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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Tired of Caring? The Loving Kindness Meditation: Tea with a Druid 40

September 10th, 2018

I had a wonderful evening sitting by the side of the Thames in London on Friday, just by Tower Bridge, dining out with family and friends. But then we went to see a play: Alan Bennet’s Allelujah! which is set in a hospital due for closure. It’s funny, it’s charming in its musical routines with the mainly elderly cast, and it’s challenging. It confronts us with our thoughts and feelings about old age, illness and death, and it packs a punch too – about the dangers of health privatisation, the effect of Brexit on NHS recruitment, and attitudes to immigration.

Despite the play’s obvious merits, it was the last thing I wanted to see. I’d spent the earlier part of the week visiting my mum in hospital (she’s out now – see photo taken in June on her 95th) and I’ve spent the last ten years becoming well acquainted with geriatric care, so two hours of being back again with a bunch of old folks in a hospital wasn’t my idea of a night out. But it was good because it forced me to look at the embarrassing fact that I find it boring and tiring to spend too much time with the elderly, the frail, the unwell. I try not to feel this way, I feel bad about it, and bad about admitting it to you, but I know from talking with others (and indeed from the characters in the play) that this feeling is widespread. I’ve spent the last fifty years visiting my sister who is chronically ill, and I’ve never managed to crack this problem. It’s not that one doesn’t care, it’s just that sitting beside someone who is unwell presents a challenge to a busy person or a restless mind.

I’ve decided to make a change. I’m going to start practicing the Loving Kindness Meditation that comes originally from Buddhism, although it feels supremely natural and I can imagine someone isolated on a desert island discovering the technique for themselves. In essence it involves starting with becoming aware of one’s love for oneself, basking in that for a while. Here’s how meditation teacher Steven Smith explains it: “Breathing in and out from the heart center, begin by generating this kind feeling toward yourself. Feel any areas of mental blockage or numbness, self-judgment, self-hatred. Then drop beneath that to the place where we care for ourselves, where we want strength and health and safety for ourselves.”

For some of us it might work better to start off by bringing to mind someone who makes you feel happy the moment you think of them, someone with whom you don’t have too complicated a relationship. However you start, you then you extend this feeling outwards to others, gradually moving outwards from close friends and relatives to ‘frenemies’ and people you have difficulty with, then outwards until your feelings of loving kindness reach all beings, the entire planet and even beyond. In the Buddhist practice you include prayers. Steven Smith suggests you start with:
“May I be safe from harm.
May I be happy just as I am.
May I be peaceful with whatever is happening.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I care for myself in this ever-changing world graciously, joyously.”
Then, he writes, “From yourself, move out spaciously into your immediate surroundings. Include every living being within this circle: ‘May all beings in the air, on land, and in the water be safe, happy, healthy, and free from suffering.’ Stay within your reach. As you feel your immediate surround fill with the power of loving kindness, move on, expanding the surround in concentric circles until you envelop the entire planet.”

In the tea session I use simpler wording, add a brief opening from Sophrology which helps us relax quickly, and I set the meditation in a Druid context – in the peace of the Sacred Grove, to which we return at the end, to ground our love and our presence in the Natural world and here on Earth. It takes 10 minutes.

I’ll paste in here a recording I’ve made of a longer version – 17 minutes – and another way of doing this meditation – a five minute practice led by Diana Winston, a Mindfulness teacher.

19 Responses to “Tired of Caring? The Loving Kindness Meditation: Tea with a Druid 40”

  1. As a Registered Nurse I spent part of my career working with the elderly, with both Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. The trick of interaction as a nurse was that there was always a Task to be done. So the conversation would ensue, perhaps some laughter. Without specific purpose a visit, as I very often witnessed, devolves into a sitting session. Everyone is bored. We all need something to focus on, in particular a person whose every day is a dull routine directed by strangers in an non home environment. If the person is unconscious, read to them. If they are awake, try something that interests them…blow bubbles! Tell jokes…draw, color, try to stimulate their mind if you can…create a moment! It is a challenge to some, yes. We can do this if we step outside of our own boundaries for that brief time….

    • Yes thank you Linda. I have noticed that if there is a task – helping my mum or sister to cross the room in their zimmers, or whatever – does give focus and I can express my care in action, as opposed to ‘just sitting’ as you say.

