I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.
Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)
Our venerable Retreat Master at PTC Monastery, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, completed two three-year retreats before escaping from occupied Tibet at the age of 20 and has subsequently led many such retreats in India, New York, and Tibet over nearly 50 years, most of them begun under the guidance of his own Lama, the late renowned meditation master Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche. From his vast experience, he assures us that the secrets of three-year retreat are to practice diligently without allowing yourself to become distracted, to keep a joyful mind and look upon everyone with love and compassion in all circumstances, and always to remember the impermanence of your situation so you don’t waste any time. There may be more, but I don’t remember them offhand.
I will take questions now.
The maroon fence outside my window is a favorite resting spot for birds. Sometimes they sing a song, but usually they just sit for a moment or two, maybe groom themselves a bit, and then they’re off to the next thing.