Dementia and Alzheimer’s are much in the public consciousness at the present. As people live longer, we are more aware of these conditions, perhaps experiencing them directly through our friends or loved ones. Perhaps we see their fear and confusion, and dread that that should happen to us.
Of course, there are things that we can do to reduce the likelihood of cognitive deterioration becoming our reality. We can learn new skills, exercise, eat a healthy diet, and give up smoking. And sometimes still unwelcome changes occur in our bodies and brains as we age.
But, for those who do develop it, dementia doesn’t have to be a frightening nightmare. Practising meditation in our younger and/or middle years, can be an invaluable tool for ageing with grace and equanimity. Meditation teacher Shinzen Young describes how it is for the Buddhist masters he met in Asia: “Does an enlightened person become senile? Sure. But it doesn’t look the same, it doesn’t feel the same. There is a palpable sense of grace and beauty in the dysfunction that is not present typically.” The meditators’ minds may have become confused, but they do not suffer as a consequence.
This is because, through their meditation practice, they have developed a wider and more open consciousness that enables them to surrender to the wisdom of insecurity, to be content with the freedom and spontaneity this offers.
As Young says, ageing “can make you frail and freaked out, or it can make you fluid and thinned out.” If, as we meditate, we are accustomed to sitting in open awareness, with equanimity and acceptance, we have a better chance of welcoming with grace whatever our older age may hold.