Inspired by the ancient book of wisdom; 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
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 are meaningful and filled with a profound purpose that often escapes our comprehension until time passes and reflection upon events offers us the gift of understanding.
So how can caring 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.
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 act on the belief 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 first responder, healthcare practitioner or family caregiver significant distress that can result in impaired work place 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 pre-occupation with the individual or in some cases a job that needs care or attention to the point that it begins to cause problems in other relationships. Eventually, 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. Finally, the sense of connection which was once your fuel degenerates into an increased sense of separation from friends, colleagues, 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 personal 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.