The Tao Te Ching: Verse Five

Heaven and Earth are impartial
They regard myriad things as straw dogs
The sages are impartial
They regard people as straw dogs

The space between Heaven and Earth
Is it not like a bellows?
Empty, and yet never exhausted
It moves, and produces more

Too many words hasten failure
Cannot compare to keeping to the void

The reference to straw dogs in this verse is meant to convey that the Tao views everyone as equals. No one person or group is more important than another. This notion is something that we may acknowledge intellectually but can present a constant challenge for us to embrace with our hearts and actions.

It is often difficult to accept our sublime interconnectedness while we are going through the business of living our daily lives. Yet the vision put forth in the movie Avatar of the people of Pandora incorporating their link to each other and their higher power into their way of life is, I have no doubt,  the way things are intended to be here on Earth.

I believe the recent display of personal and corporate greed around the world and the economic consequences of those actions is a shout out from the Universe, “Do you hear me now!” I do not view this world-wide recession and a time of correction as much as I view it as an opportunity for reconciliation.

We need each other, desperately. It may initially seem safer and easier to go it alone but in this regard safe is dangerous. In order to live the safe life one would have to engage in only mandatory relationships such as those needed in the workplace or casual relationships such as those required  in simple social settings. You would not need to access your heart therefore; you could shut it down and engage in life only to the extent your mind would permit. Who would want to go through life this way? Anyone who has allowed him or herself to lose a sense of balance and feel battered by life is likely to choose this option.

Professional caregivers are taught to keep what is known as their professional objectivity intact. This is a skill of detaching in order to do or say what must be done or said to their patients or clients. It can be a helpful tool but like antibiotics, it should not be overused or it can cause a bigger problem. Caring with professional objectivity can mutate into cold or callus behavior toward patients, co-workers and family in the most insidious of ways. It can seem like the only way to survive and be able to do what it is we do day after day, around the clock, all year long, against all odds. It is not the only solution. It just seems this way because we have allowed our stress level to close down our peripheral vision therefore, alternatives cannot be seen or sensed.

This survival technique is often used by family caregivers as well. Well-meaning outsiders may try to reach out to the caregiver and share an insight or offer a suggestion to a family challenge only to be refused or told off in no uncertain terms. So often it seems like the more an outsider offers a lifeline to someone entrenched in family caregiving, the more the family caregiver chooses to go it alone.

Once again we allow ourselves to get caught up in our need to fix things and our conviction that we can fix all things if only we try hard enough. This mindset is short cut to our ruin. If only we could understand that we are not meant to go it alone or have all the answers. Reaching out and accepting help from your inner or extended community of family, friends and resources is not an admission of failure but a method of ensuring that your personal well stays full and your compassionate heart can stay open.

We must stay true to our authentic nature and not permit our egos to cause us to tune out or disconnect.  We need to not only acknowledge the need to be part of the whole but be grateful for the fact that we are not alone. Do everything you can to create a network or anchor the relationships you have. In return you will find that you’ve actually deepened the relationship you have with yourself.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Four

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Four

The Tao is empty
When utilized; it is not filled up
So deep! It seems to be the source of all things

It blunts the sharpness
Unravels the knots
Dims the glare
Mixes the dusts

So indistinct! It seems to exist
I do not know whose offspring it is
Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor

                                                                      Lao Tzu

The Tao is the source of all things. It cannot be used up. It can never be emptied. It continuously replenishes itself. It is ageless, limitless and never ending. It is that which connects each of us to one another. It is a constant source of grace and unconditional love.  The true nature of the Tao is incomprehensible.  This is why it is so difficult for us to grasp that abundance is our birthright.

The only limits placed upon us are the ones we self-impose. All we need to do to access the possibilities of the Tao is ask. Not just ask for our share; but ask for all we desire. We’ve been so conditioned by society’s laws of right and wrong and social etiquette to believe that asking for it all is inappropriate, greedy and rude; but that is man’s notion not the Tao’s.

The first time you actually do this will be a bit scary. You will probably be waiting for a reprimand or bad luck to follow. But slowly, as you begin to manifest all that you believe you need or have been dreaming of; you will begin to exhale and trust. The adventure lies in noticing how the things you’ve wanted actually appear in your life.

