Once again, life has been stressful, more intense than the usual stress, over the past couple of weeks and even the past month. I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in the drama of it all, allowing it to infiltrate my dreams and allowing my emotions to become raw and fatigued. I’ve found myself becoming lost in the remorse of the past and worry about the future. But, I’m quickly brought into the present with a call that my mom has fallen and has hit her head. This puts everything else into perspective. After this call, nothing else matters. Anyone with an elderly parent can relate to that feeling of terror when we hear that our parent has fallen, as the repercussions of such a fall can be quite devastating for an elderly person. “How’s her speech,” I ask my brother who is with her. “Does she sound alert and oriented?” Yes, she was alert and oriented, and her speech was normal.
At the Emergency Room, the first CT scan came back as negative for any bleeding of the brain of this 88-year-old woman who is taking a blood thinner (making her more susceptible to such bleeds). They will keep her three hours longer to do another CT scan, just to make sure that there’s no delayed bleeding. Meanwhile, the blood test comes back as positive for elevated cardiac enzymes that might indicate a “cardiac event,” such as a heart attack. Perhaps, this was the reason for her fall, we all assume. All of my thoughts and worries during the week now appear meaningless in the face of this startling news.
The next morning, her own cardiologist is the one to see her in the hospital. He writes in an e-mail to my brother, “Delete from your memory that you were told in the ER that she suffered a heart attack.” There was no cardiac event, as her chronic heart condition was the culprit for the high enzyme reading, deconditioning of her legs was the reason for the fall, and there is no brain bleed. All is as it was prior to her fall, except that, with this scare, we are now figuring out how to prevent future falls and knocks on the head, if at all possible. And there are lessons here, including the one of not jumping to worst-case scenario conclusions…and the bigger lesson of perspective.
What is meaningful at one moment becomes trivial the next. These life events have a way of forcing us into the present moment. And once we get through the crisis, if we can hold onto our feeling of presence, there is an openness, an expansion, in our lives and a connection to peace when we are snapped out of our dream of the past and into the now.
The thing is, we don’t need to have a scare, such as mine with my mom, in order to bring ourselves into this moment, where we can truly appreciate life. We only need to remember to be in the present. Then, we can take a deep slow breath in and let it out slowly, letting ourselves enjoy the breath and this moment. We can notice everything about this moment and let ourselves feel gratitude for all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can walk mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully, breathe mindfully, and even eat mindfully, noticing the sights, sounds, feeling, and tastes of all that we are experiencing, rather than racing through life like it’s all a chore or a competition. “The act of eating can be a meditation and everything is more delicious when our attention is more tethered to the act of eating,” said yoga instructor, Steve Kane, when I had a chance to interview him on my internet radio show. “If you try it, you’ll likely find that, if you eat more slowly and mindfully, you’ll enjoy eating more. You’ll also feel more emotionally sated because eating isn’t just about putting calories in your body. You basically want to do the opposite of what we tend to do when we eat popcorn in a movie theater. Putting 1,200 calories into your body when your mind isn’t even paying attention is the opposite of mindful eating and is kind of crazy, when you think about it.”
Being fully in the present moment without waiting for a crisis to force us to be mindful, will lead to greater resilience when a crisis does occur. Mindfulness and present moment awareness do not mean necessarily spending hours in meditation, although that might be a wonderful luxury, if we so desire that experience. It can take just a minute of complete awareness of the here and now to turn our perspective around one hundred eighty degrees. “In one minute you can utilize the astounding power of your attention to sharpen your focus in new ways that bring contentment, clarity, happiness, and optimism — in other words, the core foundations of resilience,” writes Donald Altman in his book, 101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience: Cultivate Calm, Clarity, Optimism & Happiness Each Day.
Try these tips to bring yourself back to this moment:
1. Meditate. One way to meditate is to breathe in slowly through your nose and out slowly through your mouth. With each breath, silently repeat a word, such as, “peace.” Try it for one minute, three minutes, or even an hour.
2. Do yoga, Tai chi, or Qi Gong. These practices have the power to help us get out of our mind and into our body, where the past and future are non-existent and there is only the present.
3. Take a 20-minute Epsom salt and lavender oil bath.
4. Try feeling curious, or even excited, rather than fearing new experiences.
5. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for everything that is, all of the changes of life, even those that we don’t particularly like. The painful experiences help us grow and they prove that we’re actually living life and taking risks, opening the doorway for new experiences and deeper love.
Check out Dr. Mara’s internationally best-selling book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, now available in paperback and on e-book!
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