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Mindfulness Strategies
Pamela Gates, 2013

Breathing Mindfully

Allow your body to settle and relax. Let your attention come to rest at the place in your body where you can feel the sensations of your breath coming and going most easily. Maybe at the tip of your nose, at your chest or at your belly. For this exercise, no place is better than another. All are good. Rest your attention where it is easiest for you to feel the breath sensations coming and going. Notice the sensations of breathing . Pay attention to your breathing, nothing more. Don't force or push your breathing. Don't try to make it deeper or change its pattern.

As you practice letting the sensations of breath come and go, you may notice your mind wanders to other sensations, to sounds, or to thoughts or feelings. When this happens, you have not don't anything wrong. Be kind to yourself and be patient. Gently bring your awareness back to the breath whenever your attention wanders, telling yourself, "Return to the breath".

You may notice that your mind is busy with thoughts. That's OK. Buddhist meditators refer to it as the "monkey mind". Our thoughts can get very loud with much chatter and, like monkeys, our thoughts are just doing what they do. Notice them. Allow them to be as they are and gently let your attention open back to, and settle on, the breath sensations.

As you continue to practice, you will find that a sense of inner space and stillness deepens, opens and contains all you are experiencing including thoughts, feelings, sensations and sounds. Practice resting in that space. Let yourself abide here in this space, in the present moment. Do this as often as you like for as long as you like. End your practice by opening you eyes if they are closed and gently moving your body.

Sail Away

Sit comfortably, rest your eyes and connect with the breath.

Imagine that you are sitting comfortably at the edge of a small gently rolling stream. You have come to this place to acknowledge any fears and worries you are experiencing. Make a list of the fears and worries as they surface now.

Notice that around you there are fallen leaves from a nearby tree. Imagine each fear and worry being inscribed on a leaf and collect a pile of worry leaves. Pick the leaves up one by one and set them carefully on the surface of the water allowing the current to take them away. You are letting your fears and worries wash downstream, moving further and further away from you. Observe them until they are completely out of sight.

When you are ready, open your eyes, stretch and gently return to the present moment.

Source: Brantley, J. and Millstine, W. 2008. Daily Meditations For Calming Your Anxious Mind. Oakland,CA. New Harbinger Publications.

Pamela Gates, 2013

A Dog's Cautionary Tale

Once the difficult decision to leave Austin and return to my home town to care for my mom and dad was made, it was a given that Sparky would travel with me. Precious, our snow shoe Siamese, and the furry apple of her daddy's eye, would stay at home with Ray. While Sparky, a slightly overweight and generally good natured Sheltie would revive his faithful companion role originally played to his boy, now grown and living far away. This time he was being asked to serve as companion to me as I returned home and settled into the bedroom I hadn't called mine since leaving for college and to his human grandparents, my mom and dad, both of whom were showing advancing signs of dementia and were no longer safe on their own.

When we arrived we were both lovingly greeted and Sparky was welcomed into their home. Sparky embraced his role of companion dog and quickly endeared himself, particularly to his grandpa, sitting beneath his chair and making himself completely available for frequent petting and treats. His grandma, always one to make sure everybody had plenty to eat, would continually fill Sparky's bowl and would often times follow him around the house with his bowl urging him to eat more.

Much to Sparky's delight, and my concern, Sparky was soon sharing bits of all of grandpa's meals and sharing evening snacks of popcorn, chips, cookies and my parent's favorite, ice cream. Ice cream being a treat that Sparky consistently and predictably threw up. Sparky, for the most part, appeared content with his extra lot in life but sometimes even he would refuse the extra feedings that came from not remembering that he had already been fed.

Before too long, Sparky and I were making frequent visits to the local veterinary clinic as he began to develop a long list of ailments. These ailments included rapid weight gain resulting in obesity( a total of 5 lbs). Osteoarthritis from the obesity which rendered our daily walks a thing of the past. A chronic cough which was identified as an enlarged heart pressing on his esophagus, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, thyroid disease and the final ailment, a chronic skin infection. Would caring for my parents and the progressive worsening of their symptoms be the demise of Sparky?

My inability to manage the overfeeding mirrored my growing inability to care for Mom and Dad and to keep them safe. Attempts were made to obtain what little extra help was available. Delivery of meals from the local community center and in home assistance were politely and emphatically refused at the door. As Sparky's health declined so did Mom and Dad's health, hygiene and their ability to manage their activities of daily living. These mounting difficulties would eventually lead to the painful but necessary decision to bring them back to Texas and place them in an Alzheimer's Care Facility.

The day came when I, with decidedly more difficulty, picked Sparky up, placed him in the front seat of my Jetta and started the drive back to Austin. Both of us wearier that when we started and at least one of us returning with extra weight, enlarged body parts, a chronic cough and a skin infection which, despite a bath, resulted in a decidedly pungent trip home.

As we entered the Hill Country and neared our final destination, I reflected on our journey together and gingerly reached out to pat my smelly but still good natured companion and expressed my gratitude by saying, " Good job, Sparky, well done, faithful pup, dog extraordinaire!".

Now to reflect on the cautionary nature of this dog's tale (pun intended) and the questions it raises for caregivers:

  1. What happens when those of us who step into "faithful companion role" stop taking care of ourselves?
  2. How often do we, like Sparky, end up with a long list of our own health care concerns?
  3. Is it really like Sparky's situation in that we can't care for ourselves or do we, like most caregivers put everyone and everything else above our own self care needs?
  4. Are we making choices to not care for ourselves? What is the cost of that choice?
  5. What physical or emotional health issues have you experienced as a result of being a caregiver?