“Caring for” Someone or “Care taking” Someone Makes a Big Difference

“…teach us to care, and not to care and to be still…” ~ T.S. Eliot

Last week I was honored to be invited to speak to about a hundred folks at a Co-dependents Anonymous (CoAD) meeting in California. I told them, among other things, that one way I continue to work with my own and my clients’ tendencies to put other people’s needs and feelings before my own to my detriment and exhaustion is to keep making the distinction between “caring for” someone and “care taking” someone.

While I explain the differences more fully in my new book, The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later, I want to give a shorter version here —” Care taking” is usually done out of a sense of obligation or duty. We feel like we don’t have a choice, and anytime there is the feeling of choice-less-ness, there is likely going to be some regression involved where we are hurled back to childhood when we didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Caring for” is most often going to leave us feeling grateful that we can be of help and support while “care-taking” is tiring, exhausting and, more often than not, creates some resentment and even anger because we would rather be doing something else with our limited time and energy. “Caring for” leaves us energized, fulfilled, and even joyful. We feel like compassionate adults who consciously make a decision to comfort, nurture, help or be there for someone in some kind of way.

Most of us were raised with the terrible notion that because someone is biologically related to us that we must or are supposed to “take care” of them even if it is draining us and keeping us from living our lives. Also, interestingly, the one receiving the “care-taking” can feel “one down,” infantilized, patronized, and less than the one providing “care taking” and often are guilty of feeling little or no gratitude.

“Caring for” comes out of compassion and love, and “care taking” comes out of guilt – trying to be a “people pleaser.”

 Novelist Eleanor Brown wrote, “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

 

What Now?

Thoughts and Poetic Direction

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra

No matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in you will come to Berra’s forks in the road. Most folks have four prongs pointing forward, none to the past unless you turn the fork on yourself and stick it in you to see if you’re done. People ask me all the time, “When will I be done?” My silly reply has always been the same, “Only steaks get done.”

Alright you’ve lost a relationship, parent, career, your youth, or a home. I, by the way, have lost all of these the last couple of years and I’ve asked myself this question every day: “So what now?” 

For many this question gets harder the older some of us get. But most of us are driven to seek out the answers anyway. Some of us go slowly and tease the answers out like pulling cotton from its stubborn boll or taking a pearl out of an oyster that doesn’t want you to have the “great prize.” Others attack the question like a bull in the china shop only to get hooked by our own horns – hooked on drugs or alcohol or other numbing processes to make us think we’re really searching for the answers, but we’re not.

To put all of this in a more poetic way, if we’re not careful during these difficult times we may, to quote William Stafford, “following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

Perhaps you are having to do what I’m doing – drawing on the support of new and old friends even though sometimes making contact using my 300-pound cell phone to call them when I’d rather pull my comforter over my head and go back to sleep. I’ve also enlisted the help of a new therapist – nope, I’m not done with therapy or 12-step meetings.

I also have to keep cultivating good crops of patience, something I don’t grow very well because I want the answers to “What now?” When? Now, damit!

Then I re-read T.S. Eliot’s words one more time:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Another thing I try to remember is to pay deep attention to my body and a little less to my mind – thank you T.S.

I recall the words of the Sufi poet Rumi: “Let the body speak openly now without your saying a word, as a student’s walking behind a teacher says, this one knows more clearly the way.”

And if I don’t listen to my body during these tough transitional times and slow everything down I will commit way too many errors in my impulsive decision making and end up like another of Rumi’s poems:

  Who makes these changes?

  I shoot an arrow right.

  It lands left.

  I ride after a deer and find myself

  Chased by a hog.

  I plot to get what I want

  And end up in prison.

  I dig pits to trap others

  And fall in.

  I should be suspicious

  Of what I want.

Translated by Coleman Bark

So I hope this short post, while not answering yours or my question: “What now?” provides a little comfort and some poetic pointers to the way forward.

You are not alone and I’ll give Rilke the last words for now: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror…” and “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”