The Tao is not Aladdin’s lamp. It’s not something magical. It is the Intelligence that guides us through our life lessons so that we can grow spiritually and ascend to a higher level of being. All things are possible through the Tao. You do not have to understand how. All that is required is faith and the courage to walk your path as it unfolds.

The business of caregiving can be lonely and exhausting but it does not need to be that way. Do not let your well of compassion for others run dry. Form you alliance with the Tao. Allow the Tao. Accept assistance from the endless source of help. Just ask.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Three

Do not glorify the achievers so the people will not squabble
Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain

So the people will not become thieves do not show the desired things
So their hearts will not be confused thus the governance of the sage:

Empties their hearts, fills their bellies, weakens their ambitions,
Strengthens their bones, let the people have no cunning and no greed
So those who scheme will not dare to meddle

Act without contrivance and nothing will be beyond control

                                                                                                      Lao Tzu

This wisdom from the Tao guides us to understanding that envy, greed and even stealing have its beginnings in the perception that we are lacking something and that happiness can be ours if only we could acquire it. Lao Tzu counsels that this type of personal torture can actually sow the seeds of perpetual discontentment. Yet we engage in chasing the illusion that acquiring more will make us happier almost daily.  He suggests that if those who have the desired things that are hard to obtain live inconspicuously then others would not have a sense of lacking and therefore no need to chase the illusion

The essence of this teaching challenges us to confront our need to engaging in the behavior of comparing ourselves to others and then judging ourselves as better or worse.  It asks us to rethink the type of fuel we use to drive our lives. So many of us depend on the neurotic mantra, “If only…” If only this, if only that…then I could be happy. Caregivers seem to have a double dose of this trait. I think our ability to be open and available to others also makes us more vulnerable to personal and outside criticism.

We want so much to get it right and are so willing to fix ourselves that we will do whatever it takes to accomplish just that. Many times this ability to take on more in the pursuit of getting it right is referred to as inner strength. The quest for excellence does require strength and stamina however, I am concerned about the motivation to pursue more?

Nurses have been caught up in this quest, and I am no exception. I am not certain when the moment came. Perhaps it was because the change was subtle. For most of my early adult life I struggled to ensure that I would be seen as equal and be afforded equal opportunities. I am a child of the fifties with my most formative years shaped by the woman’s movement. However, there came a time when being seen as equal was no longer good enough. The pursuit of excellence morphed into a need for perfection.

I entered the nursing profession in the seventies at a time when hospital affiliated training programs no longer met the core requirements needed to prepare RNs for the modern challenges facing the profession. Academic preparation at the college level was now an essential part of that fundamental training. Associate programs gave way to baccalaureate programs. In the 80’s clinical certification in a chosen specialty became the newest benchmark. More than one certification couldn’t hurt. Graduate programs evolved. The finish line was elusive. I bought into this pursuit of excellence whole heartedly. I encouraged my friends, my family, and my colleagues to do so as well. I agree that these growing pains were vital to the development of our profession but what collateral damage happened along the way? Are we more united in our hopes and visions? Are we more credible or are we just incredibly credentialed?

Opinions on what it took to be a competent nurse began to divide the profession into opposing camps. The necessary and healthy dialogue on the vision of the profession in the twenty first century was frequently overshadowed by destructive, judgmental attitudes of right and wrong. Did we unintentionally send the message to many that they were not good enough? Did we perpetuate the image of women undermining women? What part did our male colleagues play?

There is a global shortage of nurses today. The reasons cited for this global shortage are complicated and multifaceted but it is time to now ask; what did we contribute to the problem? Did our need to organize actually drive us to polarize? Did we inadvertently create an environment that nurtured hostility and perpetuated the image of nurses eating their young? The profession has worked hard and has come such a long way but I fear that unless we find ways to reconnect we will be doomed. We will be unable to create a new, stronger and sustainable reality. The price we pay along the way will include peace of mind, compromised health, failed relationships, and wounded spirits.

