Stuck in a Moment

While watching after my mom last weekend, I got to thinking about her state of mind. She suffers from dementia, so her short-term memory is limited and she is typically confused with even the simplest tasks. Due to her forgetfulness, she no longer drives and has to depend completely on others for the activities of daily living. Observing the progression of her illness is alarming. The look of bewilderment that often falls across her face tells me it is probably very scary for her as well.

And yet, there is an unusual state of grace that I’ve witnessed with this disease. And that is that she is constantly living in the present moment. Because my mom can’t hold on to details, she doesn’t dwell on the past nor does she get too preoccupied with what the future holds. Instead, she focuses on the here and now: moving, eating, resting. Since her surroundings don’t always appear familiar to her, it’s as though she sees things for the first time. Every time. When I arrive at the house, she greets me like it’s been twenty years. She can’t remember the last time she saw me!

Her pleasures are simple ones: sharing a laugh, enjoying a tuna fish sandwich and playing with her dog. She comments on the humidity or the unexpected rain. And when she does, it brings me right back to the present moment. My mom no longer worries about what could have been. If she is upset over an argument with her sister, give it five minutes and she won’t remember that it happened – thus making it impossible to hold a grudge. Imagine if we could all do that?

Despite her severe limitations, she is mostly calm and content. My mom recognizes her feelings as they arise. She describes to me how they feel and what she sees. When she notices the age spots on her skin, she marvels as though she has never seen them before. When was the last time you noticed your own hands, arms and body in this way?

This concept, sometimes referred to as mindfulness, is now incorporated into stress management programs. And when I find myself getting upset by my mom’s condition – which is often – I am reminded of the simple graces it affords us. By her example, I am forced to live only in the here and now.

Yesterday is dust. Tomorrow is a dream. Our gift is now.

Some good books to help you to explore mindfulness in your own life:

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.