    • Hope you don’t mind me replying to a bit of a private message but what you suggested is so lovely – 🙂 Thank you – I will remember that for the future – I guess taking in photographs to talk about or a magazine about something they’re interested in to flick through together – or some hand cream to give them a hand massage – just something that takes away the stilted official feel of a visit – great – thanks again 🙂

  2. Hello Phillip. I’m sure by now you are getting lots of useful suggestions, and here’s mine: It’s important to realize that whatever you do for your loved one, with good intention, will be enough. I have run the gamut of feelings about caring for relatives, and there have been difficult situations that have caused regret and guilt to sometimes arise. I’m supposing this is part of being human.

    But I work to realize that “we can only do what we can do”, and do our best, and then remember to extend the same loving kindness to ourselves as well.

    When I am doing my carer work, I try to remember to take extra good care of myself, and especially get enough rest. I find going out to a movie by myself to be very relaxing, cool dark space. 🙂

    Best of everything to you, and thanks for your care for so many of us.

  3. Hi Philip – it might just be my computer but the 20 min meditation doesn’t seem to be loading… Just thought I’d let you know in case there’s a gremlin somewhere in it… Loved how honest you were about how you feel about visiting poorly relatives. You fix minds – fixing bodies is for most (unless you have by nature a vocation for caring) a far less interesting and unpleasant thing so I think it’s just natural for you or any healthy, full of beans individual to be bored – I don’t think health sits comfortably with illness – they’re polar opposites… The funny thing is – from my experiences I don’t think it matters to the poorly person – they’re too busy getting themselves better to worry about stuff like that – i’m sure it’s enough for them that they get a visitor. I have a really bad phobia of hospitals and spend the whole time resisting the urge to run for the hills which is not good at all – so I’m definitely going to remember that meditation for next time I have to go – thank you for sharing it 🙂

    • I just checked it Janey, so maybe try again. Probably just a bandwidth hitch at your end. This morning I tried the meditation (not the recording, just me talking it through) with my mother. She liked it, but found it hard to concentrate. I’m going to work out a nice and easy informal version of it for her and see how it goes!

      • Great – It’s working now – sorry – must have been my pooter connection – that’s lovely that your Mum enjoyed it – often think your Tea with a Druid mediations would be wonderful for poorly or frail people to listen to – they’re so restorative – they should be piped onto hospital wards 🙂 I’m going to give the 20 min version a go for a week – good luck with your experiment 🙂

  4. Hi Philip, I took care (together with my other sisters en brother) for my father after my mother died. He was of a generation that couldn’t do anything by himself. The fact that somebody was with him, was enough. When the weather was fine, we took him for a stroll with his dog or went for a cup of coffee or an icecream so that he got outside instead of always sitting in front of the tv. Time flies by if you do that. He died last december and although it was sometimes heavy ( if that is a correct English saying), I am glad I did this.
    So, try to take your mother or sister outside in a wheelchair or so. They see it as a pleasant change of environment and you do not have to be bored.
    Leny (from the Netherlands).

  5. Hi Philip,
    I think it is all about energy. If that what we invest is not well balanced with what we get, or in other words, if something drains our energy it is only natural, feeling uneasy about it.
    Usually we are well aware of this. But in this case we also feel the obligation to help which fools our brain but not our feelings!
    So this means there are two ways to tackle this energy gap.
    1. Giving away less of your own energy. This is not as bad as it sounds. Think of a therapist just being present, holding the space without being involved personally.
    2. Find a way to receiving more energy from your visits. This doesn’t mean becoming an energy vampire, no, it’s about changing the attitude. Can we see it not only as an obligation but also as an opportunity for us coming to rest for example? Or can we see it as a hands-on metta bhavana meditation? Something like this. Think of Mother Teresa. What did she gain from helping others? I guess quite a lot of love and joy!

  6. Hello my dears, all life is a teacher, every angle of it. I reared a large family, but intergrated with that caring for others, from the very young with MS as well as elderly souls. To say I enjoyed it, may sound strange, but I did. Everyone, whatever age and experience of life is interesting, they can teach us a lot, inspire us and help us to grow. I always worked with them, however their needs lay, I have spent time, listening and sharing with them, laughing, commiserating, attending to physical needs, quiet times, in a way, let them lead you. It is all such a reward, especially when, at the time of death, one is treated to sharing the visions they have, lights, colours, flower perfumes, whispers, and such a sense of Love, makes one want to cry. Bless you all, my dears. Love Margaret.

