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Posts Tagged ‘Caregiver’

 

“If we examine our motives honestly, we will usually find that there is some sort of fear inspiring our prayers.  We are afraid of something.  And we are asking to be protected from whatever we are afraid of.

The fear that inspires us to pray actually gives us the most significant clue in our efforts to understand an unanswered prayer. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, we often have to expereience the things of which we were afraid.  We are forced to confront our fear.”

~~John Welshons, When Prayers Aren’t Answered

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The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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I love hearing stories of caregiving.  Maybe because I grew up with a family of caregivers and it feels like home to me.

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in how we interact with each other, especially at times that give us great opportunity for growth.  And there is no other time like dying and caring for the aging and dying that can give us the gift of growth.

David Brazier, Buddhist teacher, says, “Life comes to life at its limit.”  Everything becomes intensified — our love, our strength, our anger, our fear.  I sometimes think that we need to have the edge of living with dying to bring out the best in us.

I had a recent scare with the idea of losing someone very close to me and life became intense.  Thinking of last-minute travel plans, trying to get ahold of people who could tell me what was going on, fearing that I might not make it in time. . .

I thought the limits of our relationship were drawing in on us quickly and it seemed to bring the very best in me out — the loving, care, concern, and compassion that I have placed on a shelf, at the back of a dark closet.

I wish all of the stories I hear could turn out as good as this one did for me.  The person recovered, I did not have to travel to be close, though I wanted to, and recuperation is slow but steady.

All and all, a much better picture than the one that I painted in my mind’s eye as all of the chaotic thoughts of loss swirled around and around.

The most painful stories for me are the ones where the dying person is stripped of dignity while they die.  And I really don’t mean the actual dying but rather the living their dying. . . knowing that it is coming and having everyone else think they know how it needs to be done.  When the people around the dying think they now what it means to die well.

Our need to control can be insidious at times, so subtle that we don’t have any idea of what we are doing.  We tell someone who is dying that they have to take their medicine or they have to stop smoking.

We tell them that they can’t eat something that they have always loved.  We tell the person who has the bottle of scotch close to the bedside that there will be no more of that.  And who are we?

Who are we to think that’s how someone needs to be loved at the end of this life?  Who are we to try to change the fundamental aspects of this person?

We say things like, “Mother, you shouldn’t use that kind of language” when they swear at the visiting nurse.  We correct them when they tell us things like, “Your uncle, he’s sitting over in that chair waiting for me” and we see no one in that chair.

Maybe we do and say these things out of love or out of misguided actions.  I’m not sure there is just one reason or if reason is part of this primordial need to fix things or have everyone socialized into our consensual reality.

Even when someone is living with dementia or slowly dying, we have a need to pull in the reins and have people conform to our notions.

Aging and dying can be times where we practice giving unconditional love.  We do this when a baby is born.  We don’t yell at them for soiling their diaper or throwing carrots during  a meal.  We laugh when they do things that don’t make sense.  And yet, we don’t do this for those aging and dying.

Can you imagine having something that gives you comfort when you are anxious — a cigarette, a drink, an emotion, a great curse word — and someone wants to take that from you?

Can you imagine how unloving that might feel, how being corrected and chastised could be mortifying?  You are trying to cope with what’s going on, trying to make your way through the situation and you are being stripped of it.  How lonely it might feel!

How judged and unloved I might feel if I am this person.

I think aging and dying are times in life that the human being should be celebrated, like we celebrate the miracle of birth.  What would it be like to celebrate the complexity that is the person who we care for?  What if that meant temporarily putting on hold our need to control or to do what is right and proper?

One way a caregiver can allow themselves to love more freely is to meditate on their own death.

What might it be like?

What would I want and need?

What are things/ideas/values that I would be unwilling to compromise?

What are things that might give me some comfort?

Can you settle in and let your breath relax?

Become more mindful of the flow of air that arises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.

As you do, can you imagine what it will be like to be frail, confused, fragile, or anxious?

What kind of powerlessness might you feel as someone you once took care of has to take over caring for you?  Imagine what it might be like to be naked in front of your adult child as they bathe you or change your clothes. . .

Picture yourself being asked to take several pills when even drinking water is laborious.  Can you have mercy on yourself in that situation — wanting to live until your last breath?  Can you have compassion for what your caregiver might be going through?

We spend years sitting on a cushion, chanting, touching malas, and doing loving kindness as a practice for these moments, these last breaths.

Envision the ultimate loving kindness practice of holding space in your heart, to love an aging or dying person as if they were the baby Buddha in your hands.

Gentle, soft hands that will cradle the baby Buddha and keep him or her safe from harm.

Can you relax into just being present and loving?

And sharing the greatest gift of all, your presence?

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Fundamental group of the circle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first real experience with this shape was in high school.

I was in a program that combined peer counseling, leadership training, and learning how to provide a day camp experience for children.

It was the dreaded circle.  I could not come to pull my chair into the circle.  I didn’t feel like I belonged.

In college, I was part of a year-long intensive, studying Rogerian therapy in a program that was didactic and experiential.

I would not trade this for the world, but we were in circles again.  And as this was the second great experience that taught me about group process, it also taught me that groups can have a shadow side too.  There were times that business didn’t get finished.  People walked back to their dorms hurt, hand in heart, not knowing how to cope with what came up and how to live with it for the following week.

As a project for a meditation class I took in my second philosophy class, I visited my first Zendo. . . in New Paltz, NY.  And I was greeted into a strange circle where people sat facing the wall, in a dark room, with incense billowing.

