"It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey."
I have been pondering some deep subjects lately, spurred by both personal twists of fate and by a compassionate response to to the myriad circumstances and struggles of those around me. Some of my close friends are dealing with life and death issues, and many others, whom I know only at a distance, echo a host of seemingly desperate trials. All are searching (at least it seems to me), even as they deal with the daily onslaught of emotions, decisions, caring for others, trying to live their lives with grace and truth and to find a modicum of peace. Finding our balance in a world where the ground is shifting with seismic forces (emotionally and quite literally) beyond our control is a daunting prospect, yet the changes coming at us are constant, unavoidable and accelerating. I think this condition is common to most caregivers, as well, since there is almost always uncertainty and emotional upheaval involved at some point in the caregiving story. It is very easy, indeed, to slide into despair, or to anesthetize ourselves with various escapist paths, such as drugs or alcohol. Or, our response may be to stick our heads firmly in the sands of denial. Or to lose ourselves in an absolutely exhausting, endless "doing". It is less easy to stay present to our lives and ask the hard questions: why are we here, with these people, in this time and place? What is our purpose?
OK, I know I'm getting a bit mystical and metaphysical here, so hold onto your hat! What if the reason we are living here and now is a very high purpose, indeed -- a calling to heal ourselves and our planet? Could it be that the sum of life experiences we have individually lived, loved, worried about, prayed for, meditated on have been simply preparation for this incredibly important work? What higher calling could there possibly be?
I think this call to healing is one felt by most caregivers, whether acknowledged or not, and whether they are professional or family carers. It's a deeply intrinsic, instinctive part of our human psyche to want to heal situations, people, and certainly those we love. So perhaps Wendell Berry is right in saying that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. Maybe it's time to stop struggling and start healing. It only requires a shift in your perspective to cross the chasm. It's not as wide as you might think! Or, when you reach the end of your metaphorical rope, you can choose to just tie a knot in it and hang on...it is your choice. We each choose our coping mechanisms.
I just read a lovely book titled, The Gift of Healing Presence: Encouraging Thoughts for Busy Caregivers, by James E. Miller. In the introduction to the book, Miller writes: "I've created this writing with busy caregivers in mind, all sorts of them -- professionals, family members, friends, volunteers. I hope the following pages of thoughts, quotations, and images will invite you into this subject in a gentle, calming, and affirming way. After all, that's what healing presence is all about."
This is quite a special book, as I realized after reading the first few pages. It offers a caregiver a chance to understand what it means exercise the power of healing presence and to make a difference in very real and deeply moving ways. Miller writes: "Healing presence is a deeply conscious and compassionate sharing of moments with another person that naturally encourages a movement toward greater wholeness." This is a beautiful definition, because the greater wholeness is tangible and mutual -- both the person expressing healing presence, and the one they are with experience a lifing up, a healing. Being attended (on all levels) by a compassionate listener who cares about us is a powerfully transforming gift.
We are so very focused on doing in our current world. One is considered lazy, and beneath contempt if he or she is not constantly striving for more -- be that possessions or power or other earthly goal. Yet, in the end, if we do manage to capture "more" it is a fleeting success we enjoy, empty and lacking. Our response? To try harder still, seek more diligently, actively, ruthlessly, and often, selfishly for that brass ring -- you know, the one thing, that if you have it, you'll be complete. I submit that is a total myth, and we have all been dreaming that same collective dream. It's now time to awaken, not to act, but learn first to "be" -- to be present, to be in the consciousness of healing. This is a major life shift, I'm speaking of and some will find it incomprehensible and maybe even a bit frightening. For others, my hope is that as you read these words, there's a little zing of truth in your being. Pursue that. It is worthy.
I wish you happiness and fulfillment as you discover your "real work" and begin on your "real" life's journey!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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