An Alternative Perspective, Understanding, and Myths for Caregivers and the Caregiver in All of Us for Greater Health, Happiness, and Effectiveness
As a practicing shaman for over 12 years now, I’ve found myself in the company of many clients that are themselves healers, caregivers, and shamans of all kinds with a common thread of what I call the caretaker and hero archetypes. The myths, stories, and religions of modern western culture place a great value on those who would sacrifice their own wellbeing to help others. Our society rewards and values sacrifice and heroism in caregiving, and admonishes the notion that the caregiver can thrive and be happy in the face of another who is suffering and in need. The critical flaws in these myths and perceptions however create an unsustainable long-term solution to truly helping and empowering both patient and healer, both of whom can be interchangeable at any given moment.
Through my own experiences, my client work, and decades of observation I have found an alternative approach and views that lead to both greater effectiveness in care and at the same time a healthier and happier caregiver. I would first like to introduce the possibility that a caregiver can provide all that is needed by the patient in terms of physical and emotional comfort, healing, dignity, value and the ability to receive gracefully and unconditionally versus with guilt, from a place of true joy, ease, and unattachment to the outcome. In other words, the caregiver does not need to be motivated by feeling the pain and suffering of the patient, and their desire to alleviate that pain and suffering in both the patient and themselves.
I think it is important to clarify some of the words that we use in describing the acts of helping others, because the words that we use have a powerful influence on our perceptions and the structure of our myths and ultimately our physical and emotional experiences. I will start with the words empathy, apathy, and compassion. Empathy literally means to feel and experience someone else’s pain or pathology. To a shaman, and to everyone in terms of intuition, this is a valuable tracking skill to gather data and build rapport in a very direct way from soul to soul and directly into the nervous system and brain. We also collect data and build rapport through our 5 senses with words, gestures, and body language. The problem that often arises with empathy is that after the data collecting and rapport, instead of disengaging the communication line, the empathic caregiver tends to continue to feel and inform their own body, soul, and mind with the patient’s issues. Imagine now doing this with 10 or more patients a day. If you understand the science of placebo effect, prayer, or law of attraction, whatever most influences the signals within and coming from us, will eventually manifest in our physical and emotional experience. In other words, the caregiver’s own physical and emotional life can take on more pain and suffering in one form or another.
Under this typical scenario of unchecked empathy, the caregiver either takes on various forms of illness and dis-ease themselves, or they develop resentment and barriers as a form of unconscious protection. And of course society exalts the ones who suppress their own pain and suffering as a result of their service, and despises the one who expresses their pain or bitterness, thus, perpetuating the cycle. As a shaman, one of the most valuable tools that I offer my caregiver clients in a addition to clearing the patterns of the wounded healer, caretaker, or hero, is a simple technique for disengaging the chord or energetic communication line after engaging with each patient or client, or even guest, friend, co-worker or family member. It can be as simple as running your hand down the center of your body. Another important gift is recognizing, facilitating, calling on, and witnessing a patient’s direct connection to all the healing forces and beings of both physical and non-physical Nature as well as their own self-healing capabilities.
This leads us to what most people have learned to consider a very bad word, which is apathy. The caregiver though, must learn to appreciate the word apathy, and the idea that you can be of great service even when you don’t feel the other’s pain. In fact, you can argue that it is more selfless (if you consider that to be good) to choose to act from that place. Otherwise, the real reason you may be helping is the selfish desire to rid the pain and suffering in you, by ridding the pain and suffering in the other. In Shamanism and Psychology, we call this healing yourself through your clients; where instead ideally you would have done most of your healing before seeing clients. Paradoxically, the more the caretaker achieves that level of unattachment, the more powerful their gifts become.
But making the distinction has I have between selfishness and selflessness is only to help bring clarity to what might have been the caregiver’s motivation, as shaman’s do not consider selflessness or selfishness to be either good or bad. Indeed, it is of great service to take care of yourself and follow your own desires, and it is of great service to be available and generous towards others in a selfless way as long as no resentment is built up. Both are actually compatible and good under the shaman’s perspective and alternative approach to caregiving. So apathy when not directly engaged in tracking your client and unattachment to outcome are states that actually help the caregiver to be even more effective in their work for more sustainable and easy period of time.
So the question I get a lot is: If you as caregiver are not driven by your own pain or past wounds as either perpetrator or victim and possible redemption, nor by need to alleviate the pain and suffering of your patient, then why or how could you be a caregiver? Setting aside doing any job just for the money, which is another subject altogether, this leads us to the word compassion. The word literally means ‘with the passion of another’. If caregiver and patient, and all the variations in between, share a common passion for a healthy and happy life then you are in a state of compassion. And when people share a common passion or goal, they tend to enjoy working together towards that goal, and tend to attract the life force that feels good and helps each and everyone to thrive. Then ultimately the work we choose is based on our gifts and desire to express those gifts in the world and have them well received. Thus, if you have the gift of being a caregiver and enjoy it, it helps to come to it from this shamanic approach with all of the tools, and previous healing necessary to get out of prolonged empathy and into compassion and to help you patients also understand their role in this dynamic so that they can fully receive your gifts. The result is greater empowerment, health, and happiness for all.