I was catching up on an old Buddhadharma magazine, and came across a couple of wonderful articles. Both are by Insight/Mindfulness Teachers, but just as appropriate for our Practice here.
The first is by the great Sharon Salzberg, where she introduces a simple Practice and Re-minder for all the people struggling to change the world ... or just something in life ... or dealing with a difficult task such as nursing a sick loved one needing constant care ... with all the pain and frustrations that typically involves ...
When I led a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society especially for caregivers ... we had mothers and fathers and spouses and nurses and hospice workers and sons and daughters and therapists and chaplains and medics and so many more. What was so striking to me, along with the evident fatigue many felt, was how often they regarded their service, however difficult or frustrating, as a privilege. It was a beautiful testament to their hearts. It also struck me that for anyone in a continuing caregiving role, even though they have all the goodheartedness in the world, burnout is the specter that hovers close.
Some years ago, on the request of Roshi Joan Halifax, I wrote the following loving-kindness meditation especially for caregivers, in honor of their incredible work, and it was published in my book, The Kindness Handbook.
Whether you care for a young child, an aging parent, a rambunctious teenager, a client at work who feels helpless, any skillful relationship of caregiving relies on balance—the balance between opening one’s heart endlessly and accepting the limits of what one can do. The balance between compassion and equanimity. Compassion is the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Equanimity is a spacious stillness that can accept things as they are. The balance of compassion and equanimity allows us to care, and yet not get overwhelmed and unable to cope because of that caring.
The phrases we use reflect this balance. Choose one or two phrases that are personally meaningful to you. There are some options offered below. You can alter them in any way, or use others that you have created out of their unique personal significance.
To begin the practice, take as comfortable a position as possible, sitting or lying down. Take a few deep soft breaths to let your body settle. Bring your attention to your breath, and begin to silently say your chosen phrases over and over again, in rhythm with the breath… You can also experiment with just having your attention settle in the phrases, without using the anchor of the breath. Feel the meaning of what you are saying, yet without trying to force anything. Let the practice carry you along.
May I offer my care and presence without conditions, knowing they may be met by gratitude, anger or indifference.
May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give.
May I remain in peace, and let go of expectations.
May I offer love, knowing I can’t control the course of life, suffering or death.
I care about your pain, yet cannot control it.
I wish you happiness and peace, but cannot make your choices for you.
May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the limitations of others.