Occasionally, when I visit my father he needs a shave. That’s usually because he has waved off the offer of help from the nurses at his retirement home, telling them he’ll get to it later. Sometimes I remind him to let them help him. On a few occasions I’ve shaved him myself.
Back when his hair was dark, my father didn’t have a five o’clock shadow – it was more like a two o’clock shadow. Even now, after only a couple of days he has a heavy growth of beard. I’ve learned that in giving him a shave there’s no substitute for patience. Sometimes it takes three or four passes to get his skin smooth – along with lots of hot wash cloths in-between. The other day he dozed off as I worked, his lips fluttering as he breathed deeply in and out. I was honored with the trust implicit in his dozing, but it got a little dicey when he did the old “sleeping head jerk” as I had a razor up against his throat. (I’m glad to report there was no blood loss.)
It’s a simple task that he’s done thousands of times in his life. but as I do it I am reminded of the profound mindfulness required for me to do it. My attention can’t be anywhere else. I have to be present, completely focused on this moment of time, completely attentive to this action. One night as I worked he listened to Andrea Bocelli sing opera on the TV, and it seemed to me to be one of the most pure and exquisite moments of my life.
If you pay attention to magazines for therapists or look at the line-up of continuing ed conferences, you’ll see a lot about mindfulness. It’s one of the hot topics in therapy, and rightfully so. Distraction isn’t a modern invention but we’ve certainly taken it to a new level. Smart phones and IPads help us ensure that no moment of our days has to be free from distraction.
But if we are not present – to our lives and our selves – we suffer. Our mental health suffers. God knows our spiritual health suffers. And I’m no doctor but I’m sure it is not good for our bodies either. When my clients are able to be more mindful (even in difficult
times), they report deeper levels of contentment and well being.What I am discovering is that my occasional times of giving my father a shave are not only a gift for him but a gift for myself as well. Afterwards I feel more centered, more balanced. I have received the gift of mindfulness.
As you begin anticipating this coming year, consider the place of mindfulness in your own life. Where do you experience it? How do you need to make room for it? Sometimes it can be as simple as making sure you have a few moments to breathe – just breathing in and out and feeling present in the action.