The Graduate Institute Blog
Just stop and think about that for a moment. How can you age if you never know what time it is? I know from experience and as a physician that the healthiest state one can be in is when you are doing something which makes you lose track of time. When I am painting a portrait or operating upon someone I have no sense of time or self. I am in a trance state and I believe when we are being creative our physiology gives our body a profound live message. The sad part is too many people wait until they are told they have a limited amount of time left to live before they start living their chocolate ice cream.
That expression comes from one of our children who, when I asked him what he would do if he had fifteen minutes left to live, said, “I’d buy a quart of chocolate ice cream and eat it.” What I had to learn is that we each have our own flavor and brand of chocolate ice cream. I have letters from people who moved, took off their tie, took violin lessons and did all the things they wanted to do before they died. So they were not denying their mortality just enjoying their life time; their letters often end with, “I didn’t die and now I am so busy I am killing myself. Help, where do I go from here?” I tell them to take a nap because they are burning up and not out.
When you ask adults which day of the week is detrimental to their health they will tell you, Monday. When you ask kids they tell you Saturday and Sunday. Why? Because they are doing so much they get exhausted. But they are doing what they love and so a rest will restore them while the adults are not helped by physical rest. So do not wait to start behaving the way you want to and living your life.
Now let me share some of the things I have learned from ninety year olds. One I shall never forget is a woman who, in her nineties developed breast cancer and gall stones. She was quite upset with God for doing this to her at her age but accepted the surgery and moved on in her life. I asked her to join our cancer support group because I knew she had lessons to teach us about survival behavior. One day when everyone in the group was caught up in their fears and what problems the future held I turned to her for help and asked, “What are you afraid of?” After several minutes of silence she sat up and said, “Oh I know; driving on the parkway at night.” That resolved everyone’s issue as we went from fear to laughter.
I have also learned to not keep family problems from aging parents. When I would call my ninety year old mother and ask her how she was she would tell me her problems with one exception. The exception was if one of her children, grandchildren or great grandchildren had a problem. Then she was focused on advising and assisting them to overcome their problem and move on in life. This gave her a sense of meaning and helped her to feel healthy too. So use the wisdom of the aged, do not hide your problems from them and let them be your guide.
I loved it when I asked my mother what advice she had for seniors that I was going to lecture to. She said, “Tell them to lie a lot.” I asked how that would help and she said, “If you tell people how you really feel they’ll put you in a nursing home. So lie about it.”
Another ninety year old was asked how he kept from falling. His answer, “I watch where I am going.”
I also advise seniors to find the oldest doctor they can to take care of them. Then they are less likely to hear this in response to their troubles, “What do you expect at your age?” Years ago there was an internist in a nearby town who practiced well into her eighties and the seniors loved her because she was always there to help and never blamed their age for their problem.
To survive we all need to have a sense of meaning in our lives, and express our emotions, including anger, when we are not treated with respect. Make our own therapeutic choices, ask for help when we need it, respond to our feelings when making choices, maintain an authentic life not just a role and say no to what we do not want to do.
Basically we need to find our way of expressing our love while keeping a childlike sense of humor. I ask seniors how they can die laughing. The answers relate to having accomplished what we are all here to accomplish which is to serve the world in our unique way rather than a way imposed by others and to have your family tell stories about your life when you are ready to die. My father literally died laughing as my mother told wonderful stories about their early relationship. So you need to embarrass your family regularly and give them material to use when you are ready to hear their stories.
When my father was tired of his body he said to my mother, “I need to get out of here.” That is when we all gathered and made his transition an unforgettable one that gave the children in the family a very different feeling about death.
My father in law was a great teacher too. He lived to be ninety seven in a body rendered quadriplegic by a fall twenty years earlier. When I asked him for advice for the elderly he said, “Tell them to fall on something soft.” A few days later he said to me. “It doesn’t always work. They stood me up in therapy and I fell on my wife and broke her leg. So tell them to just fall up.” I thought that was a joke until the evening he told us he was tired of his body, refused his dinner, evening vitamins and died that night. As far as I am concerned he just fell up. When love is involved and guilt is not a part of dying how easy it can be to leave at the appropriate time; either with loved ones beside you or when they leave your bedside to make it easier for them. As many mothers do.
