“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn.
I have a very clear memory from my childhood of an episode of pain. I had a severe ache in my leg, in the shin area, which earned me confinement to bed, and the tender ministrations of my mother. Which was unusual, it was not often you were permitted a peek at her softer side. She had gone to nursing school for a matter of weeks, until she let them know she had become engaged, which was grounds for being thrown out of nursing school in the 1940s! Anyway, when you were sick, my mother would artistically set up food on a tray and bring it to you in bed. There would be butter curled into cute rolls with a fork, perhaps some flowers in the corner, a soft- boiled egg with bread cut into ‘soldiers’ (vertical strips for dunking). Perhaps some of this is coming from my imagination and not memory, but you get the picture.
Eventually she got me to the doctor. I don’t remember how old I was, but since my pain was in my leg I couldn’t walk. She had to carry me to the bus, which must have been a struggle. The doctor had no explanation for my pain. He could not replicate it by pressing, squeezing, tapping any spot in my leg. It was a worrying puzzle. My miraculous cure came the day a lady from church came to visit (I could hear her downstairs), and after she left I called out ‘What did she bring for me?’ and just like that my illness was declared over. And yet I can still remember the pain! In the recalling of the story I now wonder if the incentive to be ill was prompted by my mother’s nursing touch. At other times she was not the most ‘motherly’ of mothers!
Many of us live our lives not paying much attention to our personal needs. We go through our days ignoring little warning, we are too busy, now is not the time, today is not the day, and trusting that twinges and aches will go away if ignored. Until we have a sentinel event, an event that gets our attention, that may take us to the hospital. Most nurses are the worst, we self-diagnose, manage our symptoms with a combo of home remedies and alternative treatments, and only end up in the doctor’s office when we have exhausted all other options. You know your doctor knows you when she says: “If Bethany is here saying she’s not feeling well, you must know something is wrong!” We must be the most frustrating of patients. Perhaps what would have been an easy fix with a visit and a prescription has now become a more challenging problem.
I recently heard a short piece of an article on the radio (is it called an article if it is on the radio?) which suggested that the problems associated with distracted driving have become so common place that perhaps we need to go back to driving ‘stick shift’ cars. When you drive a ‘manual’, you have to pay attention to your driving. For the most part it takes two hands, and requires that you shift down to slow down, shift up as you speed up, shift down going around corners, up hills, for traffic build up, etc. If you don’t do the complicated, coordinated dance of sink the clutch, ease up on the gas, slowly release the clutch after shifting gears, you will stall the car, hold up traffic and risk getting rear-ended! But it takes concentration, even after years of driving makes most of it ‘muscle memory’. You may not even be aware of changing gears. But in an automatic car, it is much easier for your mind to go on autopilot.
The mindfulness movement which originated in meditative practices of the east, has been researched and studied, and along with other acts of meditation, found to be very beneficial for health and well-being. Mindfulness is that aspect of a meditative act which calls for you to focus on yourself: on your breathing, on the sensations within and without your body. You ‘check-in’ with yourself and pay close attention to the messages your body sends you. It calls for a calming of the ‘monkey mind’, that busy-body brain which is so clever at creating thoughts which at the very least distract, and at the worst set you on anxiety provoking imaginings.
But being mindful is a practice which can be incorporated into your working life also. It reminds you to pay attention to others, to actively listen when they come to talk to you. I am guilty of continuing to type at my computer even while looking someone in the face. I may be hearing what they say, but they do not feel that I am listening. Active listening calls for making eye contact, for noticing body language, for allowing for silences (which sometimes may give you even more information). Not only does active, mindful listening encourage an open and honest conversation, it displays respect for a fellow human being.
When we teach nursing students how to ‘therapeutically communicate’, active listening is one of the tools. Yet recent articles show that time to just sit and listen is an endangered commodity. Nurses are expected to achieve more in less time, while being accurate and safe. Do they still have time to sit and just be present with a patient who is scared and in pain? We also teach students that we need to encourage patients to be more involved with their own health, and in addition to teaching women how to do a monthly ‘Breast Self-examination’, we encourage them to have ‘self-awareness’. Check in to your appearance (not just the face!). Has anything changed? When last did you really examine your entire naked body in the mirror? For some of us that is not as pleasurable as it once was! Where is the flat slender abdomen of my teenage self? Whose thighs are those?!! By being more self-aware we may pick up on some signals that all is not well, that it is time to get that check-up we’ve been postponing.
This Friday morning may you shift into a new awareness of being, one which helps you to be mindful of all the blessings in your daily life. Spend a few moments to sit at the edge of the bed, eyes closed, take deep, slow breaths and notice, truly notice the sensations of being, of breathing, of sitting. Hold your back straight, shoulders back and imagine a silver string connecting you with the heavens above. With your feet on the floor connect yourself with the earth beneath you. Feel yourself strong in your core, yet flexible like the trees around you. Feel energy and oxygen flooding into your body, while energy and light flow out from you. May those moments of calming self-attention stay with you throughout the day and may you notice the beauty that surround you.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!