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  • Writer's pictureDonna Marie Vuilleumier

In the Moment

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

From a spiritual perspective, our loved ones with Alzheimer’s and Dementia are our greatest teachers. How many religious and spiritual teachings encourage us to live in the present moment? We are encouraged to let go of the past and stop worrying about the future, for all we really have is the present moment. Our friends in the twelve-step programs encourage us to live “one day at a time” and, for someone in the throes of addiction, that might mean living “one minute at a time” or “one second at a time”. Who better exemplifies living in the present moment than children and people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Leslie Hyland Rodgers

Founder and Director, “Symphony of Soul: Musical Medicine for the Soul”

Today is one of those amazing New England autumn Saturdays when the sun is shining, the temperature is a bit above average, and the wind is dancing the colorful falling leaves all around before they gently land wherever they choose. It’s a day for the inner child to want to walk in the leaves just to hear them crunch. It’s the perfect day for hiking and apple or pumpkin picking. It’s also the kind of day that I was blessed to relearn to slow down and enjoy and appreciate.

Before I started working with people with a memory loss illness, I would be somewhat aware of a day like this. I would briefly notice the sunshine and the wind cascading the leaves all around, but taking time to stop and play in them I would have thought I was too busy to do. No time to crunch in the leaves today. Or any other day for that matter. A hike? Apple and pumpkin picking? Not today, maybe next or the week after. Maybe.

One of the gifts I have received over and over, and treasure each and every time, is to live in the moment. To -slow- down. To stop and smell the cliché roses. Yes, I am busy with a full calendar and overflowing to-do list, but pausing to be in the moment, to truly be present, is a powerful lesson I continue to be reminded of by those who do now live in the moment. The lyrics of the Bare Naked Ladies song, For You,[i] ask, ‘If I hide myself wherever I go, Am I ever really there? Being in the moment, being attuned to the sights, sounds, and scents is to truly be there, to not be hidden in the distractions of busyness. I want, we want, to be where we are, to be present in our day, in our lives, even though hectic schedules and too-full calendars pull us away from that goal.

Visiting people with more advanced Alzheimer’s/dementia is to spend time with teachers in the moment. If it is a good day, a good time of the day, for them, there is newness and a happy surprise at the greeting and focus on the time spent together. Concerns about what else is planned for the day, worry about something troubling earlier in the day, or clock-watching for the next agenda item, are interferences that have been shed, that are no longer a part of their world. What matters is just what is happening here and now. Our shared time in this little world is all there is so it is to be savored, focused on. It is immune to distractions.

On these visits I have learned from these teachers to notice the different smells of the flowers we are arranging, to be attentive to the feel of the different papers for a craft project, to hear the voices in harmony on a hymn recording. Simple yet important pleasures emerge. We are really here. Our world is just us, just here and now. Before and after, earlier and later, have no place in our time together.

Slowing down to be with this one person becomes very personalized. The visit is not just with someone living with memory loss. I am with Sophie who loves to show me photos of the home where she raised her family. I am with George who came home each evening to read the newspaper before dinner. I am with Ken who is a collector of Snoopy memorabilia. I am with Rose who loved to sing with her kindergarten students. I am with Jeanette who understands this visit to be an interview for a nursing position. I am with Sarah who cradles the plastic menorah as though it is the fine silver one of her childhood. I am welcomed into their moments, knowing that they will forget once I have left, but what mattered was our time while it was happening. There was joy, delight, presence, connection, companionship, and fun in being together, and that is what matters.

Living in the moment, mindfulness, was taught by Buddha around 400 BCE as part of the Four Noble Truths. As old as his wisdom is, it is a lesson we still just cannot grasp and live into as daily living overrides that spiritual practice. Living with, caring for, people with Alzheimer’s/dementia is to be with teachers who remind us again and again to be mindful in the present moment.

It not only connects us to who they are, to what is happening for them right now, what they need and desire, but also to what we are feeling, experiencing, enjoying, or are concerned about. We are attentive authentically and completely to them and ourselves.

What can we see, feel, experience, discover, awaken, reawaken, and recognize when we slow down enough to do so? Living in the moment not only engages us in the world of the one with memory loss, but this mindfulness is also a technique that helps us to manage our own thoughts, feelings, and situations. It opens awareness to what is really needed, what is desired, as a caregiver, as someone juggling multiple responsibilities.

When Jesus met Bartimaeus, he was a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road calling out for mercy. Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus did not assume that it was blindness that Bartimaeus was seeking mercy for. Bartimaeus was given time to pause, to see what he really wanted in that moment. Perhaps there was something else he could have wanted more than his sight restored. Perhaps he was dealing with a physical or emotional pain. Perhaps he was hungry, or thirsty, and needed someone to bring him something to eat and drink or direct him where to go. Perhaps he needed clothing or shelter. Perhaps he needed someone to sit with him, to listen to him.

Inspired by our teachers in the moment can open caregivers and loved ones to explore the spiritual practice of mindfulness. This practice is a way of finding calm, of boosting concentration and attention span, of coping better with situations, of understanding and responding to emotions, decreases anxiety, and adds to an overall sense of well-being.

One of the biggest hurdles I find, and suspect is true for most people, is that to be focused on being present in the moment is that it means to be single-tasked. In our culture, in our lifestyle, we multi-task. We are doing some things now that to accomplish require past thoughts and activities in anticipation of what the next or final action or step or deadline will require of us. But if we can learn to pause, to step back as our teachers do, can we find some time for mindfulness, for the present moment as those in our care do? One of the gifts we receive over and over from them is to live in the moment. To -slow- down. To stop and smell the cliché roses. To not hide ourselves but to be wholly present. Our bodies, minds and spirit will thank us as we benefit spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

[i] For You, songwriters: Ed Robertson, Steven Page


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