For many seniors the family needs to be there and express the anger they are feeling over their care in various healthcare facilities. In my father in laws record it said, “Son in law causing a problem.” Yes, I spoke up because he was afraid that if he complained they wouldn’t respond to his needs when he was alone at night with no family there to help him. Some of my complaints were to get them to treat him like a person. When his forehead itched they sedated him instead of scratching his forehead. To have a quadriplegic sleeping all day seemed to me to make his life meaningless. So I complained. There is more to caring then writing prescriptions.
Many years before he died he developed a multitude of symptoms, was unable to eat and was close to death. When a new nursing home was built near our house I said I was going to move him so we could be close to him in his final week of life. I was told I would have to pay his medical bills since I was not in charge of making those decisions. I said I would since he looked only days from his end and I arranged the move.
Within a few days after he was moved he was smiling, eating and not dying. I asked him, “How come you’re not dying anymore?” I didn’t tell him I was asking for financial reasons. He answered, “I was dying to make the people in the other nursing home happy. They were tired of taking care of me.” He lived for many years after that. Again it shows us how important our connections and relationships are to other living things.
We know the benefits of people and pets but even plants and goldfish can prolong survival when they give us meaning. In one nursing home study they put plants in all the rooms but only half the residents were told the plants were their responsibility to water and care for. The others were told they were simply room decorations. Those who were given responsibility lived an average of six years longer.
Let me close with two simple techniques for knowing what the aged are thinking without having to verbalize things they do not want to share. One is to ask, “How would you feel if placed in a totally white room?” and “What is your favorite animal and why?”
When a senior is tired of living or physically exhausted the white room is a spiritual sanctuary they are happy to be in because there is no stimulation and they can rest there. When there is still an active life force they will want to leave, redecorate or put in a picture window.
The description of one’s favorite animal is always related to one’s feeling about one’s self. So an active meaningful description also speaks about the same thing in that person’s life and self. When there is no animal, life or energy in their choice they are ready to move on to become dreamless, un-alive and perfect again. Please remember that leaving our bodies is a therapeutic decision at some point. When we leave we do not take our afflictions with us. That is another topic we can discuss in another issue; related to near death experiences.
I also see the life force when I ask seniors to draw pictures of themselves as they are today and as they were twenty five years ago. Ninety percent of the time I receive two pictures. One picture revealing a slim happy individual in the past and the other fat and unhappy one today. A small minority hand me one picture saying, “That’s me then and that’s me now.” They understand their attitude is what creates their world. As a blind senior shared after her husband died while she was being wheeled into a nursing home for the first time. “What a lovely place.”
“You can’t see and have been here for less than five minutes. How can you say that?”
“I decide what I see.”
And so it is at every age. So grow young along with me. The best is presently. I have learned from Helen Keller that, “Deafness is darker by far than blindness.” So when in doubt about how to help a senior, listen, listen, listen and only say, “Ummm” in several ways. By your listening they will get to know themselves and their needs and then you will receive credit for being an enormous help. I know from experience.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood” ~Fred Rogers
Recently, the Bethany Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking cohort spent a weekend exploring the role that play serves as the foundation of living and learning. Friday night we investigated the myriad benefits play can offer including: building self-confidence, abstract thinking, the imagination, cooperation, self-expression, attention, concentration, persistence and problem-solving. On Saturday the cohort spent an entire day actualizing these as colleagues were faced with discovering ways to successfully traverse challenging treetop trails in the 5 acres of woodlands at Bridgeport’s Adventure Park. Each course required colleagues to put on learn how to use a double-connected system of locked harnesses. Each course required insight and imagination, as well as stealth, endurance and teamwork to successfully climb and navigate through the maze of roped trails, slatted wood bridges and ziplines comprising the carefully laid out paths within the wooded canopy. Afterwards everyone experienced, first-hand, the physical, cognitive, emotional and psychological benefits of connecting with their inner child to spend a day immersed in play.
The definition of play is simple and uncluttered!! …. Play is the interaction of two or more people that has no rules or directions, is not work, is not competitive, and does not have a goal. As long as these four conditions are met, play is the activity they are involved in. Since there is no direction that could be attributable to …as work,… as participation in a competitive enterprise, or the …reaching of a goal, there is by default then, no pathway described, no expectations of outcome, no winning or losing or being best. In fact there is nothing that can be seen as a framework for behavior. Play is a freewheeling, unfocused, generated on the spot… it has just been created. De facto, it is fun, enjoyable, easy going, free flowing, nonsensical (that is, not focused on making sense) … and generally undisciplined, undirected, and beyond any socially and cognitively justified.
