Caregivers are compassionate. It is their nature. For most humans it is their nature and very natural to care. It can be an exhausting job though. Sometimes the compassion well feels pretty dry and empty. Oftentimes, caregivers are not the first to notice the symptoms of empty well or exhaustion until they are just about at the end of the caring rope.
It feels awful. I know. I’ve been there.
But where do you turn?
I turned to counselling. I turned to prescription drugs for depression. But neither were enough.
Until I began searching and seeking for a way that was natural, had no side-effects, and was virtually free, I was flailing. I felt like I was sinking. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the face in front of me.
Then over a year, I dug my way out. I found joy and I found the me I remembered. It was so wonderful that I wanted to share my how.
But first I had to develop the step-by-step method. That took me another year and a bit. With the help of my wise woman, academic advisor, Reinekke Lengelle I have developed my methodology into something that others have found as helpful as I did.
I call it “Wordscaping”. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explain with pictures just what it is.
I am trusting that you will find it worthwhile to try it.
It’s a good way to practice self-care even if you are not a frontline caregiver.
Clickety, clack, talking back
Crow sits, watches intently
he— Resting in old tree
Me—Sipping cuppa tea
Lone souls he and me
Early last spring a messenger came to me. He perched in the ancient oak tree outside my studio and peered into the window inquisitively. Crows are very curious.
Image found here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Crow/id
All the while I was sitting there tippy tapping on my keyboard, this crow watched me, tilting his head this way and that like he was wondering what I was all about.
We connected on some deep level—me trapped inside and this bit of wild mystery. I named him “Clawed”, he didn’t seem to mind.
After a long while I got up from my perch and went to the cellar to gather some cracked corn and sunflower seeds. I threw them beneath the oak among the walking stones in the moss garden.
Clawed watched intently, cawed his thanks from his more distant perch atop the shed at the back of the property and returned when I retreated back into the house.
I worried whether Clawed would get much of that gift.
You see, he earned his name – he had a badly damaged right foot and I thought other more agile corvids might scoop up this easy meal. But day after day, we practiced this ritual and all the other birds respected the agreement – contract if you will – between Clawed and me. They ate at the back feeder and under it. Rarely venturing to the deck and walking stones nearer the house; and only after Clawed had had his fill.
I’ve since learned that this is the way of crow. Crow takes care of the injured and old – it’s like they respect the challenges of those less agile and able than they.
I’m always learning new things about crow and this time, I gained even more respect for crow than I already possessed.
Since childhood when we had a pet crow on the farm, I’ve been drawn to crows. I love the raucous cawing early mornings. I know the feeders are safe for the songbirds and wee ones – safe from the gluttonous starlings and grackles.
But crows do more than caw, caw, caw. They have a rich language of chortles, clicks and even purrs. Overhearing two or three crows communicating, you feel that each of those sounds are like phonemes of a true language full of secrets. Few have cracked the code, but the ancient Druids certainly tried so that they could learn the magical powers and obtain the secret knowledge they believed each crow possessed.
Crows are cunning Tricksters. And that’s maybe not what you might think. They are cleverer than we imagine. Do you remember the Aesop’s tale about the thirsty crow? He found a pitcher with a little bit of water on the bottom. He couldn’t reach that water. But he used his noggin. He began dropping pebbles into that pitcher until the water rose enough for him to dip his parched beak into it and quench his thirst.
From childhood, I remember that they love the glitter of sunshine on objects. They need resilience to endure the vagaries of weather and they need a good sense of humour to carry them through the hard times.
When I was a little girl, and I lost a barrette, I’d find it in the rafters of the derelict barn … our pet crow rocking above me on a high branch laughing in mirth at our game. You see he wasn’t laughing AT me, but WITH ME. That makes all the difference. From this, I take it that he not only likes a good joke, but wanted me to know that he admired my taste.
Clawed taught me about resilience, dealing with weather whether I liked it or not, and he demonstrated a great sense of humour and respect for the other, those different from himself.
Three seasons I enjoyed Clawed’s company.
Those were three lonely seasons or they would have been so if not for Clawed’s company. You really can’t be in a bad mood around a solitary crow. There was always some kind of conversation going on. Great conversationalists they are, but not gossips. They know how to keep a secret. Clawed and I mostly talked about ideas. I wrote, clackety clack and he echoed the sounds of the keyboard and my words.
Why am I telling you all this today?
I recently had surgery and got to feeling kind of trapped, housebound because of cold, damp weather and then I remembered Clawed and focused on the good, on what I could do, not what I couldn’t.
Clawed, wounded and different, just carried on. He found a friend to cheer on – me – and we developed a symbiotic relationship – a relationship rooted on mutual need and compassion. Clawed understood that he was supported by a circle of friends whether or not he could see them or even understand them.
So I resolved to do the same, to seek out opportunities to do and be all I could do and be and to help others to do the same.
I learned from him to fix what I could, however I could, but to admit to what I couldn’t fix, change, or make different—like other people or the limitations that I lived with day by day.
