This interview between Mary Doane and Aisha Adkins from Caring Across Generation discusses what it’s like to be at the intersection of caregiving and young adulthood and managing your own future while caring for your loved one in the present. This interview was recorded on November 3, 2022.
Drawing on years of experience as a hospice volunteer and chaplain, Alistair Shanks shares various practices that help us to be fully present to the experience of dying and how the use of both speech and touch can be beneficial at the end of life. This session ran on November 16, 2022.
Since the shelter-in-place began we’ve heard a lot more about mindfulness in mainstream media. It’s being suggested on websites, videos, and posts as one way to support us through the pandemic, and a good self-care practice to adopt.
But how is it helpful? And why should we think about building mindfulness into our daily life when we already have so much going on? We posed this question to Zen Caregiving Project’s Executive Director, Roy Remer, and here’s what he had to say.
Can we start at the beginning? What is mindfulness?
A definition of mindfulness I like is: paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgment. Let’s break that down.
- Paying attention to the present moment: often our minds are not really tracking what is happening right here, right now. Many of us get stuck thinking about past events and what we have done or should have done. Or we are jumping ahead to the future – what’s next on our to-do list, what we hope will happen, or what we are worried might happen. The practice of mindfulness helps us keep our attention on what is happening in the present moment. For instance, when we are washing our hands, instead of rushing through to get it done, we can work on really being there with the activity, feeling the sensations of water on the skin, listening to the sounds of the water, observing the suds from the hand soap. It doesn’t mean it takes any longer but it is an opportunity to return to the present moment experience, and you will probably find more pleasure in the activity.
- On purpose: By this I mean, noticing when the mind gets distracted. Distraction is natural – it happens to all of us, all the time. Even the most experienced meditators will find that their minds wander as that is what minds do. But the point here is to notice when this happens. The noticing allows an opportunity to bring our distracted attention back to the present.
- Without judgment: As it is human to become distracted, we should also be kind to ourselves when we notice we have once again become distracted. We congratulate ourselves on noticing our mind has wandered and gently return to the present moment. This process of noticing distraction and coming back to the present is a lifelong process – which is why it is called mindfulness practice – we need never stop working on it! Though, over time it does get easier.
How does mindfulness help us in our daily life?
- Mindfulness helps settle the mind. A calm mind allows us to respond thoughtfully rather than react immediately to an event or thought. When our mind is calm it can help calm those around us. I am sure we have all experienced being with someone who is very anxious or agitated and how that can leave us feeling unsettled too. It is also true one person’s calmness may have a calming effect on others.
- Mindfulness helps to focus attention. We all know that multi-tasking is tiring, and often not productive. Mindfulness helps us to focus our attention on one thing at a time, reducing fatigue. It also reduces human error as we are a lot less likely to make mistakes if we have all our attention on the task at hand. As a caregiver, this reduction in error is particularly important.
- Mindfulness increases awareness of the present moment. Many of us spend a lot of time dwelling on negative thoughts about past events that we can’t change and worrying about future events that haven’t happened yet. Mindfulness helps to interrupt those looping thoughts and helps us see the difference between our thoughts and what is actually happening right now.
Being more aware of our present moment experience also helps with self-care. We notice sooner when we feel tired, or are having an emotional experience, and make sure we stop and look after ourselves.
How can mindfulness help me in difficult situations?
Having a mindfulness practice allows us to stay calm in challenging situations. It also helps build our resilience by supporting our ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances. When we are paying attention, we can see when we add something extra that does not help a situation. Negative or harmful thinking for instance. There is a difficult situation, and then there is the way we meet a difficult situation. We can stop, take a few breaths, and see what is in front of us clearly. Mindfulness builds a capacity to be with discomfort.
But what if I don’t have a lot of time for mindfulness?
The more you practice, the greater the benefit. The good news is you don’t have to spend hours meditating to get benefits. Meditation helps a lot. Though, even integrating a little bit of mindfulness into your daily routine is helpful in building the skills I mentioned above. And you may just find that instead of being another thing on your “to-do list”, mindfulness becomes something that you just do naturally, or even something you want to do! Start out with small, easy mindfulness activities.
How do I find out more?
There is lots of information online about mindfulness and we also run a course called Foundations of Mindful Caregiving, that explores how to integrate mindfulness in caregiving and the related areas of compassion, loss, and self-care. Please check our website for updates on our course offerings.