So how can professional and family caregivers avoid the pitfalls of buying into the tantalizing pursuit of the illusion that more equals better? I suggest we slow down and take the time to really get in touch with ourselves and the true nature of our motivations. If we come to the decision that our pursuit of the next great thing is fueled by our own innate desire to grow; then go for it. However, if in the silence of our introspection we can find the strength to acknowledge that there are extrinsic forces at work then perhaps we can find the confidence to resist entering into another dualistic struggle.

There can be no achievement without a focused mind so practice sitting quietly. Listen to the wisdom that can come to you in those meditative moments. Work to know yourself. Embrace your strengths and acknowledge your shortcomings. Find the humor in your own physical and emotional challenges. Accept all that you can about yourself. Set high but achievable goals and methodically work toward improving the rest. This process cannot work unless the goals you set are yours and yours alone. Walk your personal and professional path with courage, integrity and gentleness toward yourself.

Work to develop your intuitive self by respecting that inner voice that can guide you in a clearer direction. Embrace a fundamental concept in Feng Shui and begin to address the clutter in your living and work space. Do not organize the clutter. Get rid of it. Get into that closet, go throw those draws, look under the bed and discard that which no longer serves you. This energetic exercise will assist you in quieting the clutter in your head and drawing in that sense of freshness that can inspire your own authentic, sustainable personal growth.



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Two

When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other
Therefore the sages:
Manage the work of detached actions
Conduct the teaching of no words
They work with myriad things but do not control
They create but do not possess
They act but do not presume
They succeed but do not dwell on success
It is because they do not dwell on success
That it never goes away

                                                                            Lao Tzu

Through the words contained in verse two, Lao Tzu instructs that in our efforts to explain what cannot be explained, the human experience can be a journey along a continuum of emotions. He shares that we feel joy because we have experienced sadness. The completeness that comes with knowing that you belong to someone can only be truly embraced when you have known the void of being alone.

Our belief systems define our experiences as good or bad, bitter or sweet, beautiful or ugly and so on. It is in this struggle to get a handle on something; to find an explanation for why things are the way they are that is the basis for dissatisfaction with one’s life. However, Loa Tzu goes on to write that there is an alternative to the dualistic battle that we create for ourselves. The option lies in the insight that the Universe is ever changing and that our assignment is not to rage against the tide of change but to flow with it. In reality, all is as it should be even if it is not obvious or easily understood.

Caregivers can find accepting this a challenge. We set up a dualistic continuum of our very own, fixed versus broken. After all, isn’t it our job to FIX things? Fixing things, turning negatives into positives is what we do best, right? Here is where we can get ourselves into trouble if we are not continuously in touch with our true motivation for caring and how being a caregiver can serve us.

It can really feel good to be needed by someone and to be able to meet that someone’s needs. It feeds our compassionate nature. It can give us a sense of purpose and competency. The caring can very subtly start to become about us. When things work out, that is, the desired outcome is the outcome achieved; we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have control or at least a strong influence over those results. It can be a bit addicting so we begin to give more, care more. Before we realize it, caring becomes a socially acceptable substitute for doing one’s own work, walking one’s path and addressing all our personal life lessons along the way.

Some of the dangers signs we tend to ignore include the inability to put our needs such as pursuing our own interests first. We deny the need for help when a lifeline is offered. We can find it challenging, even irritating, to seek or accept assistance from any resource for a respite citing any number of plausible reasons. We tend to allow our compassionate nature or work ethic to be used against us. Finding ourselves in the role of the go to person on a constant base is not always a complement. The added stress can deplete us of valuable energy and lead to resentment.

The common denominator for all of these behaviors is our tendency to make judgments and the need for control. It seems almost cruel to assign such labels to a person’s commitment to service. However, it is necessary to shed some light on this dark side of a one’s good nature. Caring too much enables us to write and tell our story in the context of anothers rather than let the meaning of our own life, scary as it may be, unfold. When we think we’ve been successful in fixing something, that feeling fills in some of the places in our personality where we are wanting and vulnerable.

Caring too much has a paradoxical effect on our life. You would think it would build relationships but, in reality, it ultimately causes us to become increasing isolated from others. Our propensity for judging begins to alienate us from friends and colleagues. The increasing need for control causes individuals to push-back and the frustration that this drives can become the foundation of mistrust and anger.

