This week and last, Marisa Diaz-Waian from Merlin CCC and I had the opportunity to offer two introductory sessions of mindfulness and guided philosophical discussion with seniors, caregivers, and friends at Touchmark on Saddle Drive.
We gathered there, in a large circle (23 participants in the first week) and introduced both philosophy as a Western practice of seeking out the good life, and mindfulness practice, notably based in a Buddhist philosophy of ethics, meditation (of which part is mindfulness), and wisdom.
Our job was not to lecture for the 60-minute sessions, but rather to introduce the concept of philosophy and to do some short guided meditations, interspersed with open dialogue. Both times we simply asked, "what are you interested in? What are the big questions of your life right now?" (emphasis on right now). In our first week, we covered gender roles - my how they've changed since some of these folks were young - and power dynamics, "who gets to say what is right and wrong?"
In week two we spent a good amount of time discussing the nature of friendship, something that was on one gentleman's mind as he reminisced about losing a number of friends in recent weeks. Friendship, Marisa and I agreed, is a topic that gets too little attention in philosophy. One participant discussed three levels of friends she has had, mirroring perfectly - and to my delight - the kinds of friendship discussed by Aristotle.
The point of the philosophical discussion is not to solve any of the great questions in life, but rather to build community and hone our own understandings. Marisa and I, both trained in philosophy, can guide participants through historical examples, but it is the participants own lives and experiences that give substance to the conversation.
In each session, we did one introductory guided meditation on the breath and one concluding mindfulness of breathing practice.
As stated on our "mindfulness" page:
Mindfulness has be found to reduce depression and loneliness. A UCLA study found that seniors who took an eight-week meditation program significantly decreased rates of self-reported loneliness. They report, furthermore, that "Feeling lonely has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, depression and even premature death." So the ripple-effects of the mindfulness are likely to spread into other areas of life. In fact, one other study traced a direct link between mindfulness and improved mood in seniors who added the practice to their lives. If the bottom line is your main interest, it's also worth pointing out that mindfulness was found to reduce healthcare costs over a 5-year period by approximately 25%.