Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Are You Now, Or About To Become, A Caregiver?

Your parents cared for you when you were a baby. They fed you, changed your diapers; they were there for you when you needed them. Has this relationship now come full circle?

Most of my friends have become, or are about to become, caregivers for a parent or a loved one. One friend changed his father’s diapers and cleaned him every day for two and a half years before his father died. Other friends have also found that they have suddenly and unexpectedly changed into full-time or part-time caregivers, often at the moment they thought they could retire and enjoy the care-free rewards promised by becoming “senior citizens”.

In the United States alone, about 22.5 million people are experiencing the inevitable “end of life” trauma every year. They are either chronically ill or in the final act of dying, the role we all will experience, either from aging or disease. For every chronically ill or dying person, there will also be at least one caregiver, usually a spouse, child, sibling, or friend, who will suddenly find himself or herself in an equally traumatic life-changing situation.

Here are five precepts which will help you as a caregiver, offered by Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project. These same precepts can also help you live your life more fully, every day. Read them carefully, think about how you can incorporate them in your daily life, moment by moment. Begin practicing them now.

The First Precept: Welcome Everything. Push Away Nothing.
In our life, and in approaching death, our primary task is to trust, to listen, and pay careful attention to our changing experience. We are always on a journey of continuous discovery in which we will be entering new territory. The journey is a mystery we need to “live into”; opening, risking, and forgiving constantly.

The Second Precept: Bring Your Whole Self To The Experience.
In the process of healing others and ourselves, we can be open to both our joy and our fear. In the service of this healing, we draw on our strength and our helplessness to discover a meeting place with the other person or situation. This will allow us to touch another human being’s pain, as well as our own, with compassion instead of fear and pity.

The Third Precept: Don’t Wait.
When we worry or strategize about what the future holds for us, or for a loved one, we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us now. If there is someone you love, someone you are now caring for or may be caring for in the future, tell that someone you love him or her. Allow the precious and precarious nature of this life to show you what’s most important right at this moment, and enter fully into it.

The Fourth Precept: Find A Place Of Rest In The Middle Of Things.
We imagine that we can only find rest when everything else is complete, or by changing the conditions of our life. But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. It is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction, to the moment, to this activity. This place of rest and revitalization is always available. We need only turn toward it, breathe, sink into this one moment, let time stop. It is a power of deep mindfulness, of deep compassion for others and ourselves, which most of us seldom use. To activate this power, we need only to turn toward it, acknowledge it’s existence within us, and rest in it.

The Fifth Precept: Cultivate An Open And Receptive Mind.
Our mind and our life need not be limited by agendas, roles and expectations. Each of us is capable of sinking into each moment of our life, staying in that experience until the situation itself can inform us of our next action. Just listen carefully to your own inner voice, sense your deepest urges, trust your intention. Learn to look with fresh eyes within yourself and at others, and feel freely from an inner source of love that is limitless.

Start now. As a person, a patient, or a caregiver, begin your life anew.