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being mindful of my aging mother's needs

blog post by Andrea Hurley: being mindful of my aging mother's needs

by Andrea
November 1, 2015

“What are you working on these days? What is your practice?” These kinds of questions are not uncommon in our contemporary world of yoga, meditation and spiritual inquiry. There are all kinds of answers that one might hear in response. We might hear answers like:

  • Simplifying my life and getting rid of excess stuff
  • Working out 4 days/week
  • Practicing daily meditation
  • Turning off my electronic devices at 6pm each day

These are all really good answers and great practices. All good things to work on. They are a reflection of how as a human race, we seem to have a self-improvement chip, and are always striving to be better at something. But recently I heard of an answer to this question that touched me very personally. A friend of mine told me about an article she was reading in a magazine that focuses on contemplative traditions. In an interview with a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, when he was asked, “What is your practice these days?” he answered something like, “Being mindful of my aging mother’s needs.”

What a beautiful, noble answer—one that stopped me in my tracks and resonated deeply. His answer implies an enormous care for his aging mother (always beautiful to behold) as well as an understanding of the need to be attentive to her needs. It implies a great deal of sensitivity, thoughtfulness and love. But it also implies the need for practice, revealing that it takes a lot to be sensitive and attentive as our parents age. It takes a lot to stay centered, connected and to bear changes that are out of our control. Entering this new phase of relationship with an aging parent is not something that, for most of us, comes naturally or easily. It can be very hard work. In fact, almost everyone I speak with as they enter this "table turning" transition with an aging parent say they are absolutely unprepared and incredibly overwhelmed.

But there is more. "Being mindful" is an expression that is often associated with meditation, and meditation is a practice of letting go and, with time, discovering a very still place within. In that stillness, one may experience a rich source of quiet joy and gratitude that is not associated with anything in particular. Being mindful of our aging parents needs can also reveal this same deep source. This has been my experience, which came as a great surprise. Nobody ever told me this was possible. But, like the practice of meditation, it took time and commitment. Mainly, it took never giving up, not even for a moment.

In meditation, I cannot put demands on my experience. I cannot control anything. I can only allow everything to simply be whatever it is. This is how it is with my mother. I cannot put demands on her. I cannot control anything. I can only allow everything to be whatever it is. Whether sitting by her side while she sleeps, chatting over a cup of tea or simply sitting quietly together, there is a presence between us. It is that same timeless joy and gratitude that arises in the meditation experience. It is just there, quietly holding us. 

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