Spiritual Listening for Caregivers and Others
Caregiving requires so many different skills and talents. It also requires a certain mindset.
Taking care of an elderly or disabled adult is not at all like taking care of a child. We have to be respectful to both, of course. But with the adult, we have to relate to him or her as a peer. We even have to respect decisions we don’t “approve” of. As in, Who are we to judge anyone’s behavior but our own?
It’s tough. Every relationship is different, and needs change as conditions change for the cared-for as well as the caregiver.
Enter Nancy Pearce, author of Inside Alzheimer’s: How to Hear and Honor Connections with a Person who has Dementia. Despite its title, her book isn’t just about dealing with people with dementia. It’s also about good listening to anyone, any time.
I consider the kind of listening she describes as spiritual listening. It’s about spending time with a person, in their world, long enough and carefully enough to hear what they truly want and need. It’s choosing to see their inner light. Here’s how it works:
1. Give up the need to be right. If you can just drop the need to know or be right, Pearce says, you might be able to come to an understanding that’s different from either person’s initial position. Out of openness comes understanding. Out of understanding comes connection, and out of connection comes healing. When we’re connected, anything can happen, and does.
2. Find something to admire. When you can access within yourself a sense of something you like about another person—maybe it’s the way he smiles, or her passion for old movies—you’ve got the key into your own state of loving, says Pearce. Thinking of what you love about someone while you’re with him or her creates a powerful dynamic where what needs to happen does happen.
3. Dare to be silent. We live in so much noise! How can we love and be loved with all the chatter, the information overflow? Simple but not easy—run silent, run deep. Don’t feel you have to fill up the spaces with chatter. Sometimes when we are quiet, the other person dares to move towards us emotionally. Try it.
4. Be grateful. Thankfulness is so incredibly powerful. It’s pretty tough to be distanced from another person when we are counting our blessings. Feeling appreciative softens us, makes us more approachable—and happy. Happiness creates connection, and connection is where our strength lies. This is true for individuals, families, groups, communities—heck, the whole world when you think about it.
5. Decide to love. Wiser folks than I have observed that what we focus on tends to grow. Especially when we have to deal with someone who’s difficult, it makes sense to set our intention to offer compassion and kindness. We don’t have to—shouldn’t—let others run roughshod over us. That’s not love, that’s martyrdom. But if each day we consciously commit to treating ourselves and others with kindness and generosity, we are absolutely guaranteed the best possible day. And everybody wins.
When she isn’t blogging for ThirdAge, Gay Norton Edelman writes about spirituality, relationships and balanced living for publications such as Beliefnet, "Family Circle," "Guideposts," "Parents," "Parenting," "Prevention" and others. A wife of 33 years, she lives suburban New Jersey where her hobbies include gardening, reading novels and napping. She is at work on her first book, "The Hungry Ghost," a self-help memoir about her 100-pound weight loss 17 years ago. You can read more of her work at www.gayedelman.com.Click here to comment.