It might seem that anybody can be a caregiver, but in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. It might also seem logical that if someone has raised a child, they could do what is required to care for another person in need. In reality, different skills and abilities are required depending on the situation, the personalities, and the particular disability involved. In my case, at the start, becoming disabled was a gradual process and the learning curve was both incremental and hard-won. I never had “how to” instructions, and all of the basic teachings seemed to be “on-the-job” and in the present moment. In retrospect, much of my process was akin to redesigning the wheel, and only afterwards did I discover that there was already a process in place. I’m certain it does not have to be this way, but this was my way.

Perhaps the fact that my husband was my primary caregiver and that we were both exceedingly independent and self-sufficient lent itself to this somewhat closed system of learning. One is not given an instruction manual in life; however I suspect that some people are more prepared than others and some curricula are less demanding. What I have discovered about caregiving over the last decade is that the more evolved and/or self–aware the individuals are, the more it takes on the form of a holographic paradigm of care. A hologram is a three-dimensional image where the whole is repeatedly represented in the parts. The more conscious the individuals are, the greater potential for the development of a synergistic system that perpetuates love/care and self-love. My particular learning process surrounding the vicissitudes of caregiving have been both grueling and not unlike having to place each brick, one-by-one, into a faulty foundation. My caregiver/care-recipient dyad has seemed reminiscent of the primal relationship between my mother and myself. In my experience with inner work, the caregiving dyad always comes back to this primal relationship. At least this is my working theory.

When the symptoms began nearly two decades ago, I had the intuition that the overall teaching, my soul contract, was about learning self-love. Early on, I had the vision of a small child holding her hands on either side of my face with her nose two inches from mine, wanting my undivided attention. In the vision, I saw that my attention had been divided and diffused. If my idea is correct, that caregiving is holographic, the entire process may be about healing the lack of self-love and/or seeing what is in the way in order for that healing to happen. I came to see that my learning curve was to continually expand my capacity for self-love by continually expanding my capacity to let in love and nurturing from the caregiver. The caregiver’s learning curve seems to be to offer caring with as much generosity as possible. The generosity needs to be authentic and the level of authenticity is directly related to how able the caregiver is to meet his or her own needs. A caregiver who has not learned how to meet her own needs becomes depleted, regardless of how experienced she  might be. Depending on the level of need required from the person in need of care, the caregiver must equally have the capacity to be a sacred provider.

At a certain point, my illness began to progress more steadily. As committed as my husband was to my process in the beginning, the requirements changed almost on a daily basis. Had I been able to see the trajectory, in retrospect, I probably would have secured professional assistance. Had my husband been able to meet his own emotional needs, there might have been a different outcome. In order to expand our capacity to meet our own needs, we must first know what our needs are and what it feels like when they are not met. This may seem basic, but the ability to meet one’s own needs is core to one’s spiritual awareness and spiritual Work.

Had the demands of this illness been less, the learning curve might have been much less demanding. My situation, however, upped the ante, and I don’t believe for one moment that this was arbitrary. I don’t subscribe to the hypothesis that people are victimized by their circumstances. On the contrary, the circumstances are exactly what is required for the curriculum of the soul, whether that is understood and accepted by the ego or not.

My marriage was a re-creation of my primal experience with my mother. She was overwhelmed by my emotional needs and unable to meet her own; therefore the system became one of deprivation begetting more deprivation. I do not say this with resentment or even disappointment. I believe this was the necessary design for the teaching we both needed and I have gratitude and appreciation for the work that took place between us. That does not mean that when this unresolved primal scenario gets triggered in the here and now, that I am cool and calm. In fact, I often have to go through the same process of heartbreak, acceptance, and forgiveness, which always ends in redemption and/or reconciliation. It just happens more quickly and with  more awareness, gratitude, and, yes, even humor.

As I became more experienced in this caregiving ‘yoga,’ the holographic nature of care and love became more apparent and more concentrated. As I gave love and care for my caregiver, they would love and care for me. As that grew and my self-love grew, I could see his or her self-love grow. The whole paradigm seemed to grow as a synergistic system of love and caring. That is when the system goes well.

This holographic paradigm of caring does not come without profound challenges. This process is far from linear and wrought with many pitfalls and trials. More on this sacred ordeal will be covered in Caregiving Part 2: The Alchemy of Caregiving.