Mind's Eye Blog

The Great Unlearning

Boy reading bookBelow is the final statement from Gisela Webb’s 2001 article INTIMATIONS OF THE GREAT UNLEARNING: INTERRELIGIOUS SPIRITUALITY AND THE DEMISE OF CONSCIOUSNESS WHICH IS ALZHEIMER’S       I can’t stop rereading her 5000+ words. They approach thoughts I wish I would be able to articulate. I plan to explore all her references…

“I call Alzheimer’s the great unlearning, because it is clearly an unraveling of mind, language, and former knowledge. But in my experience, there is a center, or centers, of apprehension and experience (such as humor, intuition, and emotion) clearly intact much longer than mind and language. The nature of Alzheimer’s decline suggests to me both the reality of the radical impermanence of life (as suggested in the many constantly shifting states and stages of the disease) and the reality of some deeper knowing/knower. Therefore, it supports the ethical mandate to honor that deep and abiding part, or ground, of the person, despite the eroding of the most basic characteristic of humanness: the self-reflective consciousness. I wonder if what we see in Alzheimer’s disease is a kind of return to our origins — an Edenic pre-self-conscious, pre-dualistic state, prior to separation and shame.
I also call Alzheimer’s the great unlearning because we, too — the caretakers — need to find ways to deepen forms of awareness within ourselves in order to better read the signs of the needs of the Alzheimer’s patient over time and to facilitate healing where we can. Alzheimer’s care-taking is an opportunity to begin our own process of unlearning, of facing that within ourselves which needs knowing, healing, changing, and, yes, dying. The Alzheimer’s demise gives us a slow-motion glimpse of perennial questions about human nature as well as encouragement to find new constructions and methods of healing — for the patient and the caretaker — in the midst of the demise of consciousness called Alzheimer’s.”

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