We are giving away a copy of The Caregiver’s Tao Te Ching: Compassionate Caring for Your Loved Ones and Yourself by William and Nancy Martin. Check out this sneak peak from the authors and leave a comment for your chance to win the book!
Ancient Wisdom for Today’s Caregiver
By William and Nancy Martin
Caregivers don’t lack for advice. Social, psychological, and medical experts all contribute helpful understandings to the complex process of caring for another person. But some-times we, who find ourselves at one time or another in the position of caregiving, can be overwhelmed by this well-intentioned advice. Not only are we faced with the difficulties involved in unwanted life changes, but we also confront countless versions of “the right way” to handle these changes.
At the risk of being one more of these advice-giving voices, we would like to suggest some compassionate perspectives contained in an ancient poetic text titled, The Tao Te Ching.
Written over 2,500 years ago, The Tao Te Ching expresses in short poetic verses a wise and universal philosophy of life that can bring a fresh breeze of satisfaction and peace into the complex and difficult task of giving care to another person. The legendary sage, Lao-Tzu, who is credited with writing this classic book, saw life as a wondrous and mysterious process that expresses its truths in everything it does. We would like to present just three brief examples of the many insights available in his little book that might be of comfort and inspiration to those of us who are giving care to another person.
Caregiving is a direct experience.
Talking about a path
is not walking that path.
Thinking about life
is not living.
(From Chapter 1 of The Tao Te Ching - translation by William Martin)
Lao-Tzu was not a follower of any religious system. He was a patient observer of the way life flows. He watched the rain soak the earth and the clouds clear to reveal the brightness of the sun. He watched rivers carve canyons and nurture fertile valleys. He saw the seasons come and go and watched animals and plants live out their lives in an intricate web of interdependence. He saw all things rise and fall, come and go, live and die. He understood that this mystery cannot be captured by words, concepts, beliefs, or ideals. It can be talked about but never really understood. It can only be revealed by direct experience.
The direct experience of giving care is new every moment and leads us in unfamiliar directions. We gather understanding along the way, but with each encounter we must show up, stay present with what is happening, and notice what actually occurs. When we do this, a space opens in which compassion for everyone involved, including ourselves, can naturally arise.
Caring for another person is not about orchestrating the day so that it goes according to some idealized “plan.” It is about letting go of our ideals and making room for the two people who are here in this place, in this moment. This brings us the freedom to open our hearts to ourselves and to those in our care.
Acceptance is the key.
…If we try to get rid of our pain
we will suffer all the more.
This is the secret of our path:
gentleness and flexibility bring the results
that force and rigidity fail to achieve.
(from The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 36)
When we are confronted with circumstances that are not what we want them to be, it is natural to push back against them. We want to change them, deny them, or make them go away. We communicate to the one in our care that she is not who we want her to be – someone who is whole, healthy, and vigorous. We communicate to ourselves that we are not who we want to be — someone who is energetic, in control, and at ease. We each end up discouraged and withdrawn.
When we notice this tension and yield our attempts to change things, our experience is transformed. When we accept that this set of symptoms and these challenges are just what is happening in the moment, we find solid ground. When we acknowledge what is real, our vision clears. Now we can see what is possible, what our energy and our care receiver’s strength will allow today.
The present moment is all we have.
The present moment is all we have,
so we are not constantly seeking
a faster way to do things
or a better place to be.
(from Chapter 80 of The Tao Te Ching)
There is no other time or place. There is nothing else that we should be doing in an attempt to make things other than what they are. This experience was always going to contain pain, weakness, uncertainty and fear. It is the product of a very specific set of relationships, experiences, and perspectives. This is our life, not some distraction or diversion from it. There is not some “normal” life that has been put on hold for these weeks and months. If we allow ourselves to sink completely into this present moment of our life, we can find contentment in our giving of care. In time, we discover that we would not have missed this experience for anything in the world.
Based on the book The Caregiver’s Tao Te Ching. Copyright 2011 by William and Nancy Martin. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
WIN THE BOOK! Enter a comment below and you will automatically be entered to win a copy of The Caregiver’s Tao Te Ching: Compassionate Caring for Your Loved Ones and Yourself by William and Nancy Martin. Winner will be announced January 25. Good luck!
Nancy Martin spent eleven years as a clergywoman with the United Methodist Church and five years as the director of volunteers for Enloe Hospice in Chico, California, where she trained and supervised volunteers working with patients and families facing end-of-life issues.
William Martin has worked as a minister, a marriage and family therapist, and a college instructor. He is now a teaching guide at The Still Point, Center for Zen Practice in Chico, California. He is the author of five books, including the classic The Parent’s Tao Te Ching. The parents of two grown children, he and Nancy live in Chico, California. Their website is www.thestillpoint.com and http://www.caregiverstao.com.
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