The Caregiver's Tao Te Ching
Compassionate Caring for Your Loved Ones and Yourself
By William Martin, Nancy Martin
New World Library Copyright © 2011 William and Nancy Martin
All rights reserved.
Caring for loved ones with your ideas
and caring for them with your actions
are two different processes.
The first arises within your mind
and often brings confusion.
The second is a direct experience,
free of mental voices,
and leads to clarity.
The mind that wants to help
does not know how.
The mind that lets go of wanting
knows exactly what to do.
Both minds reside within us.
Learning to live with both
unlocks the secret of caregiving.
Be quietly present with yourself
in the presence of another human being.
If you can do this you will know
the next simple thing to do.
This is all that is ever necessary.
The first step in caregiving is to let go of our ideas about what it means to be a helpful, compassionate caregiver. These mental images set standards that easily lead to disappointment, frustration, and self-doubt. The direct experience of giving care is new every moment and leads us in unfamiliar directions. We gather experience along the way, but with each encounter we must show up, stay present to what is actually happening, and see what 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 tasks of the day so that we can do it "right." It is about letting go of our ideas and making room for the two people who are here in this place, in this moment. It is the freedom to be who we are and to open our hearts to ourselves and to those in our care.
[ 2 ]
Come and Go
You cannot give another person
happiness without sadness,
comfort without pain,
gain without loss,
or life without death.
Do not try.
Let your helping be without agenda.
Let the natural course of things unfold.
Do what you do,
and think no more about it.
This will bring freedom
to giver and receiver alike.
Life is a rich mixture of sensations, emotions, ideas, and experiences. They arise, build, and then ebb at their own pace. As much as we long to cling to the positive experiences and avoid the painful, all experiences come and go as part of life.
When we resist the sensations or emotions of the moment we create suffering. Now we face not just physical discomfort but also the internal judgment that our feelings are wrong, unfair, and unendurable.
We care for our loved ones with the intention of adding to their comfort and lessening their pain. Yet there are days when neither can be accomplished. The experience of the day is not what we wanted for ourselves or for the one in our care. Freedom comes as we do what seems best in the moment and simply let the outcome be what it is. Without review or evaluation we can simply let life reveal the next natural step.
[ 3 ]
Acceptance Brings Change
Clinging to how we think things should be
brings confusion and despair.
Seeing things be as they are
Clarity leads to effective action.
Trying to change others
leads to resistance and frustration.
Seeing others as they are
leads to acceptance.
Acceptance leads to change.
To accept what is happening in this moment, this situation, this season of life, does not require us to like it. Acceptance is the simple act of acknowledging what is true — this sensation, this fear, this frustration, or this dread that we are experiencing right now. Avoiding it only adds sorrow and suffering to what is already painful.
It takes courage to step forward into the reality of the moment. This person who is dear to our heart is weak, ill, injured, recovering slowly, or dying. She will experience a whole range of responses as symptoms change and she moves from hope to despair, from resignation to peace.
We are here to share this life as it is, one moment at a time. Acceptance is the first step in becoming a true companion in this journey. It will bring the clarity and openness that will reveal what is possible now.
[ 4 ]
Striving, we become exhausted.
Ceasing to strive, we find astonishing energy.
Tranquility rests within us,
softening our edges
and bringing us peace.
Where does it come from?
Someplace we can't name.
What is its source?
What does it do?
Everything that needs to be done.
We have been taught not to trust our true nature and to look outside ourselves for peace, tranquility, and wisdom. Yet at the core of who we are lies an ancient, innate wisdom. This is our natural connection with the Tao.
This connection is called by many names. We talk of returning to our "own hearts" or coming back to "center." We speak of our "true nature," which is compassion. In all these ways we point to something that cannot be named. It can only be rediscovered through direct experience.
We recognize it when we are doing well in the midst of the challenges of caregiving. We see it when we know deep within that all truly is well, even in the middle of the most distressing day. We sense it when we find tenderness welling up to soothe our frustration and despair when we feel we are failing at our task.
Watch for these experiences. They are available to all of us, to remind us of the trustworthiness of our own hearts.
[ 5 ]
Expecting life to bring us what
we want and to deliver us from what we do not want
is to suffer needlessly.
Finding that we are adequate
for everything that happens
is to be at peace.
Preferring some things
and avoiding others,
we struggle through life.
Sitting quietly and breathing deeply,
we find renewal within ourselves.