So where does the answer lie? It should be no surprise to discover that in all struggles with duality, the answer lies in the middle. The middle way gives us perspective and feedback. This is a great start to creating balance. The challenge is to blend compassion for others into your life and not allow that wonderful capacity to dominate and impede your ability to live your life fully.

Develop a personal spiritual practice that offers you quiet time. Not just free time to fill up with doing other things; but real quiet time that allows you to strengthen your ability to slowly access your intuitive knowledge and higher-self. The support and guidance you can gain will begin to transmute your need to cling to the duality of your emotions into an ability to peacefully coexist in the world without the need for judgment or conflict. Your ego will slowly let go of the need for the allusion of having control and relax into the reality that all is well and all are safe.

The answer truly is in the silence. Taking the time to put your own oxygen on first lets you come to know and embrace this truth. Moving away from the habit of defining your life in dualistic terms lets you step closer to understanding that developing a trilistic relationship between yourself, your life lessons, and that god-like nature inside each one of us provides us with the inner fortitude and skills to walk our own path, feel compassion for another and flow with life.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse One

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

                                                                          Lao Tzu

These beautiful words, offered by Lao Tzu, pay homage to the fundamental nature of the   Tao, the Creator of All Things, and advise us to resist trying to give a name and form to something that is nameless and without shape. Attempting to describe or define the infinite nature of the Universe is a futile undertaking that can actually hold us back from experiencing a full relationship with the magnificence of the Cosmos.

Letting go of such temptations doesn’t involve will power as much as in necessitates faith. Having faith means having the courage to let go of the notion that you have control no matter how strong willed you are. Faith requires an acceptance that all is fundamentally good and as it should be even when your need for control or clarity rages with indignation. Faith is an innate knowing that our life and the challenges that it offers us is meaningful; and filled with a profound purpose that often escape our comprehension until time passes and reflection upon events offers us the gift of understanding.

So how is it that caring can lead to caring too much? Isn’t one of the basic measures of living a good life the ability to have compassion for another human being? In her book, The Fearless Heart: the Practice of Living with Fear and Compassion, Pema Chrodron shares her believe that our compassion arises from our relationship with pain. She views pain as the place where we can all identify with a common experience and thus close the gap on feeling alone. I agree. It is a gift to be able to feel a connection with another human being when they are most vulnerable.

However, having that sense of connection with another is one thing but allowing that sense of connection to grow into a personal need that we feel compelled to justify is something entirely different. Compassion for another should never be a substitute for compassion and caring for ourselves. We cannot let the ability to identify with another’s pain serve as a distraction from addressing our own issues and walking our own path. This is where the danger lies. When we buy into the delusion that caring to the point of self-sacrifice is noble; we begin to loss our perspective on our motivations. We begin to deny that perhaps it is easier to walk another’s path for them than it is to make our own way. You maintain the delusion until the day you discover that you can no longer postpone dealing with your own issues and your life seems to have become unmanageable. How did something so well meaning turn into something so scary?

This syndrome is known as Compassion Fatigue. Unresolved Compassion Fatigue can cause the healthcare practitioner or layperson caregiver significant distress that can result in impaired occupational and social functioning. It is important to understand that the development of compassion fatigue is not sudden. It takes time. It is usually slow and insidious and often unrecognized by the person experiencing it until things start to unravel.

Compassion Fatigue can manifest as a preoccupation with the individual or in some cases a job, that needs care to the point that it begins to cause problems in other relationships. It can cause the caregiver to experience a heightened state of tension associated with the need to render more care. One can begin to demonstrate an irritability that leads to seemingly unexplainable burst of anger or aggression. Perhaps this irritability begins to cause conflict at work or excessive absenteeism from work. Finally the sense of connection, which was once your fuel, degenerates into an increased sense of separation from friends, family and other support groups.

It is vital to understand that Compassion Fatigue can be successfully worked through and balance can be restored. However, there is no easy or quick resolution and the only road to a solution is through the problem. There is no side stepping the needs that predisposed one to developing Compassion Fatigue. There is only facing the reality of your situation with the same commitment that you once offered another.

So as we embark on this journey into understanding whose responsibility it is to care for the caregiver; I pray that we will have the courage to take a look at the places that scare us and enough faith in the Universe to reassure us that we are protected in this adventure and all is how it should be.