Two years ago, when I first became a caregiver to my Mom, I was a real mess. As everyone knows, caregiving is a job that demands all the emotional strength you have. Most of us are not prepared to manage the waves of conflicting feelings that come with our duties. At first, the only tool I had for managing stress was a basic yoga practice that helped me get exercise and a fleeting sense of calm that got me through challenging moments.
Then in March of 2012, I decided to follow my interest in yoga to a higher plane. I attended a three-day retreat where I learned more about how the regular practice of meditation, along with yoga, could help you cultivate more energy and inner strength. Sue Neufeld facilitated the retreat, which introduced me to the ideas of Rod Stryker. His book, The Four Desires, described the central concepts we explored at the retreat.
When I returned home, I began using something Stryker calls the “Healing the Heart Meditation” to help me get through my daily emotional struggles. I created a video format for the meditation and found that using it helped me better appreciate my time with Mom, despite the cruel influence dementia had on our relationship. Today, I decided to share an adapted video version with readers so you can try it in your own home. [If the link doesn’t work here, try the one on the Facebook page for Between the Pond and the Woods.]
You can use the meditation any way you like, but it’s best if you set aside at least fifteen minutes of quiet time in a comfortable spot where you will not be interrupted. My adapted version of the meditation video was taped near the creek that passes our house. The soundscape includes birdsong and noise from passing airplanes. I left them in because I thought they added some sweetness to the track.
One warning: When I first tried to practice this meditation, I cried a lot. Buckets. Rivers. Oceans. But after doing it several times a week for six months, I no longer cry. I just feel relaxed. I’m really interested to know if you find any value in using this. As always, I send you wishes for moments of peace during times of high tide.
Last week’s mention of guilt seemed to echo pain felt by many caregivers. The theme of love may be bring a little more cheer. The job of caregiver requires that we become loving people — even in situations we may resent. Many caregivers are thrust into their role and, at the beginning, do not even like the person they are caring for. But over time our resistance to their suffering may break down because we know it is more humane to help someone in distress than to cling our own comfort.
Regardless of how we arrive at our task, we need to perform acts of compassion for ourselves even while we care for others. Doing the 21 Day Meditation Challenge has been beneficial because it has forced me to examine how careless I am about my own well-being. Several meditations have also helped me to see how taking on too much responsibility can be so habitual that we forget to let others help us.
When I listened to the Day 10 Meditation “Your Giving Heart”, I was struck by how relevant the ideas seemed for caregivers. Some statements drawn from works of Swami Vivekenanda, an Indian monk who helped spread Hindu philosophy in the U.S., hit home:
- “The beauty of love is that in giving it away we are left with more than what we had before” — So basic, but this was not how I felt when my mother first got sick; Caregiving felt like fallout from some catastrophe; Then, over time, caring for her made me become a more loving person
- “Another person’s gratitude is sweet nectar for our psyche” — My mother’s gratitude for the care I provided made me see that I had stumbled into an opportunity to become a better person
- “Love yourself enough to maintain a balance between giving and receiving” — Once immersed in the role of caregiver, I often forgot to stop myself from giving too much even when my inner resources were depleted
- “As we remind ourselves of the good feelings created by giving, it’s also important to allow others to give to us so they can be comforted as well” — This is a lesson to be remembered by all caregivers. You have to let others help you! — even those selfish siblings who haven’t come to your rescue yet. Give them something easy to do: hand them a broom or dust mop. Or try to set aside some money for companion support, even if it’s just an hour a week. Let people from your faith community step in and give you an afternoon break.
Just taking 15 daily minutes to do the Meditation Challenge can seem like an act of selfishness. But now that I’ve made it to day 13, I sense how it makes me more emotionally present when I’m with my mom. Meditation doesn’t give you a perfect life. But it’s nice to look back at the course of a day, and see that it’s been marked with the fingerprint of love.