Sitting quietly with another person,
we watch him find renewal
Sitting quietly in meditation we practice opening our hearts to whatever arises within. We do not abandon ourselves, no matter what sensations, thoughts, or moods arise. No longer believing that we must escape the intensity of our inner experience, we stay right with the sensations as they arise, peak, and then ebb. We rest in the breath, feeling it as it moves into and out of the body. Its rhythm reminds us to take in this vivid moment of life and then let it go.
As we become more at ease with all the intensity that flows through our beings, we find that we can remain present with what is happening. In this way we build proof that we can endure and even welcome all that life presents, one moment at a time.
[ 6 ]
Hidden, but Never Absent
You cannot give another person joy,
for joy has never left her.
It is what is always there
beneath the struggles and the pain,
but never absent.
You cannot make another person see it.
You can only see it for yourself.
The more you see it in all things,
the more she sees it in herself.
The tasks of caregiving can distract us from the joy that endures even in the most difficult situations. We become lost in responding to symptoms, complaints, and needs. We forget that this person is not a problem to be solved but someone we deeply care for.
When we sink below the surface demands, the joy of being part of one another's life remains. A gruff father softens and at moments takes on a childlike glow. A child who has been struggling with pain finds a moment of delight as something makes her laugh. A frail mother gets the giggles as she tries to find her elusive balance halfway between sitting and standing. This joy finds ways to bubble up to the surface at unexpected moments. We do not need to create it or make it appear. It will emerge on its own. We just notice and savor it.
[ 7 ]
Room to Work
How can we reveal to another person
the mysterious comfort of the eternal Tao?
By seeing without judgment
and listening without interpreting.
By waiting without purpose
and sharing without agenda.
In this way we become an empty space,
not cluttered with our own perceptions.
In this space the Tao has room to work.
The person we are caring for is in the midst of a complex process. So are we. Part of what we can offer is the compassionate space needed to contain all that is happening. A helpful image is of a large, shallow, empty bowl that occupies the space between us and the one in our care. Into this bowl the care receiver can pour out anything and everything.
We listen without comments or advice. We take nothing personally as he shares, so there is no limit to what he can pour out in our presence. We reflect back a few of his own words to help him continue untangling the jumble of thoughts and emotions that come as his body no longer behaves as it once did.
It is not up to us to find or give answers. In this safe place, the one in our care will find those answers emerging in his own words.
[ 8 ]
The Tao flows like water
into all the nooks and crannies of life,
nurturing everything without distinction.
As water lets the nature of the terrain
determine its course,
so the Tao lets circumstances
determine its actions.
This is how we do our work:
not assuming what is needed
but letting the moment determine our actions;
not withholding our intrinsic goodness
but giving nurture wherever it is needed;
not pushing forcefully ahead
but waiting patiently for clarity to emerge.
A river yields to the changing features in the riverbed that holds it. Nothing is truly an obstacle as the water continues its inevitable movement, finding the course that the Tao provides. In our caregiving we do not know what will happen from one day to the next or even over the next few hours. If we cling to assumptions and plans we can feel thrown off balance by the unexpected. We end up bracing ourselves and feel separate from the flow of the Tao.
Yet we are never separate from life's unfolding. When we trust this deep reality, we find ourselves once again in harmony with the Tao. Our intrinsic goodness guides us to the next simple thing to do. What is truly nurturing in this moment will make itself clear.
[ 9 ]
Because We Want To
Wanting gratitude for our actions,
we are never satisfied.
Trying to control the situation,
we are never secure.
Looking for approval,
we are never happy.
If we do what we do
just because we want to,
the doing itself is all we will ever need.
Our childhood experiences naturally condition us to look for approval and to feel safe when we receive it. The smiles and frowns of parents and teachers train us to look to others to see if we are doing things well and if we are loved and accepted. This desire for approval is naturally present in our caregiving experience as well.
Trusting the Tao in our caregiving, we find that our fulfillment is not dependent on someone else's response. When we become aware of searching for external signs of approval or disapproval, we can gently lay it aside. The satisfaction we truly desire comes from recognizing our willingness to care for another person, regardless of his or her response. We are doing this because we want to.
[ 10 ]
Soft and Tender
Can you take caring action
yet remain centered in your body
and never lose your soul?
Can you remain soft and tender
without trying to control?
Can you wait patiently
without feeling helpless?
Can you love
and not possess?
This is the way of the Tao.
This ability is naturally ours.
Caring and tenderness arise
from who we truly are.
Patience and love
are waiting in our hearts.
We are the way of the Tao as well.
