherapy as a spiritual path. Fair enough; the illness/heath medical approach, the multiaxial psychosocial view, are not his concern, and they are understandably absent from the book. No diagnoses. No treatment plans. He sees psychotherapy as a spiritual journey and relies on the great spiritual leaders throughout human history, especially the Buddha, as the teachers, the models for effective psychotherapy.

Dr. Bien’s writing is ardent and personal. Because it is in an unusually personal tone the reader connects with the writer without the barrier that is often present in books for professionals. It has an easy flow. It is an engaging read. Replete with exercises for the therapist outside of the consulting room, as well as practical suggestions for the therapeutic interaction itself, the book covers a wide territory. The vignettes are an attempt at helpfulness but are too brief.

His blend of the practical and philosophic is commendable. He never strays from his topic, and his first love, mindfulness. The reader receives a steady and digestible diet from cover to cover of the benefits of mindfulness. Nor does Dr. Bien wander from psychotherapy. The clear respect and dignity he shows to psychotherapists and patients—yes, the term patient is consciously employed, as Dr. Bien carefully explains—is a welcome reminder that psychotherapy is a noble undertaking.

In this sense Dr. Bien and his honest book Mindful Therapy has a kinship with Carl Rogers and On Becoming a Person. The general reader will easily appreciate from this book the salutary effects of the practice of mindfulness, and the interconnection of mindfulness and emotional well-being. The book is especially targeted to mental health professionals and any psychotherapist reading Dr. Bien’s book, and taking it to heart, can only benefit. The practice of mindfulness, and the peace, respect and kindness that it brings, in psychotherapy and in life, is an ennobling endeavor. This is Dr. Bien’s message, and it is unpretentiously expressed in this fine book.

Vidhuma (Dr. Paul Shagoury) is a practicing Buddhist and psychotherapist practicing in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X