For me those limitations were short term and have pretty much subsided. The surgery was a roaring success and every day I need to express my undying gratitude to the surgeon (Dr. Patrik Nechala) the surgeon who assisted (Dr. John Caulfeild), anesthesiologist, nurses … oh just everyone who spent long hours helping me right after the surgery. And to friends who visited, brought food for Jeff and me. Their compassion and caring held us through some shaky times. I still remember that first taste of tomato juice as a friend and I sat and talked poetry.
It turns out, I have to say thanks to surgery for slowing me down so that I could have these kinds of experiences. We tend to take too much for granted. We tend to miss so many opportunities to connect.
I managed to keep busy during this past month while I recovered. Since I couldn’t really eat what I normally would, being on a liquid diet, I found things that weren’t energy draining, but that were productive just the same. And I found that I was content almost all the time. I wasn’t in pain. I wasn’t hungry. And I certainly wasn’t bored. I felt supported by my circle of friends (and family) and indeed that circle seemed to grow.
I watched for him again this year, hoping against hope that our bond carried him over a stark, hungry winter. I made sure there was always cracked corn out in the back feeder and some under the oak.
But he didn’t return. His work here is done.
And I bow to him in gratitude.
Photo Credit: http://theblissfollower.com/2013/07/02/why-i-say-namaste/
Tomorrow a poem…
Twice in the past few days I have read similar versions of the following story (which I paraphrase):
“A troubled pilgrim, exhausted from the journey, asked a sage for help. The sage gazed compassionately into the pilgrim’s eyes and after a time he spoke, “I can offer you one of two things – a map or a boat.”
The pilgrim thought a few moments and then said, “I’ll take the boat.”
The gentle sage kissed him on the forehead saying, “Go then in peace. You are the boat. Life is the river.”
I supposed it resonated with me because I was … am … that pilgrim. Feeling unmoored and adrift, I ache for “home” without knowing exactly where that might be or precisely what it will look like when or if I do find it.
Feeling like I don’t fit, I transpose that feeling onto so many people who are rooted in this place. Rooted and complacent in this organization or that group. Sometimes, I resent their unquestioning acceptance that they belong; that they are at home.
But this story reminds me that home isn’t a place … although it very well might be to some. We carry home within as we journey. And life is a journey.
Yes, we are all pilgrims, on a journey; it behooves us to listen to these words of wisdom from David Foster Wallace…
“Our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”
It’s been a week since I journalled … until this morning. Now for some, and for me at other times in my life, this would be no news, a big yawn, a so what kind of revelation. But I am a transformative language coach. In other words, I assist people to become mindful through expressing themselves … often through words, but just as often through a combination of words and images.
You might think I’d feel awful confessing this. You might and I am surprised that this has happened, but I am not contrite or apologetic here. I am just noticing this. I am not even trying to explain it to you or – more astonishingly – to me.
What I have been able to do in this week’s time and space is to halfway finish a pair of socks (winter is breathing down our necks here in this neck of the woods), finish a book (the making of, not the reading of) for my 16 year-old grandson, finish 4 mini-albums, draw in my sketchbook daily and get up early every morning to do yoga and meditate. And yet as I say this I realize that I am not in that space called driven doing. I am doing but I am also noticing, paying attention.
It is a puzzle that my journal has rarely beckoned to me and that I have even more rarely acknowledged that beckoning, but for the moment I am just noticing.
I suppose the only reason I am able to even share this is that I did in fact share some time writing in my journal and plan to do more journal time this weekend when we venture up the Bruce Peninsula for some very grateful together time.
It is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and though I don’t celebrate the official holiday, there’s never a moment not to be grateful from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head.
These few words are more an invitation to you to practice self-compassion and to be grateful for this present moment … knowing that you are precious and perfect (with much room for improvement as many of our beloved teachers tell us) and that this moment is all we have. Time is fleeting…relish every moment!
Spent a most delightful morning in the presence of a wonderful woman. What an indulgence. Sadly, an indulgence we often deny ourselves. To be with someone who fills our cup and loves us just as we are in this present moment. An act of mindfulness that is also a gift to self. I am blessed to have discovered this … at long last … that I am enough, that I am precious, that who I am can morph and transform and that is perfectly and imperfectly perfect.
Cutting through the fog of shoulds and oughts and could have/might have beens…to see the real beauty that lies within.
And to top it off a writing colleague who lives in the UK — Peter Forster — posted this in a private group just this morning… I’m excerpting of course… If you click on the links you can read more about him and of his writing.
to see the world anew.
And that’s what my dear friend does. She allows me to see the world anew, every view, texture, hue. And when I do that I grow through the mundanities and inanities of this world’s day to day. (If I made those words up, I’m sure you know what I mean.) And when I see the world in its fullness, every nuance, in the present moment, then, and only then, and only sometimes, things fall into place and the world makes sense in its senselessness.
So I owe a debt to both Peter and Louise for their gift of presence, sharing, and allowing me to see myself through another’s eyes.