The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty-One

Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Things shape them
Forces perfect them

Therefore all things respect the Tao and value virtue
The respect for Tao, the value of virtue
Not due to command but to constant nature

Thus Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Grows them, educates them
Perfects them, matures them
Nurtures them, protects them

Produces but does not possess
Acts but does not flaunt
Nurtures but does not dominate
This is called Mystic Virtue

                                                                            Lao Tzu

I have always held that anyone who actually gives of themselves to help another person who is in need has a wonderful quality to their character that is often overlooked. Those who have chosen to do this as a profession or have answered the call to be a family caregiver are simply amazing souls. No doubt this was a driving force in my decision to take on this project in the name of caring for caregivers.

In this fifty-first verse of the Tao, I believe Lao Tzu is offering guidance to those of us who have may have the tendency or need to blur the boundaries between Caring and Codependence. Discussing the delicate issue of codependency raises much trepidation for me but; I would not be true to this project’s  mission of raising awareness if I ignored any subject that once addressed may prove helpful.

Codependency is a behavioral syndrome usually attributed to individuals in a dysfunctional relationship with another involving substance abuse. However, in recent years, the term has been used more broadly to apply to anyone who has a pattern of dysfunctional relationships involving focusing on the needs of others more than one’s own needs. The key descriptive word here is pattern.

We have all been faced with those occasions when it was necessary, needed and appropriate to put the interest of someone else before our own. A caring relationship becomes codependent when the relationship becomes more important to you than you are to yourself. At that moment, the once therapeutic partnership morphs into a toxic need for self-sacrifice that is ultimately self-destructive.

Anyone who steps into or is placed into the role of caregiver can exhibit the symptoms of codependency at some point. The signs are subtle: denial, perfectionism, inability to accept appropriate help when offered, difficulty expressing anger appropriately, repression of one’s own needs, excessive advice giving, or operating in behavioral extremes.

The person caught up in codependence is continuously over committed, constantly under a sense of pressured, feels safe and in control only when giving but is unsettles or even anxious when someone tries to offer care or support to them. However, the real warning sign is when the attachment to the role of caregiver becomes your identity and it is difficult or impossible to think of yourself otherwise.

The tools to protecting yourself are awareness and the ability to recognize the insidious symptoms.  Clearly, developing the discipline of good self-care is at the heart of prevention. It takes a great deal of personal courage to let go of any attachment let alone an attachment that may define you. It is much like taking that first step into the abyss armed with only your faith that a better way awaits you.

Caregivers are not one dimensional beings. The length, breadth and depth of who we are and all that we can become can never be realized if we blind ourselves to the peripheral view of what may be possible. Put effort into finding the Middle Way. Make balance a must. Offer yourself loving kindness first. Keep in mind what Lao Tzu so lovingly writes; the Universe (Tao) produces but does not possess; it nurtures but does not dominate. In this way you will be able to develop the Mystical Virtue of Caregiving.



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty

Coming into life, entering death
The followers of life, three in ten
The followers of death, three in ten
Those whose lives are moved toward death
Also three in ten
Why? Because they live lives of excess

I’ve heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Traveling on the road, they do not encounter rhinos or tigers
Entering into an army, they are not harmed by weapons
Rhinos have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to clasp their claws
Soldiers have nowhere to lodge their blades
Why? Because they have no place for death

                                                                                                       Lao Tzu

Have you ever know someone who was good at cultivating life? You know that rare soul who seems to take everything as it comes, finds humor in the smallest events and just resonates with contentment. You can’t help but feel calmer in their presence; as if being in the proximity of their energy felt like a cool cream on burnt skin. How I wish every professional and family caregiver could adopt this temperament; for this approach to life, referenced in this Fiftieth Verse of the Tao, is a nature resilient to Suffering.

Eastern philosophy teaches that the basis of all human pain lies in our self-imposed suffering which is better translated as our discontent. While it is acknowledged that suffering/discontent is an inescapable part of life; it is the paradoxical quest for a life free from discontent that is at the core of our torment.

This paradox begins with our resistance to our own mortality. We will die. Yet how many of us crave attachment to excess as though the accumulation of more power, more status, more money, and more stuff was going to change the outcome of the game. Let’s face it; the real Nobel Truth here is that you cannot take it with you! Let’s just say we are successful in attaining that which we crave; does it not follow that we have now doomed ourselves to a life filled with the worry that we may somehow lose it? This is fear-based living (suffering); and so the cycle goes.

