A deeply troubled woman came to me for spiritual counseling several years ago. I’ll call her “Melinda.” She had severe emotional problems and was addicted to narcotics. Her primary complaint was “Howard,” whom she believed lived inside of her. Howard was sometimes kind and loving, but more often cruel. The poor woman was locked in an ongoing battle to maintain a harmonious relationship with Howard.
Of course, everyone who knew her thought she was crazy. I suspected she had a walk-in, an entity, or a lost spirit that had somehow attached itself to her etheric field. Then again, perhaps she was afflicted with multiple personality disorder.
I have long held the belief that anything a person can think or communicate in any way—no matter how outrageous—is possible, although not necessarily probable. This way of relating to others offers great relief, because it enables us to suspend judgment when faced with people and situations that might not be considered “normal.”
When Melinda described her difficulties with Howard, she expected me to react as so many others had. She assumed I would attempt to deny or change her inner reality. But instead of trying to coerce her or tell her she was “wrong,” I simply accepted that Howard was in the room with us and let her know that I honored his presence. Although I did not speak with him directly—as is sometimes the case in multiple personality disorder—Melinda spoke for him, saying, “Howard likes you and says it’s okay for me to be here with you.” A lively discussion ensued, followed by energy healing, during which she totally relaxed. Our encounter might not have produced life-changing effects, but during our time together Melinda seemed happy that someone had accepted her without judgment and “met her” where she lives.
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When I was involved in Siddha Yoga in the 1980s, I met a beautiful child at the ashram. Ganesh was about ten years old. He had been born with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder similar to autism. Ganesh didn’t walk until he was four and has never spoken more than a few words, although he has always communicated quite well in a nonverbal, nearly telepathic, way.
One day, I visited Ganesh and his family. When I arrived, he was lying on his back on the living room floor. Above him floated a red helium balloon with a string that went down into his mouth. His fingers were also in his mouth and he was fiddling with the string. He was laughing hysterically.
At first, I said something like, “Ganesh! I’m here!” Of course, what I really meant was, “Pay attention to me!”
He continued to giggle and chew on the string.
After a few frustrating minutes of trying to draw him out of his experience, I had a stunning realization.
Lying down on the floor next to him, I took the string of another balloon and put it in my mouth. As I imitated Ganesh, my consciousness expanded out into infinity and soon I was in a state of total bliss. I was right “there” with him.
Turning my head, I looked into his sparkling eyes and his eyes told me, “You’ve got it! Let go of your expectations. It’s much more fun.”
Many people in the ashram community have speculated that Ganesh is an enlightened being who chose to incarnate for the purpose of teaching others. He received his name in India, and it refers to the Hindu deity Ganesh, the remover of obstacles and bringer of success.
Children learn by imitation, but in this case the adult learned by imitating the child, and was better for it.
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Good therapists understand that people don’t react well to force. Only by loving acceptance can we influence others. If we “meet them where they are,” the possibility arises to gain their trust and lead them out of their difficulties.
Milton Erickson (1901-1980), an American psychiatrist and psychologist, was noted for his ability to utilize anything about a patient to help them get well. Once, when he was working at a mental hospital, there was a patient who told everyone he was Jesus Christ. All of the other doctors and nurses had tried but failed in helping him understand that he was not, in fact, Jesus.
One day, Dr. Erickson approached the man and said, “I hear you’re a good carpenter.”
“Yes, I am,” replied the patient, who seemed surprised that someone had acknowledged his “true” identity.
“We need help in the woodshop. Would you be willing to assist?”
Because Erickson had acknowledged the patient’s belief that he was Jesus—who was a carpenter, as we all know—he was able to interact with the patient in a positive way and begin leading him out of delusion.
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The concept of embracing another person’s reality is especially useful in relating to people with dementia. For many years, families, therapists, and other caregivers were encouraged to orient Alzheimer’s patients to “reality,” meaning the reality that is commonly accepted. When my mother had dementia, I tried the “reality orientation” method, and the outcome was quite upsetting for both of us. Quoting from my book Love is Ageless: Stories About Alzheimer’s Disease:
Irma roams the small bedroom in Billie’s bungalow asking urgently, “Where’s my mother? She never comes to see me anymore.”
What can I say? That her mother died twenty years ago? I say it, and she begins to weep. She can’t comprehend twenty years or even twenty minutes. She lives in the moment and in this moment, for her, her mother has just died.
Damn! Why didn’t I just lie and tell her, “Your mother’s coming tomorrow.” By the next day she would have forgotten, and tonight she would have been reassured.
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When my partner’s Aunt Betty was in her seventies, she had a procedure on her heart that resulted in damage to her esophagus. This was followed by a year of receiving nourishment through a feeding tube. After the tube was removed, however, she didn’t want to eat. It was as though she had forgotten how. Betty’s husband and children were quite concerned because she had become so thin.
We visited the family during that time, and allof the relatives came for a big lunch party. I happened to be sitting next to Aunt Betty when she was served with an enormous plate of food. There were about six different food items on the large plate in front of her. Everyone was sitting around the table talking loudly and eating, but I was watching Betty closely as she picked at the food with her fork. Actually, she seemed to be pushing it around on the plate as if she was pretending to eat, while hoping no one would notice.
Without thinking too much about it, I said in a neutral tone of voice, “You must be really tired of everyone telling you to eat.”
She gazed at me, wide-eyed with amazement, and whispered, “Oh. Yes.” Then she gave me a huge smile and began taking tiny bites, as though my recognition of her dilemma had restored her will to eat.
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My favorite example is the man who hated his house. I heard about him from his daughter while working on my Alzheimer’s book.
Edward had lived in his house for over forty years, when, unfortunately, he developed dementia. Everyone in the family was taking turns caring or him so he wouldn’t need to be put in a nursing home.
At least once a day, Edward would pound the arm of his easy chair and shout, “I hate this house. It’s ugly. Look at the horrible old furniture. I WANT TO GO HOME!”
Struggling to his feet, Edward would head for the door, only to be met by the caregiver on duty.
“Okay,” she would say. “We’ll go home right away.”
Then she would take him outside and walk him around the block until they arrived at his front door. Back in his comfortable chair, he would sit for hours, content to be “home” again.
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When you find yourself having a similar interaction with another person—especially someone who is mentally or emotionally challenged—stop for a moment. Take a deep breath, quiet your inner dialogue, and listen to what the person is really saying. Look for the message, the “feeling tone,” underlying the verbal communication. Interact with the person at the intuitive level, rather than from your own mental perspective. Chances are both of you will have a more satisfying and meaningful experience.
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