The Story We Write and the Stories We Live
Like many of us, I love a story. I’m blessed to be able hear so many in my shared time with you at Lathrop. I am also fascinated by the question of how we continually write our own story, how we’ve come to accept the stories that other’s write about us, and how these stories shapes how we live. Of course we weave into our story what we gather from the important people in our lives, especially family. Biological science is showing us more and more how genetics pre-loads possibilities for us, and though human knowledge in this area is hurtling forward, our true understanding of how we express what might be coded is still thin. Here we come up against that deep human urge, to feel that we remain free to choose our path despite all that’s come before, to break the patterns both social and biological.
This comes to mind as I hear the news of my maternal uncle’s passing last week. Like my mother–his only sibling–he rode the Alzheimer’s train to its final stop. Into my own story process, I also weave observations of the tracks that many of my past patients and Lathrop residents have followed. It’s easy for me to think that yes, my mother’s story is likely mine too. But I also know that I’ve lived a very different life, and that I benefit from other decisions, other habits and now the fruits of current learning. Epidemiologists talk about managing risk factors. The storyteller follows where the story goes, open to what imagination can offer and curious about how the protagonist responds in the face of what appears. Last week in Northampton, a small group met Jill Wolk, whose practice of coaching, looking at goals and then supporting the process of building new behaviors, includes this core aspect of choice. That is, what story are we telling about where we are and where we believe we may go. I’m curious to hear if attendees were inspired by her visit and whether we might invite her back.
So for me, I practice living inside that scenario with as little fear as I can, and simultaneously commit to sitting down every day and seeing how I can nudge that story in a new way. Many times I’ve discovered patterns from my family that I pledge, sometimes successfully, to alter. First we see them honestly and with whatever acceptance we can muster. And then we carve a path that we hope leads another way. Those who’ve gotten to know me, and perhaps often enough from this column, know the path I’ve found comes from the Yogic tradition. And I am excited to share with you an approach influenced by that tradition, along with current scientific insight on cognitive health, and that is the work being done by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson. Find them on the web at http://alzheimersprevention.org/. Their Four Pillars program combines so much of what my vision of Wellness encompasses: nutrition, physical and mental exercise, but also what they call Spiritual Fitness and the calming effect of meditation. I have a selection of their teaching materials to share and hope in the coming weeks to create some programs for residents where we can explore these pillars together.
My discovery of ARPF arrives simultaneously with inspiration from the work of Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, passed along to me by Inn resident Nancy Moran. Among other questions, Langer’s creative experiments examine how our attitudes and self-perceptions directly affect how we feel.
(https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/…/what-if-age-is-nothing-but-a-mind-set.html) Adjusting our attitude, changing our habits, writing a new possible ending to the story is something we do day by day, one mindful moment at a time.
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