I am a social worker on a childhood cancer ward and I have worked with young people who are facing life and death. I learn so much from them every single day. Right before the COVID pandemic hit, I was driving down the highway to visit one of my 17 year old patients who had been transferred from hospital to hospice. After learning that his time was short, he decided that he wanted to go back to his home community to be close to his family, friends and girlfriend. He had enough of hospitals and treatment, he wanted to die in peace. Despite his young age, he was able to make decisions about his last days and did so with a lot of courage. Putting aside their own fears and worries, his parents honoured his final wish to die in his home community.
On my way back from my last visit with my patient, one of my favourite song came on the radio. I turned up the volume, trying to lift my spirits. At one point, I noticed my mind take a weird turn. I mentally left the pleasant song and I left the heartbreak of my patient too. I started thinking about something negative at work, something petty. Something inconsequential and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I caught myself leaving, escaping the thoughts and strong emotions. I simply watched my mind for a while. I watched my mind leave the intensity of saying goodbye. I saw how it wanted to move onto something easier, less painful. My emotions were high and I wanted to get away from them as we all do. The fact that I even noticed what my mind did was incredible. I practice meditation and do a lot of reflection so it is my dream to become have more awareness in the moment that things are happening.
Noticing these subtle shifts in thinking seems like no big deal but in fact, they are. In a flash, I caught my mind and I became curious. I didn’t judge myself or my thoughts. I noticed what was happening and that allowed me to make a choice. My choice became clear in a matter of seconds. I knew that thinking about the negative situation was not going to be helpful. Focusing on complaining and criticizing never brings me any satisfaction. What always makes a difference is when I take the lessons from my young patients and apply them to my life. Like when I remember to live in the moment because life is short.
Learning to observe the mind is hard but helpful. When we learn to do it, it offers us the power to choose. Catching my mind gave me the chance to move away from petty thoughts that don’t mean anything to feeling the real feelings. The emotions are overwhelming for all of us at times but they also teach us about ourselves and our capacity to deal with whatever comes up in life.