When children play, (in the sense that the word play does not include it use in game), they do so in the manner that Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi referred to as Flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, Flow is referred to as the foundation of time passing without conscious control, or recognition that time is passing. When in flow one is in a blissful state of being. Game on the other hand demands any of the following elements: Competition, being best, rules, mediation, and, generally, governance of behavior by others than the players.
Play in the context of learning is not related to game. The language that we often use, that is, we play a game, is loosely based on the notion that most games originated in play. For example, basketball arose out of a few people, having nothing to do, started throwing a ball around. Someone decided it would be interesting to get the ball in the peach basket. From that time on there was a competition to see who could get the most successful “points” … points, meaning… making the most baskets. Had the game continued without that incident, “without the ball in basket,” the game would not have been invented. What would have continued would have been, and is, what is known as throwing the ball around, or having a catch. Having a catch has no rules; it has goal, it has no points, and no one wins or loses. It’s just play. (except when the father bears down on the son or daughter who has to become adept at throwing or catching in order to get picked for the team!)
On the day that we meet to explore play, we are doing so for a single reason – to experience again the foundation of play, it being the first activity of learning that is undertaken by children! There is no questioning the fact that the child in the crib pushing things around, making things move, biting on things and throwing things, is playing. And there is also no doubt that as they engage in these activities they are developing responses to the outside world and doing so in the inside world. They are learning! They learn that throwing an object outside the crib has an outcome that is beyond their control. They learn that paper tears, and thus they begin to learn about materials and the nature of space and objects. They also learn about the reactions they generate in their caregivers. They become aware that the ball flying outside the crib is beyond their recapture … and that makes them upset. Being upset they cry, or call, and that in turn brings a reaction from an adult. The adult returns the ball, smiles and creates the foundation of an interactive dependent relationship. They are learning! The child gathers the inference that the cry engaged the adult; that the engagement produced an outcome of a predictable kind: the ball was retrieved. Notice here that there was no afore-stated goal, no rules of interaction, no competition, and no outcome that we would say had value other than “the ball was returned”. But there is value in the action of the ball being returned. And so the play ended in an understanding, or created some kind of meaning. And that is exactly what we mean when we say … they are learning! Learning is the experience that creates meaning, the meaning upon which understanding is built! So children’s play is the principle place of engagement with the external world, at least in the early years. As maturation occurs children become more sophisticated in their play and begin to develop purposeful interactions with others. Some of these are games, some work, and some (perhaps the most) are the interactions that form the fabric of the comprehensively lived life....
Bethany, CT - The Graduate Institute presents an informative and personally enriching workshop by Enrico Cheli, PhD and Cristina Antoniazzi , MA on Friday, November 6 from 7pm – 9pm at our main campus located at 171 Amity Road in Bethany, Connecticut.
More and more people nowadays are anxious, depressed or angry, ascribing their unpleasant emotional state to external events, persons and situations (mostly out of their control). Psychology, and above all positive psychology, considers this interpretation misleading, assuming that our emotional state depends not only on events or persons but also and mainly on the ways in which we interpret and manage those events and relationships. This is really good news, since it is often impossible to change external events, persons and situations while for sure we can always change our ways of dealing with them.
This introduction will give you a firsthand taste of this revolutionary concept that will be developed more in-depth in a specific certificate program starting this November at The Graduate Institute. The program will be run by renowned Italian psycho-therapist Enrico Cheli and his partner Christina Antoniazzi who have dedicated their lives to creating happier and healthier individuals as well as healthier organizations and communities.
The program is targeted at health care professionals but is open to those who are interested in the topic for personal development. It features an experiential teaching methodology designed to facilitate students’ holistic development of body, emotional and relational awareness through the implementation of specific knowledge, skills, and exercises, including mindfulness and meditation techniques, breathing techniques, visualizations, role playing, voice dialogue and more.
Join leading European experts on this journey to enrich yourself and your career!
Enrico Cheli, Psy.D is a transpersonal psychotherapist, sociologist and professor at the University of Siena, who has long been committed to combining science, ethics and spirituality in his teachings. He promotes a culture of awareness and peace in our environment. Considered one of the leading experts in holistic culture and emerging methods for personal and spiritual growth, Enrico regularly holds courses and workshops on experiential inner knowledge and self-realization using methods that fuse psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, breathing and musical vibrations....