Caregiving can feel overwhelming. Whether we’re a solitary companion caring for our loved one or an unsupported professional laboring under a high caseload, it sometimes feels like we’re bearing more responsibility than we can carry.
Contemplative traditions have developed ways of mining deep wellsprings of energy and connection to help us become more effective and sustainable caregivers. One of those spiritual technologies is the practice of touching our essential interconnection using objects and rituals. Let’s look at how we can use this contemplative wisdom in our caregiving.
Symbols of Connection
Our culture tells us that we are separate. We value the ‘self-made man,’ the Lone Ranger, the independent woman. In one sense, we are separate. I am me and you are you. But in a deeper sense, we are intimately connected. The ‘self-made man’ may look like a lush island floating in a hostile sea, but he’s actually just the visible tip of a huge underwater mountain. The Lone Ranger is only alone until you zoom out to see Tonto, his horse, the costume designer and cameraman. The independent woman’s achievement is inter-dependent upon countless generations of women who planted and tended the seeds of her success.
Contemplative wisdom helps us move beyond our illusion of separation and utilize the power of interconnection. We don’t have to do it alone because we aren’t alone. As a separate self, we do all we can within the boundaries of our skills and energy, but then we can learn to let go and trust that our interconnected self is there to help.
Trusting our interconnected self takes training. We’ve already been trained to see our separateness, but it takes conscious practice to see and enjoy our connection. The first step is to recognize the symbols that reflect your experience of connectedness. Maybe it’s a statue of The Virgin Mary, or Jesus, or Kwan Yin. Maybe it’s a Star of David or a Koran. Or it might not be a religious object at all, but instead a flower, a photograph of your grandmother, a special stone, or a souvenir of a pivotal moment. Maybe its a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King or a reminder of those who’ve struggled to set us free. What matters most are symbols that speak to you.
Rituals of Connection
Contemplatives show us how to use symbols like these to experience the power of interconnection. They make altars, shrines, icons, niches, gardens, jewelry and more to remind themselves that they are not alone. These displays may be public, like artwork or an altar, or private, like a rosary hidden beneath the clothes or a stone cradled in the pocket.
You, too, can create reminders of your interconnected power. Use your wisdom to determine what’s best. If you work in a public setting, you might prefer a private symbol. But if you offer care in your home, a visible display could work.
Either way, create a ritual that reminds you to return again and again to your symbol. When beginning your day or patient encounter, connect with your object to draw on the power of interbeing. You may pause and touch your object, bow, light a candle, or take three breaths. At day’s end or when you’re feeling depleted, return to your object and let go of your stress. You could say, ‘I’ve done my best. I entrust this person to something greater.’ Or, ‘I pray for strength and wisdom.’ Or even, ‘I don’t know what to do. Please hold me in love.’ Some people take refuge in a personal connection by invoking Allah or Jizu or St. Christopher. Others find comfort in an interconnection that transcends personality. Whatever your words, allow them to release your separate-self burden and accept support from our loving, interconnected nature.
Test this practice with your personal experience. Trust where you find relief and return there. Let go of any part that feels false or forced. I find it helps to keep my rituals dynamic and alive so that they flow with my ever-evolving insights and circumstances.
By trusting and practicing your own rituals of connection, you too can use the support of contemplative wisdom right in the middle of your own life.