Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Self-Care for Caregivers

Self-Care for Caregivers… What? Why? How?

By Rev. David C. McCallum, S.J.

Based on the work of Grissel Hernandez, MPH, BSN, RN, HN-BC, CCE (2009) The Art of self-C.A.R.I.N.G. on ADVANCE for Nurses and the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We begin with what it is we desire to become…


“How do I become a more mindful, compassionate presence in the world?”

· I cannot give what I do not have
· Love is a renewable resource
· God is the source of Love and our lives are a response to Love

So, we develop practices to help us connect more consciously to God, the Source of caring and compassion.

C.A.R.I.N.G.—5 Interconnected Practices



What is it? Compassion is the willingness to feel with and for another, even to the point of suffering. It is a form of love that is based on a relational sense of being interconnected, and it can be a powerful motive for action on behalf of others.

Why is it important for us? Compassion helps us to be kind, tender, and forgiving toward ourselves, which in turn helps us be kind, tender, and forgiving toward others. It helps us be patient with our own weaknesses and shortcomings, tolerant of imperfections, and willing to accept ourselves as we are.

How do we practice it? Once a day, we might simply take some time to pay attention to ourselves in Three Dimensions (3D) of our experience: body (How are we feeling physically?); mind (What thoughts are occupying our attention?); spirit (How are we feeling emotionally?). In paying attention to ourselves in this way, we want to maintain an attitude of compassionate self-regard. Another way is to do a visualization exercise, seeing ourselves the way that God sees us, allowing God’s love to flow into and through us toward others.


What is it? Awareness is a state of being conscious of both our internal state of mind and heart as well as of what is going on around us.

Why is it important? It allows us to be fully present to our moment to moment experience, as well as to give others our full attention. Awareness is the means through which we center ourselves emotionally, and through which we ground ourselves in our sense of purpose and value.

How do we practice it? Conscious attention to our breath is a helpful anchor for our mindful awareness in the present moment. We can cultivate this attention to our breath by spending 15 – 20 minutes each day doing Mindfulness Meditation, and by bringing our attention back to our breath whenever we feel our attention fragmented by anxiety or distraction. This breathing awareness brings balance and groundedness to our thinking, feeling, and doing.


What is it? Reflection is simply thinking about our experience with a spirit of inquiry and openness to insights and learning from that experience.

Why is it important? Through reflection on our daily experience, we develop a sense of what is important to us, and an “inner compass” that helps us make decisions in our life. Furthermore, with reflection, we learn from our mistakes and develop our intuition, and practical wisdom.

How do we practice it? Through our use of mindfulness meditation, and a daily exercise like the Ignatian Examen of Consciousness, we nurture this capacity to pay attention to our experience. In the Examen, inquire into what we are thinking, feeling, and doing. We explore our motivations, our patterns of behaviour, our attachments and addictions.


What is it? Intentionality is the mindful focus of our energy on the achievement of a goal or the pursuit of a purpose.

Why is it important? By consciously setting an intention, we put forth a purpose or end toward which we strive, and by which we align our energy (thoughts/attitudes, behaviours, evaluation of the outcomes). The higher our intention, the more likely we are to discover meaning and value in life, including the challenges and set-backs. When we pursue a sacred intention, as Jesus did, we are better prepared for the inevitable sacrifices that we must make along the way.

How do we practice it? Every day, upon waking, we might begin the day by setting our intention and asking God to help us to fulfill our purpose. Examples include St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace,” or St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer, “Lord, I pray that all my thoughts, feelings, and actions are in harmony with your most holy will.”


What is it? Nonjudgmental attachment is a form of loving acceptance of reality as it is. Acceptance means being aware of your experience without either clinging to it or resisting it. Instead, it is to accept your reality in the moment with a peaceful composure.

Why is it important? Despite the way we might want to attach ourselves to things and people we are attracted to, or resist and push away things that repulse us, or change things that do not conform to our desires, reality will often resist us unless we come from a peaceful, detached place in ourselves. Reality is a powerful teacher in that it seldom conforms to our ego’s preferences. So, developing a grounded and emotionally centered detachment helps us better assess situations before we act.

How do we practice it? Rather than reacting to circumstances and being compelled by the emotions stirred up, I become a detached observer of my experience. This practice of observing myself can help me develop a sense of patient calmness and help me to make decisions with greater clarity. It is also helpful to return to the present moment when our attention drifts to what has just happened, or to what may happen.


What is it? It is both a feeling of appreciation and an attitude of thankfulness.

Why is it important? Our attention is naturally attracted to the negative experiences in our lives, but we have to practice paying attention to the positive. Gratitude fosters a sense of joy, security, and abundance. It connects us to God, the giver of all gifts, and inspires our generosity. It also helps us keep perspective when we tend to be “givers,” reminding us of the importance of receiving graciously from others.

How do we practice it? One of the easiest ways of cultivating gratitude is to use the Ignatian Examen of Consciousness on a daily basis, rummaging and combing through our day for all the events, relationships, and feelings that we have been privileged to experience. Teilhard de Chardin once suggested that we are not human beings who have spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences.

And another thing…

While each of these five practices is an asset for becoming a more self-caring care-giver, one more is indispensible for keeping our perspective, being grounded, and most importantly, for remembering that we are human beings, not God. When we are able to laugh at ourselves and see the humor, irony, and at times even the absurdity of life, we can avoid becoming cynical or giving up. So for all the seriousness of these ideas and the importance of these practices of self-care, perhaps most importantly—laugh often!

One last word: “No”
The intention behind all of these practices is not to turn us into superwomen and men, but rather, to be more fully human in our way of living and loving. We may occasionally fall into the temptation to try to do more Jesus himself did in the service of others, but part of being human is knowing and respecting our limits. This means that we must be kind enough to ourselves to discern where, when, and how to use the “n” word… “no.” Sometimes we must grow into the freedom to say “no” appropriately. This requires the self-knowledge and freedom from fear… freedom from the need to please; freedom from the need to be perfect; freedom from the need to help everyone; freedom for the need to always have our acts together. It is a kind of spiritual hubris to think that we can do otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Father David, this is Grissel Hernandez. I love how you have expanded on my work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love the addition of humor and boundaries they are indeed essential.