Written by Liza Johnson. February 10, 2015
Huntington, NY (Published in Creations Magazine ~ October/November 2012 Vol. 26 • Issue #5
The emotional challenges of care giving my mother forced me to discover that care giving our elders is a Rite of Passage to the Wisdom Self. The Wisdom Self is not an ordinary state of mind. It is a mind set that is acquired through personal challenges and the knowledge and application of ways to guide the personality to be less reactive, deeply peaceful and compassionate, and capable of bigger vision, all qualities of Wisdom. Learning how to create this state of mind can free us from habitual patterns of reactivity that cause suffering and restrict psychological and spiritual development.
The benefit of cultivating the Wisdom Self, especially in care giving our elders, is that it can help us manage our emotions for our own mental health: to be kind when we feel angry; to stand back when we feel frustrated; to be patient when we feel resentful. All of these inner shifts can turn care giving into a journey of growth versus a journey of torment and physical harm.
Care giving can compromise the immune system. Cultivating the Wisdom Self benefits the caregiver physically, emotionally and spiritually. When understood in this way and given the tools, care giving can be a passage that furthers the evolution and refinement of our character. This evolution opens the heart to greater appreciation of self, loved ones, the preciousness of life and a sense of feeling accompanied when there is nowhere to turn.
Let’s look at the conditions that make care giving a Rite of Passage to the Wisdom Self.
1. The Vow:
The Vow ‘till death do us part’ made to oneself to care for one’s elder in some significant way is the doorway into this passage. This vow varies from person to person but the element in common is concern and responsibility for the quality of an elder’s life. This vow forces us caregivers to enter into and work through the following conditions.
2. From the ‘Roller Coaster’ ride to Inner Strength:
The turbulent sea of unpredictability forces the need to find a place of sanity. Every day is a roller coaster ride. One minute we are our elders’ saviors, the next helpless by standers. One minute we love our parents and the next we resent them. One minute we feel grateful and the next horrified. All of these emotions and situations are flowing back and forth many times during a day. Exhaustion and fear fuel the intensity. We are caught in the vow, which can feel like the glue trap of love. We are literally forced to find a way to stabilize ourselves. If we turn inward through meditation, prayer or contemplation the Wisdom Self will begin to awaken. It offers a way to hold steady. Inner strength will develop and soften places of fear and darkness.
3. From Imperfection to Forgiveness:
It is hard wired into many of us to do the best job of care giving our parents no matter how they might have failed or abused us. Often this means the impossible: rescuing them from suffering which is inherent in the dying process. Failure to protect them can be unbearable. Our self-worth can get shaken. This shake up of our worth, however, can be fertile ground for acceptance of our imperfections and qualities of wisdom to emerge: humility, compassion, forgiveness and the undeniable fact that we are all going to die.
4. From Reactivity to Personal Power:
Our parent’s fragility can help us to let go of the past and heal childhood wounds. To be able to choose the outcome of an interaction is a sign of personal power and wisdom. This “acting in integrity” builds self-respect. Feelings such as of rage, resentment and impatience can be ‘paused’ and used for more hopeful outcomes. The ability to pause furthers the development of the Wisdom Self by refining and empowering our character enabling us to transcend our personal history.
5. From Fear of Death to the Preciousness of Life:
We are forced to face our elder’s Death and therefore our own. This can open our awareness to the preciousness of life. This awareness can guide us to live more fully, opening to the possibilities for healing and transformation in the moment. This is hard won wisdom, but wisdom worth the effort!