The enlightened caregiver

Are you the primary caregiver for someone going through mental illness? If so, you have been given a riddle. It may be one of the most difficult riddles to solve. This site will try to help you solve it. But first let's look at the riddle:

What is the antidote to "mental illness"?

We can ask it another way. What is the opposite of mental illness? Mental health. What is the opposite of insanity? Sanity. Let's search back through history and ask ourselves, who were the most mentally healthy, sane people ever?

They were the ones who were enlightened. And what was their effect on the people around them? They helped the people they came into contact with become more mentally healthy--more sane.

OK, so then maybe enlightenment is the antidote to mental illness. Your enlightenment. That's right. It's first about you. It's not about your family member, yet. Think about it for a minute. How much energy have you put into making your family member sane? Has it worked? If not, then maybe it's time to take a look at yourself.

What if you were enlightened? Would it help? Maybe it's time to ask yourself that question.  What would your caregiving look like if you dealt with your own stress, your own lack of compassion, your own mental or emotional disturbances, your own dysfunctions, your own mental chatter, your own unusual beliefs or perceptions.   Maybe instead of examining your loved one so closely, it's time to examine yourself and your basic experience of living.  Maybe that's a step that was missing so far.

And that's what this site is about. It's about bringing the sanity of a zen master to the world of mental illness.

How does knowing yourself make you a better caregiver? It seems paradoxical, because you'd think a caregiver wants to help others, rather than know himself or herself. But, in fact it's just the opposite. The more you know yourself, the more you will know life as it is rather than some warped way you want it to be, and this will allow you to respond appropriately to the needs of the moment.

Your needs, your loved one's needs

What does that mean--to respond to the "needs of the moment"? In today's world, the needs seem very different than the world of a zen master in a monastery, right? We have jobs and kids and relationships and loans and so on. Plus we have email. And social media. And more stuff than any zen master ever had. Not only that, on top of it all, we are tasked with being the caregiver of our beloved family member or friend.

So, when we speak of self knowledge, we must take the old spiritual traditions (like Zen) and apply them to our modern day world. We must examine all aspects of our lives in a deeper way than normal. The intent of this site is to help you identify some key aspects of your life and how to pay attention to them in such a way as to bring about self-knowledge, a deep understanding, and balance--which leads to loving and effective caregiving.

This site

While the information on this site may be similar on the surface to other things you have read about caregiving for someone going through mental illness, I think you'll find it goes beyond most caregiving resources. Each topic covers practical ground, but also helps you understand its essence from the perspective of that indescribable, unchangeable awareness, that is at the core of you and everyone, including the person for whom you are caregiving.

I have explored the topics of this site as a primary caregiver myself over many years and have also trained hundreds of other families to become more healthy and sane. Some people really saw the power of this approach, and others less. This sort of spiritual caregiving doesn't resonate with everyone. It is for people who exhibit the following 5 characteristics to some degree.

The 5 characteristics

People who fit these 5 characteristics have an easier shot at solving the riddle of mental illness in the family. Are you one of them? These are people who:

  1. truly want to see the inherent sanity in someone with mental illness, who know there is that same spark of divinity in their loved one as in themselves.
  2. sense there is deep wisdom that comes from silence and solitude and are willing to go through the metamorphosis that real silence can provide.
  3. know that superficial "recovery" is just a bandaid. True sanity is a process that does not lend itself to quick solutions. If insanity took hold over many years, it is likely that sanity will spring forth and blossom over years too.
  4. are willing to trust themselves--that wise, steady aspect of themselves--and willing to trust life itself in allowing the process of sanity to happen.
  5. have some intuition that mental illness in someone very close to you can be viewed as a gift in your life, as difficult as that may be to accept.

The content of this website draws on the wisdom of deep meditation, but it is nothing new. In one form or another, it has been discovered by thousands of people over the ages and you can discover these same lessons yourself if you pay attention.

The hidden potential in your situation

In fact, attention is what this site is all about. If you want to know anything deeply, just observe very carefully. This is especially important if you are the primary caregiver of someone going through mental illness. Why? Because you are in the perfect storm that can blow you toward enlightenment.

Spending day in and day out with someone who is going through mental illness can be incredibly painful. Excruciating, actually. You have to watch as your loved one deteriorates before your eyes and then help them recover, all the while not knowing a darn thing about sanity yourself. The agony of this unsolvable riddle is the perfect fuel you need to propel yourself toward ultimate sanity, in turn putting yourself in the best position possible to help your loved one.

Why zen?

When my own family member became ill back in the early nineties, I started seeking out spiritual traditions that taught the way to enlightenment. After all, wouldn't someone who was enlightened, who had become truly sane, be the perfect guide for someone who had lost their sanity? (I bet I'm not the only one who has thought this way.)

Fast forward 20 years. My family member is doing very well.  And I went through the meditative journey.   And oh, how long and difficult the journey was! Turns out you have to actually face your own hidden insanity to truly help someone else become sane. In titling this website "zencaregiver", I use the word "zen" to represent the essence of spiritual traditions that have meditation as the heart of their practice. One reason meditation is so powerful is because it helps you face your fundamental fear in the most comprehensive, visceral, and harmless way possible.

Every step is worth it

It is worth it to see your journey this way. Every step of the way is worth it. As the primary caregiver for someone with mental illness, the road that leads to enlightened caregiving is the safe road because it uses the inherent power in your situation to its full advantage. It's as if your situation is a powder keg and you want to make sure you don't blow yourself up, but instead that you rocket yourself and your loved one to sanity.

As you take little conscious steps, you will slowly feel more confidence in yourself and more inner peace. Sure, there are difficult periods.  It's not all fun and games.  But over time, you will go through distinct stages ending in a deep indescribable realization. That realization will ground you like nothing else, and will, over time--if you let it--bring you to true, effective caregiving. Caregiving that is not grounded in this realization is less helpful, because all help that does not come from an untainted place is colored slightly with one's own hidden insanity. And that means you are trying to lead someone out of the morass while being stuck in it yourself to some degree!

Just get practical

If enlightenment sounds extreme or woo-woo or just too much for you to consider when daily life is tough enough, don't worry. This site is actually about all the simple, practical things you can do as you journey on the path toward being a loving and effective caregiver. We'll focus on where the rubber meets the road. The rubber of spirituality meets the road of life in the practical realities of everyday life. It's about doing what is appropriate at every moment, in a simple, down-to-earth, almost invisible way.

As a next step, you can take a look at your own situation. See how stressed out you are. While stress is usually viewed as something very negative, you can use stress, use the incredible energy inherent in stress, to realize your own inherent sanity. So, as a next step, check out caregiver stress and see if you can relate a little...