“We have been advised universally – supposedly by divine wisdom – through our spiritual texts, self-proclaimed wellness gurus and many wise people – that life means living in the present moment.
Constant preaching has been reminding us that, to move ahead in life, we must learn to keep unloading the past baggage from our mind, i.e. we must keep dumping our bad memories to be able to move on and make progress in our lives. We have been repeatedly warned our past baggage, which most of us carry, surreptitiously undermines our wellness and impedes our progress. Easier said than done!
‘Past does not exist and no one has seen the future. It is all here and now. Life exists only the present moment, so live it well.’ This wisdom must have made its way into our heads in thousands different ways. Social media is full of such gyaan (knowledge). Many people freely distribute this gyaan freely every morning along with their good morning greetings. By now, most of us do know this gyaan but how many of us do really understand it? For that matter, have we ever contemplated and tried to understand it? Knowing and understanding philosophies of life and living are two different things. No wonder the gurus and preachers, without exception, too are seen to behave like other humans and feel miserable when they face the harsh realities of life. Like all those self-declared gurus and wise men and women, many people may have heard me preaching: ‘We must live in the present. Why do we brood and live in the past, which does not exist anywhere except in our memories? And why should we be anxious about the future, no one has seen it.’ Once again, easier said than done!
Now let us think logically. The current moment is the net resultant – the sum total – of all earlier moments since the dawn of time and the Creation. The future moments will, therefore, be the net resultant of the current and all past moments. Mathematically, as the past cannot be changed, it can be considered as a ‘constant’ (C), whereas the current moment (x) must be considered as a ‘variable’ – as it will be defined by how we use it – and so should be the next moment (y). In a most simplified scenario, the future is directly dependent on how the present moment is lived and used. Logically, therefore, y = x + C, i.e. if you change ‘x’, you also change ‘y’ in the process.
[Note: It is also true that the value of ‘C’, which keeps absorbing ‘x’ into its folds, keeps on changing as ‘x’ changes.]
Now how to maximise the value of ‘x’ (the present moment) so that the value of ‘y’ (the future moment) is also maximised? The answer is: ‘Live the present moment 100-percent’. Easier said than done! But, having said that, life is a great teacher and it can teach us in most unexpected ways.
A recent interaction with a close relative forced me to understand the importance of living in the moment. I had no other option. I could not escape. The gentleman, in his eighties, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He is quite intelligent and relatively physically fit and healthy otherwise. Of late, the gentleman has been observed to be a little difficult and irritated. Undoubtedly, he is being looked after very well by his family. However, we need to understand why he is being difficult – in terms of his non-compliance with requests, commands and instructions from the younger members of his family.
We must understand him and his feelings to understand his behaviour. He does not need any pity from anyone, whatsoever. All he needs is some honest understanding – about his medical condition – from one and all (and not only some) members of his family, including his extended family. The gentleman has post-graduate tertiary education. Before his retirement, he was known to be an upright and honest government officer, with authority. Obviously, he loved his self-respect and pride, and was used to a great deal of relative autonomy. Such a person is not expected to follow orders from any Tom, Dick and Harry, especially younger people.
The gentleman may be suffering from a constant short-term memory loss but he has not lost his intelligence and pride, not a bit. He remains upright and dignified. He is richly experienced and sharp enough to see through the other person. He is not expected to respect any person who lacks integrity or credentials.
Now, why is he seen as being a little difficult? The answer may be in the following:
- He is very conscious of his constant short-term memory loss. He speaks about it very often and looks frustrated. Deep inside, he may be suffering due to a constantly nagging feeling that he is not practically in control of his own life. From the behaviour of other people towards him, albeit out of their deep care and love for him, he may also be feeling threatened. As such, unconsciously, he strives to save his pride and autonomy. He reacts to being dictated – e.g. eat this food and don’t eat that food; wear these clothes and not those, do this and don’t do that; sit, stand, sleep, take medication etc.
- In his current condition, we may make the blunder of mistaking him for a child. He may be feeling confronted and challenged on most, if not all, mundane chores of daily life. Remember, he has no previous experience of Alzheimer’s. As such, he lacks the training and the skills to deal with it, as those were not given to him at the university. He is battling with this condition for the first time in his life. It must be a constant learning curve for him, every moment, every day.
- Most people, including his most family members, logically expect a normal behavioural response from him, despite knowing he suffers constantly from a short-term memory loss. But, as I have said already, knowing is one thing and understanding is another thing. People still expect him to provide them with a normal response. The reason is we all are prisoners of our own expectations – all of us. And like him, we too don’t have any previous experience of Alzheimer’s or skills how to deal with it. For us too, it is a constant learning curve.
- As humans, we tend to get frustrated and irritated when someone repeats the same question every other minute. For example, when we are all dressed up and ready to leave home to attend a social function, he may ask each one of several times, ‘Where are we going?’ In our frustration, our facial expression will potentially convey a wrong message to him – that we are tired of his questions – which will obviously not make him happy. In his eyes, we lose a degree of authenticity and trust every time he feels we are not giving him the right answer.
- Remember, he is very intelligent. His has the ability to verify our verbal expression with our facial expressions and body language. If all these don’t align, he may feel he is being tricked, which must make him angry. Remember, he has led a relatively authoritative, disciplined and autonomous life – at both home and work.
- So, in a nutshell, whenever he feels he is being taken for a ride, or people think he has lost his marbles, or he is an old man and a push-over, he may react. It is all about psychology – his psychology based on his perception. His reaction can be loud and defiant against what he is asked to do. As a result, for very wrong reasons, he may be seen as being difficult. Remember, he has not lost his pride and dignity. And he is as intelligent and sharp as he ever has been. But he could be frustrated due to his constant short-term memory loss.
We have to understand him – his feelings and thought process – to understand his behaviour. It can happen to any one of us. Our bodies are machines. Our brain and nervous system act on electrical impulses. No one knows what is going to happen to us and when.
So, what did I learn from him? I learnt to live in the moment. I learnt to be patient and honest in answering his every (repeated query) on its merit, even when I had to repeat my answer as many times as he would shoot the same question to me. For example, once he asked me about 10 times in 5 minutes: ‘When did you arrive?’ I answered the same number of times: ‘Yesterday, in the afternoon.’ Every time, I spoke with me, my body language, facial expression and verbal language needed to align to his satisfaction. I would make sure he did not feel I was taking him lightly or trying to trick him. I think he felt I respected him despite his short-term memory loss. As a result, he looked at ease while conversing with me. And, luckily, we had several standalone, intelligent, interactions in those priceless moments. Every moment was lived individually – on its merit. Our respective human dignities were also upheld in the process by both of us.
But note that I lived with him only for a few days. I am not sure how much I would have felt frustrated and if my behaviour would have degraded if I were to live with him constantly. I did understand a little bit about what living in a moment means; what patience means; and, most importantly, what human dignity means. Those days with him quickly brushed me with some of these most important and sensitive aspects of our human existence. I did learn many other things from him about what it means to be a human. Well, it is another thing if my learning has been surficial or deep, temporary or permanent, which only time will tell. I shall be tested by time. My patience and learning will be tested. I shall strive not to fail but who knows? After all, I am a human, with all human frailties.” … Bill K Koul (25 Dec 2019)