As the new leaves and flowers spring up, I thought it was the perfect time to get back to talking about optimism in caregiving. As a caregiver, we’re often buried in the stress of a long list of To Do’s. When someone suggests that you should take time for yourself, you might laugh. Or maybe you get offended. As if it’s easy to just walk away from the demands of caregiving. For me, even the minutes to myself don’t seem to heal my stress because I can’t stop thinking about all the things I still need to do.
Spring is the perfect time to take a fresh view and rethink how we deal with the stress of caregiving. If we want to find peace of mind in our every day lives, we should take some advice from world renowned Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He teaches mindfulness as a way to find peace in our everyday lives. Here are just a few of his teachings that could help you deal with the day-to-day stress and may even help you find more joy in your caregiving duties:
(side note: Please keep reading after the quote. I know it may sound absurd in light of your stress, but just think about it another way, as I summarize after the quote.)
“When we walk like we are rushing, we print anxiety and sorrow on the earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth…Be aware of the contact between your feet and the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Thich Nhat Hanh
How many times have you been forcefully slowed down by another person’s gait? Do you get annoyed? anxious? antsy to get around them? Do you rush from your car to your destination like the extra seconds mean life or death? When I think of this, I think of all the times I rushed through my days when I was helping care for my aunt while she was in a rehab facility. During that time, it seemed that I was rushing from moment to moment in my life.
I would rush to drop off my daughter at school, so I could hurry and pick up slurpies from 7-11, so I could rush to get to the rehab facility and run to deliver them to my aunt and her fabulous caregivers. Did I give my daughter a proper goodbye? Or did I say I love you as if on autopilot? Did I really see the salesperson who rang up my order, or did I rush through my payment as if that person was a robot? Normally, buying slurpies if fun. But if I’m only thinking about getting back in the car to drive frantically to my destination, how could I enjoy the experience. And does thinking about my next move really help? No. I know how to get into the car and drive.
And what if I tripped while rushing along the sidewalk to hurry and get inside to deliver the drinks? Then it all would have been a waste for the extra half minute I saved.
And when I arrived at the rehab facility, was I anxious as I rushed in the door? Did I bring anxiety with me? What if…I was present in each moment, as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches.
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh
So…driving to school would still take the same amount of time, but I could use that time to share a beautiful moment with my daughter as we each start our day. I could be present in the moment as my daughter got out of the car and say I love you like she was the most important person in my life – in that moment – sending her off to school on a positive note, which will translate into a better attitude in her classroom and all day. I could enjoy the experience of filling the cup with the sweet icy drink, knowing I am bringing joy to someone else. Why not enjoy that experience? And I just might enjoy a moment of sunshine (or a beautiful snowflake) as I walk from the car to the building taking each step like I’m kissing the earth. And if I walk like I’m kissing the earth, I will enter my aunt’s room with love, leaving anxiety and sorrow behind.
Sound sappy? Maybe. But it’s real.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” Thich Nhat Hanh
We need to retrain our brains to be present in the life you are living, at the moment you are living it. Ask yourself why you are so anxious to rush through what you’re doing? Because you are trying to get so much done? Go back to making a list. Then schedule your tasks. You may find that it’s impossible to get everything done in your waking hours. So pick. What must you get done? Find solutions, a.k.a. get help. Schedule what you can only realistically do, and free yourself of the burden of worry. Then, when you perform each task, you are free to be present in that task. If it’s getting someone dressed. Be there. If it’s making a meal. Be there. If it’s cleaning up a mess. Be there. Dreading it won’t make it go away. Getting it done will. And with a positive attitude, you will get positive energy back.
“Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path.” Thich Nhat Hanh
And of course, a Cravaat® dining scarf adult bib can help. It’s your helper during meals, to keep clothes clean so you won’t have to change, or scrub out stains.
If you want to explore more about the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, go to plumvillage.org.