  7. I have just listened to your experiences again and I wonder what has instigated you to look at this from your point of view; in the sense of being tired of keeping watch with these dear souls, family? Is it whatever you think is important to you, whatever has taken you through life to warrant such discomfort? There are so many facets to investigate. Is it connected with past life experiences, responsibilities? It is good you are questioning yourself, we all need to do that, most don’t. Fascinating angle, I do hope you fathom yourself out! We are a fascinating species. Love Margaret.

  8. It seems this type of meditation would pair well with music. Are you familiar with the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music? Listening to music can enhance awareness and improve focus, so perhaps the right selection of music could be effective as a backdrop and serve as an anchor to ground a wandering mind.

  9. Hi Philip.
    I could not find a place on the blog where I could comment so I am replying this way.( I sent an e mail before I fond this reply space)
    I read your blog and watched Tea with a Druid. I skipped the meditations though because I wanted to feel the boredom and the not really wanting to be there feeling you spoke of.
    Both my parents are dead now, and I looked after them both at the end and was with them when they passed. It was a privilege.
    But I know the boredom and lack of attention and patience I had and I chastised myself for it and felt guilty even while I was feeling that way. When I was looking after them in Vancouver and I told Rod on the phone how I was feeling he said something that helped me more than anything else. He said, knowing I love the Divine Mother aspect of the Godhead, visualize, Alice, that every moment with your parents is serving the Divine Mother. I did that and everything changed. I was present and in the now not wanting to be or think anything else.
    That was a while ago now, and it worked.
    But now that I am getting older I feel that I bore my children too. I am not in a hospital or old people’s home, but sometimes my grown children are bored with me and I can not do anything about it. I have more time to feel the great love and admiration I have for each of them, Love takes up a lot of my mind, and blessing them quietly. But they are busy, they are stimulated, they have families to support. What is so great about a Mother’s Love, they take it for granted! A parent’s love, as you know because you are one, is HUGE. It does not stop because the kids are adult. It is present all the time. The kids don’t really know how easily we can feel hurt by knowing we are not wanted or we bore them.
    I don’t think this syndrome is the same in real tribal societies. Old people have a place. Years ago when I did an amazing workshop with Meladoma Some he talked about the way old people are treated in our society. They die of broken hearts because they are negated and treated as if they are invisible. It is true, they are.
    Turning 70 yesterday was strange . I know it is only a number but it is threshold to the awareness of being old and helpless. I would rather die than be a burden and bore my children. It is a huge and not talked about subject and my heart has unfinished business with it.
    I just needed to share this. You bring up some pretty big issues that trigger things, Philip, and this has triggered me.
    Bless you , always, Alice

  10. Hi, i was just thinking about this very thing this morning. i am a carer for an older person who is unwell. I visit every morning and evening and make breakfast etc for him. I feel guilty that sometimes i find it difficult to be with him. He can be negative, and listens to a lot of the news programmes on television which are often full of catastrophe – natural and political. Then he wonders why he feels depressed! I go home feeling depressed and needing to cheer myself up. I know this loving kindness meditation from my time at Buddhist centres and will have a go at using it to help me feel more caring, and also to hopefully help him in some way too. Thank you, it’s inspiring. Anne

  11. Hello Phillip…I thoroughly enjoy your weekly podcast and your meditations. I lost both my parents several years ago both had Hospice Services at the end of their lives. I often felt restless and bored when I was visiting them because I found myself thinking of all the other things I needed to be doing instead of being present with them. I am a new student with OBOD And just joined the order today and sent for the Bardic course. In the first two introductory lessons I found a strong message that resonated with me to be in the present and to find something positive and constructive in each present moment because that’s really all we have. Looking back I wish I had just sat by my mother and father’s side and talked to them, even though they were not always alert and I’m not sure they always comprehended the things I said but I should have assumed that they could understand and may have found the sound of my voice comforting. I send blessings and prayers to you and your mother and your sister and hope that you all will find peace and love in each other’s company. Thank you for providing such quality programming and messages to us I truly appreciate it.
    Kathy D.
    Louisville, Ky.

  12. Thank you Philip for relaying the Loving Kindness meditation, but would question ‘dropping beneath’ self-hatred etc. – these are the experiences that need our loving kindness 🙂

    • Yes I agree. Perhaps ‘dropping deep into in order to transform with Loving Kindness’ would be a better way to put it…

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