Like so many others who experienced enforced separation from loved ones during Covid, I am enjoying the freedom of travelling back to England to spend precious time with my ageing parents.
As my father sinks slowly but surely into the clutches of Alzheimer’s, witnessing the changes in him, particularly after a 2-year gap is sad and has a cruel inevitability about it. And yet there are so many completely unpredictable, lighter moments. His ability to recall a little-known historical fact on the one hand, alongside his surprise at finding an English newspaper on the breakfast table yesterday when he was quite certain he was in India – somewhere he’s never been to… at least not in this lifetime! It doesn’t distress him that he’s often assuming himself to be in another country or county as long as the people around him are familiar to him and in particular, of course, my mother.
Regardless of how long I stay, my appearance each morning or return from shopping, elicits a fresh delighted welcome as if I’ve not been there in years. What a curious disease it is where there is a seemingly total absence of mind at times and yet a sense of total presence in the moment at others.
Of course, my father now has little choice or ability to control his thoughts or emotions. The thoughts that come and go tend to be random rather than connected, and the presence he displays is not mindful presence. But the pleasure he takes in sitting in the garden under his favourite tree, smelling the Choisya and watching the lambs playing in the field are moments of presence in stillness and bring comfort in their familiarity.
We, on the other hand, have the luxury of learning and practising mindful presence. It brings many benefits including lowering stress and depression and increasing self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It is the opposite of our habitual state of mind which tends to be lost in thought.
No amount of worldly knowledge compensates for the joy of knowing and rediscovering our own Soul through that presence. That pure connection is one that we cannot lose if we establish it while we have the ability to do so, rather than becoming distracted and weighed down by fear, anxiety, expectation, guilt or regret. The freedom that comes from trusting enough to let go lightens every single cell in our bodies, and that impact extends to every person we come into contact with.