After school was done, I went to work in social services. . . circles for staff meetings and staff retreats, circle for support groups . . . I couldn’t get away from them.  I was part of a women’s group — all of us were therapists, educators, etc and we came together to process.

As I became a group facilitator, I learned to love the group process and felt comfortable in the dreaded circle.  I was welcomed into a wonderful sangha in Madison, WI — Snowflower Sangha, in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition and I got to see deep listening and compassionate speech.  I got to see a Starting Anew ceremony.  And I saw a wonderful community — like I got to experience at Upaya Zen Center in April.

Along the way, I came across a book, The Way of Council.  I yearned for this kind of group experience.

The lessons, guidelines, and spirit that is conveyed in The Way of Council works for a family, for close friends, for team members, for intimate relationships, etc.

Calling council gives one the guidelines and means for sustaining deep connections in community, to invite ritual into one’s life, and shares ideas for holding council in all of the relationships just mentioned above in the previous paragraph.

I will be writing more about holding council, about nonviolent communication, deep listening, compassionate speech.  I hold these practices in high esteem.  I have seen the light and shadow sides of groups (and families that I have worked with in therapy and in home visits through hospice, staffs that had a lot of undercurrents and lack of health).

I cannot think of a greater gift that I could give to the readers of this blog — to the therapists, to those who might want to start a peer-led grief group, to those who want to create intentional communities and have deep and meaningful relationships.

Creating the intimacy of council, of truly being present, is scary, doesn’t come easy, sometimes hurts, always heals, and is worth the time, energy, attention, and intention.

I hope you enjoy the blogs that will follow.

In the next post on this topic, I will discuss the Four Intentions of Council.

Stayed Tune.

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By Doug Smith, MDiv.

“When we label some deaths right,

and other deaths become wrong.

When we label some deaths good,

and other deaths become bad.

Living and dying create each other.

The easy way and the difficult way are

interdependent.

The long life and the short life are relative.

The first days and the last days accompany each other.

Therefore, the true caregiver of the dying does all

that needs to be done without asserting herself,

and saying all that needs to be said without

saying anything.

Things happen, and she allows them to happen.

Things fail to happen, and she allows them to fail

to happen.

She is always there, but it is as though she is not there.

She realizes that she does nothing,

yet all that needs to be done is done.

In letting go,

there is gain.

In giving up,

there is advancement.

Don’t practice controlling.

Practice allowing.

Such is the mystery of happiness.

Such is the mystery of wealth.

Such is the mystery of power.

Such is the mystery of living and dying.

Excerpt from:  Caregiving:  Hospice-proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul.

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Light and shade

Light and shade (Photo credit: Ennor)

Death is the omega of our existence, the vanishing point toward which all our moments rush.  Death is the price exacted by life — which always, without exception, is a fatal condition. . .

Yet who really understands that they will die?  Even those who have encountered the reality of death rarely do, other than in flashes.”

~~ Tracy Cochran & Jeff Zaleski, In Awakening to the Sacred in Ourselves

Do not wait until it is too late. . . allow yourself to be open to more than flashes of our nature.

Cultivate spaciousness in inhabiting the pause between breaths.

 

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Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a simple to read article by Rick Hanson.

http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/give-your-head-a-rest-from-thinking

Here is a small excerpt:

When your thought processes are tired, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not relaxed, and probably stressed, which will gradually wear down your body and mood. You’re more likely to make a mistake or a bad decision: studies show that experts have less brain activity than novices when performing tasks; their thoughts are not darting about in unproductive directions. When the mind is ruminating away like the proverbial hamster on a treadmill, the emotional content is usually negative – hassles, threats, issues, problems, and conflicts – and that’s not good for you. Nor is it good for others for you to be preoccupied, tense, or simply fried.”

I really liked this article and would totally use it with caregivers, professional or otherwise.  It’s a skill we can all benefit from in one or or another, in our career and private lives, whether we are young or old.

I sometimes don’t like certain “techniques” because they feel so artificial.  They can seem a bit contrived but what Rick shares here, like much of the mindfulness practice work that is out there from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Tara Brach, Chade-Meng Tan, Susan Bauer-Wu, Daniel Seigel, Jeffrey Brantley, Ronald D. Seigel, and so many more.

Take a second right now and do what Hanson suggests in this article from windmind.org. . . look up from your computer screen and breathe in and as you are breathing out, allow your exhale to be deep and long-lasting, really use the abdominal muscles and allow your whole body to benefit.

I did it as I was reading the article and I noticed a definite shift.  As I exhaled, I realized that my shoulders were sliding down and moving to the place that they were designed to be in, not clear up to my ears.

I noticed a bit of an electrical current and any fleeting bit of anxiety dissipated effortlessly.  And I had a shift in thinking.

Now, it’s easy to do this on a good day — little in the way of demands, pain, stress, etc. . . but the whole point is to do it on this kind of day so that when everything gets fired up — when the anxiety, discomfort, and frustration kick into high gear, that exhale just comes. . .

When we start a “practice”, things feel like a technique.

But they probably felt that way when we were learning to sit with a client or use proper body mechanics by the bedside but as we used the technique, to the point of it being burned into our muscle memory, it shifts from being a technique to a way of being.

And mindfulness is no different.

We practice on good and bad days, despite the weather or what else happens so that no matter what is going on, we can bring about calming the mind/body with the breath and with our mindful attention.

Check out some of the resources that I have linked with the author’s names above in this blog.  They are some extraordinary people bringing mindfulness to different populations and in slightly different ways.

Embrace mindfulness and give your brain (and the rest of your system and being) a much-needed break in this worrisome world.

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