Interview on Caregiving with Dale
What does it mean to heal?
Healing is the movement into the experience of wholeness, the wholeness of living fully without resistance to the human world of opposites-wellness/illness, life/death, happiness/sadness, beyond the compulsion to help, while at the same time resting in the timeless Presence that includes all opposites. Healing can apply to our entire life, to our relationship with an illness, to our relationship with another person, with this single moment.
How can you approach caregiving as a spiritual practice?
Caregiving, particularly caregiving for the dying, will insistently reveal where we recoil from direct contact with life. Rather than merely approaching the client as the one who needs care, we can ask “What here do I judge to need fixing? What does my compassion not include? Where do I create a solid concept of who I am (helper, good person, inadequate person, spiritual person. . .) or who this client is (dying person, cancer patient, needy person, threatening person. . .)? Where do I lose contact with this other human being?” When this separation is brought clearly (and often painfully) into our awareness, we can cultivate compassion for the entire situation, for me as “caregiver” and for you as “client.” We are empowered to act, humanely, yet beyond our usual world view that you and I are only a body and a personality that will die.
How does this spiritual approach to caregiving affect the person being cared for?
To the extent that a caregiver is doing her own inner work, she becomes a living invitation to the client to do the same work. The client is getting the message that this moment, no matter how painful or confusing, is workable-‘I can be present, with compassion, to the truth of even this, beyond the need to fix myself.’
How can a person who doesn’t have a strong spiritual practice open the door to healing for themselves?
Without a strong “spiritual practice” (and I use this term very broadly), it becomes almost impossible not to relate to our client as “a dying person.” Spiritual caregiving and true spiritual practice fundamentally demand exactly the same view: being clearly and compassionately aware of where we fixate in this world of duality so we can let go into Presence, our True Nature, which is untouched by death. Not everyone is a meditator or a contemplative. Being alone in nature, making music, worshipping the Sacred, truly being with a baby, many things can open the door to going beyond identification with only body/mind into contact with Presence. While with my client, saying God’s name in my heart, feeling embodied in a centered and grounded way, cultivating compassion, these help me find the way back to remembrance of Presence.
Do you have any recommendations for what a family can do together as a part of the spiritual healing process?
A family or any group of caregivers can create a group activity in which they meet in the space beyond where problems exist-group meditation, praying aloud, chanting, walking in nature, worshipping, singing-together touching the Sacred. Then when they come back to the daily business of caregiving, they can remember where they met and not take the stresses, disagreements, disappointments, and successes of their caregiving so personally or so seriously.
What do you tell a caregiver to do when they are burnt out and exhausted?
When caregiving the dying, quality of time spent is more important than quantity of time. If you are getting burnt out, you are no longer modeling the precious healing possibility of the situation for the dying client. If at all logistically possible, take enough time for yourself, time to reconnect, so that when the opportunity arises to contact the true place beyond the drama with your client, you will be available.
How important is it for a caregiver to have a support network?
This depends on how strong and robust our internal support network is. Can we remain clearly aware, centered and grounded, open-hearted, during the caregiving process? Do we lose touch with our-self as we try to ‘help’? To the extent that we keep getting caught in the role of helper, to that extent an external support network is important-friends, therapist, support group, meditation group.
What obstacles do caregivers come up against when trying to use caregiving as a spiritual practice?
Caregiving the dying will uncover areas of the psyche where we are not free more directly than virtually any other activity. Being intimate with death reveals our fear of death, and for each of us, our fear of death is exactly the outline of where we are lost in separateness, where we are caught in suffering. All of us, even those who have no conscious fear of death, pull back at times from a full embrace of life. See “The Shadow of Death” article in the Education section of our website for a more complete discussion of this issue.
What kinds of transformations have you seen caregivers go through?
Their lives become essentialized-more and more they treat the important as important and the unimportant as unimportant. Compassion for themselves and others grows. The utter preciousness of life, of this moment, is revealed.
© Dale Borglum 2013