Practise mindfulness now in everyday life to prevent falls and other troubles in old age. That’s the message that I draw from this week’s post in Doris Carnevali’s blog, Engaging With Aging.
Doris Carnevali uses three personal mantras as a way of managing difficulties with balance and concentration. The mantra experiment began in 2017 and this week’s blog post tells us that by now, this habit is well and truly embedded, saving her from many a difficulty and disaster.
For dealing with balance problems, her mantras are “Center, Center!” and “Nose and Toes!” (Meaning “Center yourself!” and “Point your nose and toes in the same direction!”) For dealing with distraction she says “Focus! Focus!”
When she started with this strategy at the age of 95, Mrs Carnevali would all too often find herself at risk before recalling the mantra. About to fall, or too exhausted to finish a cooking task, she would remember the mantra too late.
Now, in 2020 her balance, concentration and short term memory have deteriorated, putting her even more at risk. But to her surprise, nowadays the mantras kick in at the right time, just before she tackles a risky task. She remembers to say the words (if only in her head) before disaster strikes. Bingo! Success! Quite rightly she is proud of this unexpected development. As she says, “It really is possible to teach this old dog new tricks.”
With mindfulness, practice makes perfect
Now here’s my point. Doris Carnevali doesn’t use the word mindfulness, but that’s what she’s practising. As she prepares to pick up something from the floor (a risky manoeuvre at 98) she is aware of what she is about to do. She isn’t thinking about what happened yesterday or her next blog post. She is thinking, “I’m about to pick up something from the floor.” Then her mantra reminds her to stabilise herself in advance and plan how to do this safely.
Practising is a key word here. Mindfulness—appropriately—can only be learned with practice. It’s not easy, is it, to focus 100% on what you are actually doing with your actual body at the time?
Now I’ve got an even greater incentive to practise mindfulness when I’m doing certain things like going up or down the stairs, or cooking. It’s going in the bank so that I have got at least a faint hope of managing my extreme old age half as well as Dr Carnevali does.
Engaging with aging
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Dr. Carnevali. She blogs weekly about the process of normal aging from an insider’s point of view, and the way it affects her daily life. She uses a rigorous and ingenious framework to accommodate or adapt to each physical or mental change that she experiences. She calls this process “Engaging with aging”—as opposed to ignoring it or adjusting to it more casually. Her insights are both inspiring and useful. Inspiring because the very act of analysing and solving the endless progression of challenges brings her joy and satisfaction. And it’s useful, because she models strategies that we can apply to our own daily living.
At the moment—with her blessing—I’m editing the text of Doris Carnevali’s blog and converting it into an ebook. I hope it won’t be too long before it’s ready for you to read.