Providing care pushes us into situations we would usually avoid. The intensity of the emotions it stirs can make us want to flee. While at any other time we would withdraw to escape this discomfort, now we choose to remain.
It is a perfect time to discover our own depth. We are pushed to let go of our efforts to control life and to protect our self-image of being calm and collected. Instead we must sink into our own hearts to find the tenderness, softness, and vulnerability that will sustain us.
When we become tender, we find room to breathe and acceptance of who we are. Our muscles can relax, and our soul can find rest. It is this soft and loving way that will see us through all that caregiving brings.
[ 11 ]
How do we stay balanced
on the ever-turning wheel of change?
By moving to the center
and letting the wheel spin as it will.
By remaining empty,
making room for all the feelings that arise
in ourselves and others.
The myriad events of whirling life
are the materials of our work.
The spaciousness within
is where the work is done.
We are taught to be creatures of habit. We develop routines and schedules to move through the day without noticing what we are doing. We prefer patterns in providing care that allow us to feel confident and at ease. Our conditioned mind prefers to be on automatic pilot, unruffled by the specifics of life.
The ever-changing nature of life invites us to pay attention. Yesterday our hand on her back as she rose from her chair was just a symbol of support. Today we both feel the difference. Her arms shake with the effort, and she needs a boost to get to her feet. Tomorrow her legs may be stronger after a good night's rest, but they may not be. Either way, the changes will continue to come.
Compassionate awareness creates room for all the hopes, fears, sorrows, and uncertainties to well up and then subside. Supported from within, we do not need to make life stop spinning around us. The Tao provides refuge in the midst of it all, where both of us are safe just as we are.
[ 12 ]
The Tao Is Silent
Our conditioned mind tells itself scary stories
to keep itself stirred up.
It looks for amusements
to keep itself distracted.
It creates problems
to keep itself busy.
Given its way
it would never let us rest.
It is the source of every fear.
Our Tao mind is silent.
Thus it is the source
of every loving action.
Conditioned mind is the lifelong accumulation of mental habits that we develop to protect ourselves from pain, uncertainty, and danger. Its task is to keep us living within the safe confines of the familiar and comfortable.
Whenever we step outside this narrow box, our conditioned mind roars up with all the reasons why we must escape these unwanted feelings and experiences. This reel of commentary in our minds offers us every option except that of being fully present.
Tao mind knows that we are never separate from life and that we do not need to be. It points to the direct experience of each moment. It sees circumstances as they are. It does not add fearful commentary that clouds our vision. From the clear, compassionate perspective of Tao mind, loving action naturally emerges.
[ 13 ]
Neither Praise nor Blame
Be wary of both praise and blame.
Our conditioned mind will use them
to keep us fearful
and unable to see clearly what to do.
It will praise us for taking care of a person in need,
then blame us for not doing it well enough.
It will keep us constantly off balance,
always concerned with "how we're doing."
Praise feels good for a moment,
so we tend to seek it.
Blame feels uncomfortable,
so we try to avoid it.
Our Tao mind will ignore the commentaries
and do whatever comes its way to do
with full attention and freedom.
Praise and blame are not part of the natural flow of life. They are arbitrary standards imposed after the fact for reviewing and evaluating what has already happened. Whether the source of praise and blame is another person or our inner critic, we end up measuring our thoughts and actions against vague and shifting standards of "how we ought to be." When we believe that they can guide our life, we abandon trust in our innate wisdom and look for outside clues to see if we are measuring up.
When we return to our Tao mind, no commentary is needed. Our words and actions emerge naturally as we move through the day. When what we try does not work out the way we had hoped, we seek the next possibility. When things flow smoothly, we enjoy the feeling of living in harmony with the Tao. There is no praise or blame. There is only the unconditional freedom to let one experience inform the next.
[ 14 ]
The Source of All Caring
What motivates a caregiver's actions?
Why are we willing to be with another's pain?
Who can say?
We want to help,
but that's not the whole story
We feel obliged,
but that's not it either.
Beneath the many motives of the conditioned mind
rests the mysterious Tao,
which is the true source of all caring.
We can't see it or understand it.
We can only trust that it
is the origin of what we do
and the power that helps us see it through.
When we enter a caregiving relationship, we may think we are doing so for all the usual reasons. We are the nearest family member or the one who has always gotten along best with our aging parent. Caregiving is our dearest passion, or it is the career we have chosen. These reasons are enough to bring us to this task, but they are not strong enough to carry us through it. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Caregiver's Tao Te Ching by William Martin, Nancy Martin. Copyright © 2011 William and Nancy Martin. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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