This month's The Mirror column was written by Janet Rosen © 2011
I had a plan for my October column: attend the Aiki seminar in Seattle in mid-August, spend a few weeks playing with what I'd learned, then write a column...well, sometimes columns write themselves despite their authors' intentions and so, now for something completely different:
A truism appearing on Aikiweb and other forums, articles, etc. is "as you train is how you will react in real life." The assumption is that under stress, the thing most practiced becomes the default setting that expresses itself automatically. Recently I've been pondering how much the lessons learned in the mind/body system in one setting affect responses elsewhere, but taking it outside of aikido in considering the "as....how" paradigm in a parallel universe: work versus family.
In my work as a nurse case manager for a local non-profit, providing services in a MediCal-funded program called MSSP, I manage a caseload of forty clients. Each is at least 65 years old, low income, and frail enough that semiannually I certify them as being at risk of nursing home placement. Beyond that they vary immensely. There are 70 year olds who were born and raised in remote logging camps, spent their lives in tiny hamlets doing manual labor, and late in life moved to town to be in affordable senior housing near medical care - to them our town of 15,000 is too fast paced and crowded. There are 90 year olds who grew up far away in big cities, worked as professionals, and moved here twenty years ago to be near siblings or children, only to have everybody they knew die, stranding them in this little town. There are 85 year olds living in the homes they were born in, surrounded by caring families, in decent health but frail and forgetful, and 67 year olds who have by a combination of bad luck and poor choices ended up in terrible health and estranged from their kinfolk.
Each person is a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses, and what we offer are practical benefits tailored to each person's need. These might include referrals to free programs they didn't know, practical health teaching about managing their ailments, paying for a Licensed Vocational Nurse to help them with their medicines, calling their doctors for them, buying a bus pass or sending in and paying for a plumber. It also includes fielding phone calls when they are confused or frightened by some weird government or health related paperwork the mailman delivered, and calming them down enough so we can help figure out the problem and its resolution. But when all is said and done, the main thing we bring on each phone call and visit is ourselves: the gift of time to sit with mindful presence.
When I was in nursing school, a wise teacher taught me to Just. Wait. And. Listen. And. Wait. I trained myself in this habit and got pretty good at it. It goes hand in hand with not having one's agenda going on and off like a neon sign above one's head, or - as we say in the dojo and on Aikiweb - not being attached to any one outcome. This is especially important with older folks, who often aren't processing information quickly or creating coherent narratives. Sometimes I announce I'm ready to leave, cap my pen, close my notepad....and just sit...because the next fifteen minutes is when the really important stuff starts coming up.
So when my eighty two year old mom moved from Brooklyn to Ukiah, I figured I had practiced my skills well enough for me to deal with her specific set of strengths and weaknesses. And the truth is, it mostly works. I go "into nurse mode" as my darling husband Stu calls it, slowing down, getting deliberate and neutral. If she manages to push the right buttons, I regain my center quickly enough that mostly I don't show that she has taken it away.
But with Mom I don't just get to make an appointment and spend an hour (though we do enjoy planning lunches together as well as other, longer outings), or get a phone call about a problem that can be neatly tied up with a little research and effort. With Mom I also get the panic-stricken calls about something misplaced or broken or a change of plans, with the agitation level already so high it's nigh impossible to identify the true severity of the problem. The only thing to do is drop whatever I'm doing, whether at work or at home, and meet with her to identify and resolve the problem.
I'm finding the randomness very stressful. I don't begrudge her the time, and I understand that what she experiences during such an episode is far worse than what I do. Yet my gut tightens, my energy rises up into my chest, I grumble under my breath as I gather up the things I need and step into my shoes....damn, she took my balance again!
And the other day I realized that each day at work with my clients is like practicing kihon waza. It has prepared me well for day to day interactions with mom. But when she calls with a perceived emergency, it's randori - a different skillset. Having framed it that way, it's clear that I do have a place from which to call upon skills to cope, only they won't be coming from the job - it will be yet another opportunity for "off the mat aikido."
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.