"Look at the raisin. Really look at it. Feel the raisin. Touch it. Place the raisin in your mouth. Don't chew, just let it sit on your tongue. Tongue the raisin."
Ok, that's a lie - we weren't actually told to tongue the raisin.
I'm in a mindfulness class and it's January 2012. My first session involves becoming friendly with a raisin. The point of the exercise is to select something we so often take for granted and use all our senses to connect with it. At first, I can't look up for fear of catching my sister's eye and having us both fall on the floor in hysterics - maturity isn't our strong point. By the end however, when finally told to chew the raisin, I can't. I'm not lying when I say I felt guilty for causing 'pain' to something I had developed a relationship with over the last twenty minutes. I think I knew that raisin better than I did my last boyfriend.
The reason for attending this class was as a result of some rather unpleasant times since 2011, notably my dear 66-year-old Mum being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Being mindful when coping with such difficulties has been difficult to say the least. The propensity to look to the future and imagine key life moments without her can be really painful. Equally, something my sister and I have both experienced is the inability to remember what Mum was really like before the illness took hold. During this mindfulness course in 2012 I was meditating every day and managing to find calm. Without a weekly check-in however my practice soon diminished and following a spate of further family deaths and other major losses, without realising it, I found the rest of 2012 swallowed up with anxiety and sorrow.
So in 2013 I decided to embrace fear as a way of proving to myself my own resilience. If life was going to throw me so many curve balls I was going to hoik a few back. Constantly on the move and hurling myself into exciting new experiences, my adventures culminated with an Edinburgh show that documented my previous 2 years, "from adversity to freedom". All was well whilst I had something else to focus upon. But post Edinburgh things weren't quite so easy. Without the distraction of adventures, house moves and a show, all I had was the knowledge that my Mum was now a year worse off.
What really brought this home to me was Facebook's "2013: See Your Year in Review" app. It is ironic that Facebook helped me to be mindful, given that I have expended the best part of 2013 procrastinating upon it. What it highlighted was how much of this year has been dedicated to adventures and ultimately my career and conversely, how little time I have spent focusing on my family. 2013's distractions were my coping mechanism and it was what I needed at the time. But with 2014 just a few weeks away, I am resolute that I am not going to let another year with my Mum distractedly slip by.
So in the last three weeks I have made it my mission to become mindful and present once more. A friend suggested I try the site GetSomeHeadspace.com which has a free app called Take 10. Every morning I have meditated for just 10 minutes and have now progressed onto Take 15. It is guided so no ability to find your zen is required and short enough not to feel you are wasting precious Facebook procrastination time....
Today's meditation asked, "Other than yourself, who else will benefit from you meditating?". The answer for me is my Mum. I feel horribly guilty admitting that sometimes I find it difficult speaking to my beautiful Mum because the pain of her memory loss is too much. She finds recalling simple words and names of long term friends and family hugely problematic. This combined with an inability to concentrate for any length of time or to focus on a conversation more profound than her basic daily routine makes the situation painfully apparent. Sometimes I will hesitate, turning to Facebook or emails rather than calling her that second. Before I know it, the day has passed and I haven't called my Mum. Since beginning mindfulness again, I have been calling her every day and really listening to what she has to say. Through present moment awareness we have actually had slightly more meaningful conversations. And rather than it being the habitual, throw away comment to end the call, our "I love you's" have meant just that.
Right now is the best my Mum will be. Leaders at the G8 Summit last week detailed a plan to have found a cure for Dementia by 2025 and give it the same priority for funding as Cancer and Aids. Sadly for my Mum this is all too little too late. However the little that I can do is to really be present for her and that will mean so much to both of us.
Having already spoken to Mum once this morning, I am going to Skype home again, whereupon both Mum and Dad are looking after my little nephew Ethan. Although rather a handful for them at times, this boisterous little 7 year old is a great example of what it means to be present. Ethan is not thinking about tomorrow, simply how many times Grandma and Grandpa have the energy to pick him up, thrown him upside down and swing him perilously around by his feet. That said, I am quite sure Santa's arrival is occupying most of his current upright thinking time right now.
So, my advice to you this festive season is to do whatever you can to have present moment awareness. Christmas can be a tricky time with emotions running high. But the fact is that the past is gone and the future doesn't exist so all we have is the present. Alas, take the importance off presents and simply be present with your presence. Take that dried grape, furnish it with your undivided attention and give this Christmas a beautiful raisin to be remembered.