Friday, August 6, 2010

"Nothing Happens Next. This is it." -New Yorker cartoon

August 6th, 2010

A few days ago, I was in Miami presenting as a panelist at a symposium. The National Center for Creative Aging, based in DC, held the Miami event: “Creativity Matters!” to broaden awareness of developing arts programs for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. One of the key points I discussed was my specialized art therapy coaching work with this population. It never ceases to amaze me how much I receive back when I am engaged with this particular group of clients.

Working with people who have memory loss, almost mandates that I have a mindful laser focus on what goes on in the here and now. I have to be present: to my client(s), to his/her body language, to micro-expressions (those “Lie to Me” facial cues and characteristics that Dr. Paul Eckman describes), and to tonality if the client is verbal. Paying attention to multiple sensory experiences is essential.

The symposium presentation got me to thinking about the crossover in the field of coaching, and why I am impassioned with coaching. It is the rich mixture of attentiveness, focus, goal orientation, results-driven, and mindfulness presence that makes for authentic and thriving relationships – no matter if the person is a professional client or colleague, a 95 year-old non-verbal individual (as pictured above), or your Uncle Ted.

For me, the fascinating part of complete presence with another is the subliminal sensory nature of total engagement. Often times, there is not a conscious thought that takes place; the feelings are under the radar. It is as if all of the body senses kick into gear, and the cognitive, thinking part of the brain (the left hemisphere), doesn’t really come into play. Instead, all senses have heightened awareness – we feel palpably and viscerally what is going on between us and the other person. We become “now.”

A while back there was a cartoon from The New Yorker: Sitting beside one another in a meditative posture, are two monks; an older and a younger one. The younger one stares expectantly at the older one, who says: "Nothing happens next. This is it."

When I am working with the Alzheimer’s and dementia clients, I am right there. I have to be. Whatever they do or say, I am in lock step with them…they guide our present experiences. It is a little bit of a dance, yet I need to let them lead.

I believe the same thing happens with our prospects; we need to allow them to choreograph our shared moments. In the photo above, my 95 year-old non-verbal client has advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. When she reached for my hand in this session, I was surprised, and even more so, when she actually began to paint with watercolor on my hand. Using her extremely well developed tactile sense, she was literally “drawing me out.” Through painting on me, she mirrored what may have been my intentions for our session: she communicated and engaged with me through touch and non-verbal gesture. There was only one sense I had when she was painting on my hand; the present moment.

When I look back on that moment, it is a reminder of the incredible reward I receive by having my clients teach me to be present. Each moment we experience when we practice “now,” is ideal; embrace these moments.

When we are with prospects or clients, resist the urge to get the order or plan what you will say next. Resist control. In what ways can we engage, touch, and be present with our prospects and clients? Being open, willing, and thoughtless, yes, thoughtless (!) to whatever each moment brings is the first step. Dan Millman, of The Peaceful Warrior fame, says that, “We cannot think of anything in the present moment.”

“There are no ordinary moments. When we begin to realize the quality of each moment is the quality of our life, we start to be more attracted to the present, than the past or the future. And the quality of our life changes. And this is the practice that brings us back to abiding in the present moment. Right here. Right now.” - Dan Millman

Mindfully Yours,


1 comment:

  1. Wow. Poppy, your commentary on working with people who have dementia is so clearly expressed and validates many of the feelings I have as an art therapist working with this population. You speak beautifully to how important it is to be present in the moment, patient, and allow the relationship to emerge, albeit usually nonverbally. I am grateful for the daily reminders I receive from my clients to live for the moment and I appreciate yours as well. Thanks.
    Anna Ford, art therapist at Iona Senior Services in Washington, DC.