Caring for the Caregiver: Appreciating the Supportive Power of Stillness

Dr. Phyllis Quinlan
Dr. Phyllis Quinlan

Lessons Learned from the ancient book of wisdom; The Toa Te Ching: Verse Eleven

Thirty spokes join in one hub In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle Mix clay to create a container In its emptiness, there is the function of a container Cut open doors and windows to create a room In its emptiness, there is the function of a room

Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit That which is empty is used to create functionality

 Lao Tzu


I have often heard Pema Chodron say in her audiobooks that the goal of meditation is to make the space between two thoughts longer. In this verse of the Tao, Lao Tzu provides the ancient foundation for that teaching. He reminding us that the emptiness within a container is what makes it useful.The empty form created by the spokes of a wheel is what provides strength and function for the cart or wagon. So it seems that the lesson is to understand that, much of what we need to function as a whole lies within our silent core. 

Silence or better yet, stillness is not something that Caregivers are often comfortable with experiencing. Caregivers are doers/fixers so it naturally follows that their comfort zone lies within the boundaries of being busy and joy is defined as the ability to multitask well. The paradox is that Caregivers view inactivity as wasteful and annoying but they often lament that they cannot wait for some “down time”.

It is not uncommon to hear Caregiversdescribe that “down time” as crashing. Family caregivers speak about crashing on the couch or bed at the end of the day. Many of my colleagues arrive to work on Monday describing how they crashed over the weekend. I am still guilty of this practice from time to time. The thing we need to contemplate is our need to drive ourselves to the point of exhaustion.

Is it superstition? If we don’t work till be drop, will something bad happen? Is it fear of what others might say about us? Is consistently pushing yourself beyond endurance really going to create positive gossip? Why is stopping or stepping aside to allow others to contribute; or do their share so uncomfortable? The answer is indeed, in the stillness where silence lives.

The first time I actually tried to meditate, I thought I would wiggle a hole in my jeans. Still my mind, I could even sit still! I kept rationalizing that this stillness was bad for my arthritis but that argument went out the window as I found walking mediation frustrating and anxiety provoking.  Sitting in silence takes courage. Imagine being subjected to the onslaught if all the thoughts in your head as you struggle to make the space between each of those thoughts longer. However, what Caregivers initially lack in courage they make up in discipline until they can access their courage.

So I sincerely recommend trying to challenge yourself with practicing stillness. Find the discipline to sit quietly several times a week if only for ten minutes and discover the peace that can only be found at your core. Work up to a daily ritual of meditation. You will slowly find the courage to sit with the noise as it gently transition to quite space with time. The answers are in that wonderful, peaceful stillness.


Respectfully submitted by:

Phyllis Quinlan, RN-Bc, PhD    718 661 498

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