“Mindfulness” is the practice of living in the moment.
Today. Now. So, what about today? When we live conditionally, we miss so much. It’s easy to go through life waiting for the future—after the operation; after the scans; after the chemo—this way of thinking wastes precious time.
During my caregiving years, I spent a lot of time on hold, waiting for this or that to happen and thankfully, I began reading books by Jon Kabat Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a time when I found help just when I needed it. I began to find happiness during the most difficult times of my life by living in the moment. I truly managed to find joy in the now.
I learned to speak with compassion—to my husband in particular—but to everyone I spoke with; even the language I used in regular conversation changed. I learned to be honest about all my feelings, and to speak of my problems without blame or bitterness or irritation. Using “loving speech” made it possible for my husband and my mother-in-law to “hear” me, since I spoke in a gentle tone without blame.
And because of this, our time together was well spent. No more petty arguments or empty complaints. Every day was important. Each dawn a new day—as they say.
I also learned “compassionate listening.” In caring for Steve and Sylvia, I let them speak freely and from the heart, and I believe this helped ease their pain and helped them heal. Syl, at ninety, had lived alone for thirty years when she came to live with us, and most of her conversations had been on the telephone, gossiping with her elderly friends. Imagine how different it felt to her to have someone sit with her for hours and hours, just listening to her unload. No lectures, no preaching. No judgment. I just let her speak and heard her. At first she spoke of superficialities and the past, generally keeping to “safe” topics. It took understanding and patience on my part, to make her comfortable enough to talk about her feelings—her fears and sadness, her pain and suffering. She would free herself of her burden of worries from time to time—and as a mother, she worried about her son.
Steve was a revelation. We’d been together over twenty-six years and he was finally able to open up to me. It was a matter of trust.
We became closer as together we discussed all the frightening and unpleasant aspects of his cancer. He finally felt safe and didn’t second guess every move I made.
I had a mother and son, who had their own issues, living under one roof, communicating with me on a level neither of them had been able to get to before.
I sense they knew they had nothing to lose and much to gain. Instead of sitting on their feelings and becoming more and more depressed, they felt free to express every concern promptly, getting rid of the negative feelings that wore them down—and wore me down. It was easier for me to listen to issues as they arose vs. issues which had grown to chimeras of monstrous proportions when they held these feelings in.
Opening this clear, non-judgmental channel for communicating also led to reconciliations.
Now that they’re both gone and I look back on integrating the practice of using “loving speech” and “compassionate listening” into my life, I know it has served me well in all my relationships. I’m patient and gentle with people and they, in turn, feel comfortable with me because I am a “safe haven.” They also know I’m not a pushover. By having a sensitive and calm default state, when I’m upset and use a strong tone of voice, they know I mean business and I’m not just a ranting and raving female. I manage to stay mindful in business dealings and accept the fact that I can’t do everything alone. I did that as a caregiver and know I don’t need to do that any longer.
There are many things to be learned in practicing mindfulness that will serve you well in all phases of your life. It’s an increasingly popular way to “be” and happily, it’s free!