Nora and Joe are an elderly couple and have been in relationship for many years. They maintain their own residences and typically spend weekends together. Nora’s children live out-of-state and rely on Joe to ‘look after’ their mother. They love to travel together and this winter they are planning a trip to England where she grew up. Joe told me the other day that he does not think it is a good idea for Nora to travel any longer. He said, “Mary, I feel guilty because she really wants to go on this trip, but I know I won’t have any fun. I will be worrying about her and will need to keep an eye on her all the time. I am aging myself and only have a certain amount of stamina. Her daughter expects me to do everything for her mother and I just can’t do it. I feel so badly about it and sometimes I feel selfish because I want to spend more time by myself. It is very upsetting to me and I don’t know what to do.”
Those of us who have been conditioned to take care of others so often feel like we are being selfish (or are concerned other people will think we are selfish) if we can’t do for others what we think we should do. The key here is the word ‘should.’ We oftentimes live in a mind that has very particular ideas about how we (and everyone else) should be and this totally leaves us out of the equation. Letting go of ‘shoulds’ allows us to listen to our wisdom self that helps us to see what is appropriate in any given situation.
Life is a flow and it has currents. When you are faced with challenges, like taking care of a loved one who is ill or aging, it is important to stay in touch with your own currents. The first step in discovering how to move beyond the judgmental idea of being selfish is to discover that listening to yourself is not selfish. It is ‘self-full.’ I suggested to Joe that he is being self-full rather than selfish and I invited him to be with the question: “What do I need to do or say that is for the highest good for myself, Nora and her family?” without looking for the answer.
Because most of us have been trained to leave ourselves out of the equation, caregivers for the ill and elderly often get burned out. If you are faced with serving others in a caregiver role, the most important person you need to serve first and foremost is yourself. When you are being self-full, you are including you in the equation. You are listening for what is your truth in this situation. Only then can you serve others in a skillful and loving way.
In order to discover your truth in any given situation, it is important to realize that we all have a Judger inside of us that is constantly coming up with ideas of how we should be and berating us for coming up short. This Judger is like a cloud bank that covers your own truth. The more you befriend the judgmental voices in your head, the more they calm down, making it much easier to listen for your truth. And the amazing thing is that, as you unhook from your ‘shoulds’ and act from what is for your highest good, you discover that even though it may not seem like it in the moment, your actions will be for the highest good of everyone concerned.
I invite you to contemplate the idea of shifting from the harsh judgement of being ‘selfish’ to being ‘self-full’. Then ask yourself in any challenging situation, “What is my truth here?” You may not be able to act upon it just yet, for it can be challenging to live from your truth, especially since so many of us have been trained to be the “right kind of person” rather than our authentic self. At least be willing to ask yourself what is your truth. Know that the more you discover and then learn how to live from your own truth, the more you are in alignment with the great flow of Life.