“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw.
I have some memories from early childhood that I am not sure if they are actual memories. I once heard that the only true memory is the first time you recall something. After that, you are recalling the memory, not the event. And each time you recall, the prior memory (like copying a copy of a copy) has changed somewhat. As the youngest of five, I heard the retelling of family memories that would become so familiar, I couldn’t distinguish whether I was part of the event, or the retelling. In fact, a plaintive cry of mine, whether looking at old photographs or listening to old stories was: ‘Was I born?’.
The first summers of my life were spent on a camping site in North Wales, within sight and sound of the sea. In those days the word ‘summer’ denoted a time, rather than a season. The weather could be very cruel, harsh winds and relentless rain. One day (and I cannot tell you if I am relating a memory or a retold story – so please forgive any inaccuracies) after a stretch of miserable weather, there was a break in the rain. The kids (and it may have been my siblings and my cousins) were challenged by my father. We would walk with him to the local shop, and whoever could get him to laugh would get the ‘sweets’ (candies/sweetie) of their choice at the shop. And so Pied Piper Pearce set off, face stern, with a trail of ten or more kids, all determined to get him to laugh. My memory doesn’t tell me who (if anyone) succeeded. But he had the last laugh on us – he told the shopkeeper that he had no idea who these kids were that had trailed him to the store!
There is a certain singlemindedness about childhood that is to be envied. Whether a child is engaged in an assigned task, or lost in a game, they can very often tune the outside world out completely. Once you give birth (or become a parent by other means!) you lose the ability to ignore all distractions. Your ears prick at the sound of a distant cry: Is it pain? Annoyance? Just for show? While cooking in the kitchen you are also supervising homework, thinking about clothes for the next day, separating fights. And at the workplace it can be even worse! The role of the charge nurse on a busy floor is like being a parent with ten sets of twins! The nurse’s list of priorities runs horizontally, not vertically. One of the trickiest questions in NCLEX style exams (the licensing examination for those who wish to become a nurse in the USA) is to be given a choice of four patients with different disorders and situations, and decided which one to see first. At least in the exam version there is a right answer. In the real world the choices that you have to make may have no perfect response!
I have one of those kind of minds that always loved the challenge of a high energy work-place. In the Emergency Room it may make you crazy, but what a sense of satisfaction as you helped in a variety of situations, no two shifts were ever the same. At this point of my working life my challenges are different, but none-the-less varied. And just the same way that patients taught me what I didn’t know about nursing, it is the students who have taught me how to be a better teacher.
A mind which is always curious, which is always looking for things to learn, is one that will stay youthful. However, like many other habits, the secret is in moderation. It was while driving to work the other morning, thinking of the day ahead and what awaited me at work, I realized that I had been driving on the highway on autopilot. I once went to a meditation session where the facilitator told us that the secret to meditation is this: when you are meditating just meditate. Just like when you are driving, just drive. Many of us are guilty of exactly the opposite. We try to multi-task our way through the day, messing up one thing as we are distracted by the others.
The act of mindfulness is one which advises us to be more aware of ourselves as we go through the day. Pay attention to your breathing; watch your alignment (are you slouching again?); are you holding tension in your shoulders and neck, ensuring a pounding headache later? Are you rushing through your day so quickly that you cram food down your throat instead of savoring each bite? How can your digestive system work properly when you have one eye on your emails as you chew?
Acts of mindfulness help us to slow down and appreciate our surroundings, and the people around us. By paying closer attention to our bodies we may pick up on the gentle hints that something is wrong, or that we should be taking better care of it. With so many calls on our attention, so many things ‘tugging at our band-width’, it is easy to respond to the loudest call, not necessarily the most important one. And as we try to juggle all of these demands we put our car-keys in a strange place and then can’t find them when next we need them!
This Friday morning I hope you make time to sit, to pause, to breathe. We all need to reboot, which requires the machine to be shut down for a few minutes. If you need to go for a walk, do that. And go back to taking care of yourself so you will have more reserves to deal with all of those others that demand your attention. And if you have kids around you, challenge them to make you laugh!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!