I want to be clear. I would be the last person to speak against lifelong learning and using each and every gift you were blessed with or cultivated to its fullest. The cautionary note here is to continue as if death or perhaps it is better put; the Impermanence of all things was a myth. Doing so dooms you to die a little with each disappointment.

You see, the secret to being good at cultivating life is to mindfully weave the awareness of the life you presently have into each day and allow the vibration of gratitude to ripple through you. Acknowledge that waiting to be happy is a sinful waste of time. Instead, chose to find the simple joys in the daily events that accumulate over time to be a life filled with happy moments. This is heart-based living.

Accepting the truth of Impermanence, is not the same as resigning oneself to the inevitable but rather understanding that all things have a lifespan. This fact does not shield you from any bereavement for person, place or thing that has moved on; but it does allow you to continue with life sooner guided by the faith that all is how it should be.


The Tao Te Ching: Verse Forty-Nine

The sages have no constant mind
They take the mind of the people as their mind
Those who are good, I am good to them
Those who are not good, I am also good to them
Thus the virtue of goodness
Those who believe, I believe them
Those who do not believe, I also believe them
Thus the virtue of belief

The sages live in the world
They cautiously merge their mind for the world
The people all pay attention with their ears and eyes
The sages care for them as children

                                                                                           Lao Tzu

How does the professional caregiver stay sharp and attuned to each and every client, patient or resident they encounter? How do you find a way to keep your heart open and available, day in and day out, amidst all that takes place in the course of a shift? In verse Forty-Nine, Lao Tzu offers one approach. He suggests that you try to access your ability to be present and mindful with each client, patient or resident in your assignment.  This tool can help to ward off the weight of the total day’s workload, help you to resist reducing the nature of your caring to doing tasks and allow you to stay connected with you greater purpose.

The profession of caregiving is presently besieged by challenges, demands and scrutinized oversight. You start each shift faithfully pledging to remain client, patient or resident Centered only to have The System relentlessly assault you until its and effort to remain sane let alone Centered on anything. However, if you take a breath for just a moment; keeping your client, patient or resident at the Center of what you do is the answer. Centered care is Mindful care. The one modification Lao Tzu is suggesting is that you resist seeing your assignment as a collective and work to focus on the individuals within that assignment.

He urges not to adopt a Fixed Mind. Try not to let your years of experience precondition you to judge the events and situations that present on any given day. This approach could cause you to misread an encounter and react inappropriately. It could be the root cause to making an error or missing an important opportunity to anchor a relationship. Rather, make the conscious effort to meet everyone and everything new and fresh.

Strive to be present so that you can observe closely and carefully. Be patient as your assessment takes shape. Don’t let it be forced on you and don’t let the baggage of the day taint your ability to make the best plan of care possible for each individual/family member under your care at that moment.

“For it may safely be said, not that the habit of ready and correct observation will by itself make us useful nurses, but that without it we shall be useless with all our devotion.” Florence Nightingale: Notes on Nursing, 1860


The Tao Te Ching: Verse Forty-Eight

Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss

Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do

Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world

                                                                        Lao Tzu

When you have been searching for something to offer an explanation to countless questions or a solution to challenges that loom large in your life and finally sense that you’ve found it; your very human tendency is to hold on tight and never let go. You want to wrap yourself up in the comfort and safety that it offers. You never want to stray too far for fear that you will lose its warmth and the sense that you are anchored to something secure.

Lao Tzu understood this possibility and cautions us in verse forty-eight to resist letting go of our old attachments only to develop new ones. These prose warn against becoming a professional student, getting lost in the promise that learning about spiritual practice and energetic healing offers and never actually incorporating the content into a new way of living your life.

I am a huge advocate for life-long learning. I believe that it is the only true anti-aging treatment that works. The goal of embracing the practice of the ongoing intellectual development of your mind is to stay current and engaged in your world. However, the desired outcome for developing your Spirit is to open your heart, deepen your ability to be compassionate and step into your citizenship with the Great Oneness.

Your spiritual studies are reduced to busy work if never practiced. Taking one more class or spending one more weekend exploring yet another aspect of mindfulness may deepen your knowledge base but it will only serve to keep you in your head. You must find the courage and discipline to practice daily. It is only through daily practice that you can turn on the light in your heart and discover what you really seek…Wisdom.