I used to think that you stopped learning once you left school, but last week I learnt a really fantastic lesson from my father, which was very unexpected.
Over the past couple of years I’ve changed my lifestyle a lot – you guys know the story of me working long hours in a corporate job in London that I never truly loved, then finally deciding to make the move back to my old hometown by the beach. That’s old news by now, but what I haven’t told you yet is that I’ve been doing a lot of inner work to try to be more present in my life. I’m a typical Aquarian – we’re known for being a little aloof and eclectic at the best of times and that is me to a capital T. When I’m out with friends I really try to stay present and engaged in what’s happening – it doesn’t always happen (old habits die hard) & I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m consciously working on it all the same.
I’ve been trying to get myself into a solid meditation practice for the past couple of years and I can tell you that it hasn’t been easy. I’ve tried a number of different techniques, kundalini yoga being one of my favourites, which you can read more about here. In this crazy busy world where we all have to-do lists as long as our arms and we’re running around trying to jam a million things into a day, I knew that being more present was the key to a happier life. For me, it was the simple act of sitting there that I found hard – ‘I’ll do it later’, ‘I don’t have enough time’, or my favourite ‘I’m too busy’ all sprang to mind whenever I thought about taking ten minutes out of my morning. Even though I was well aware that my days ran so much smoother when I did it, it didn’t help in those moments when the monkey brain took over.
A beautiful sunny winters day…
Anyway, a few weeks ago it was a lovely sunny Melbourne winters day – the kind of day that puts an extra little spring in your step and has you goofily smiling to people on the street (or maybe that’s just me….). I’d spent the morning on the laptop, dutifully checking off the to-do list, every so often looking out the window and thinking to myself how nice it looked out there. ‘I have to get out in that’, I thought. I got myself changed and decided that I was going to walk up Arthurs Seat. I knew it would take around an hour & so I planned that time into my day, knowing that I still had quite a bit of ‘stuff’ that I wanted to finish off when I got back.
In the car, I had a better idea – ‘why don’t I give my dad a call – he’d appreciate going for a walk on a day like this’. So I called dad and indeed he was up for coming with me. He lives on his own and no longer drives, so I thought a change of scenery would be nice – little did I know that I was going to learn a huge lesson that day.
I feel like I need to give you guys a little bit of background on my father – growing up, I always remember that he was an anxious person – he worried about EVERYTHING. He was very house proud and if any one of us kids touched a wall or made a mess, he would stress out. I never had friends around the house as a kid because he didn’t like noise and I was never allowed to call my friends on the phone as a teenager. I used to walk to the local shop and call friends on the payphone because my dearest dad was so worried about the phone bill. It’s kinda funny to think about now, but at the time, you can just imagine how much fun that was for us to be around – not!
On this particular day, dad was in good spirits – these days he doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s no longer working hard to raise a young family and whilst he lives a simple life, he has everything he needs. We drove up the hill and spent a few minutes at the lookout on the top. My dad kept proclaiming how lovely it was up there – ‘you can see for miles’, ‘isn’t it lovely up here today, Shelley?’, ‘We’re so lucky to live here’. He was truly grateful for the chance to stand there on that spot and look out over the world below.
‘He was truly present in the joy’
As we walked over to the gardens, dad kept up his sunny disposition commenting on the birds, the colour of the grass, the brightness of the sky – he was truly having a great time and appreciating everything around him. He was right, it was a stunning day! The reason I tell you this, is that my dad has dementia – he was appreciating the very same things over and over and over again. He was truly present in the joy he was experiencing and when I think about that day, it brings a huge smile to my face. No longer burdened by the stressors of life (though they of course come when he gets frustrated when he can’t recall things), here he was fully appreciating the fact that it was a lovely winters day and he was out enjoying it.
I have to admit that there was a time early on in the walk that I felt a little frustrated – I had hoped to go for an actual walk, not just a look over the edge and my dad was taking such a long time looking out. A couple of times I tried to get him to keep walking, but he was stopped there enjoying the view. It was only when I finally stopped and paid more attention to him and the joy he was experiencing that I let my crap go. The to-do list at home could wait. I could take myself out later in the afternoon for a ‘proper’ walk. That stuff didn’t matter – what mattered was that moment, right there.
Grateful for the lessons
Going and seeing my dad isn’t always easy (though the more I do it, the easier it gets) – some days he’s stressed and has delusions and other days he’s as happy as Larry. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster to adjust to, but the thing that I have to keep reminding myself is that even when he’s had a bad day, he’s feeling depressed and I’ve seen him crying, it actually doesn’t last long. I can sit around and worry about him far longer than the time it takes for him to get into a different frame of mind. Whilst I would never ever wish dementia onto another person, I can honestly say that I’m grateful for the lessons that its teaching me. I’m learning to be more present in every interaction and I’m also learning to not hold onto things that no longer matter.
Standing on the ledge that day, over looking the world with my dad, was a truly special moment – one that he, of course, doesn’t remember. When I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to go and sit in meditation for 10 minutes, I try to remember that day. I try to recall the gift of being present that dementia is teaching me.
How are you being more present in your daily life – I’d love to know! If you liked this article, I’d really appreciate it if you shared it with your friends or commented below. The best way to keep up to date with new posts is to jump on the mailing list, which you can do from the home page.
Here’s to being more PRESENT.