Community of Care

by Marcia Miller

I live in a Community of Care and this has never been more obvious nor more intentional that this past year.  What does this mean--Community of Care?  It has several elements.

The first element is self-care.  One of the greatest obstacles to compassion is exhaustion. Those of us in the “business of care” need to know how to replenish our own energy stores, and we can be relied on to do this most of the time.  We are not perfect but we do our best.  We have daily practices that we know restore us.  We do them over and over even when we may think we don’t need them.  In addition to the daily rhythm of self-care we have occasional, longer periods of self-renewal that involve  stepping out of our daily lives for vacations or retreats. This is as essential as our daily practices.  We also schedule time together for fun and important conversations about what we value—we share our celebrations and our struggles.

The second element is community. We work together to care for the people in our community who need help at any given time.  No one person is indispensable, and we stay in communication to know who is able to help and to what degree.  Sometimes it is like a big puzzle as we figure out who can step up and who must step back.  Just this past summer one of us lost a beloved relative.  She needed regular support, so a group of us stepped forward to offer her what she needed including housing, food, Reiki and company.  We developed an email list of her support team and kept in touch about what she needed every day and what we could offer.  We created a schedule so everyone had clarity about who was doing what.  Then one of the support people found out that a relative of hers had a dire medical diagnosis and that she was needed at home.  She was able to step out of care for our friend and tend to her relative.  And we began to check in on her to see what was needed there.  And so it goes.  None of us is always a giver or a receiver--we take turns.

The third element that helps make this possible is self-knowledge.  We are checking in with ourselves on a daily basis to see what we realistically CAN do without causing ourselves harm.  We know that there will always be someone in our community needing support, and we are committed to our own sustainability which will allow us to continue the blessings of embodying compassion.

And along with self-knowledge we are cultivating honesty and increased skills in communication.  Knowing that you don’t have enough energy to help does not always translate into being able to say that to another, especially if the other is in trouble.  Many of us have been trained to believe that everyone else is more important than we are, and it can be hard to say no to a request for help or to take time for ourselves.  Learning to know what is true, and then speak what is true, are two different steps that are works in progress for each of us.

Back to community--if one of us loses track of what is reasonably possible to accomplish, another of us will be alert enough to help them step back and take more rest.  It may be as simple as a 10 minute restorative pose at just the right time, or a more extended sabbatical from helping.

It can also be a challenge for those of us who are used to being “helpers” to receive the care of our community, but we are getting better at this as well.  I have been amazed and gratified to see the grace of this. Another of our dear friends was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer this past summer, and has received much love and help from many of us since then.  She has been a beloved caretaker in our community for most of her life and now she is a beloved receiver of our care.  It has been really gratifying for us to be with her as she has opened herself up to receiving nearly daily Reiki and food deliveries.  She has received cards and outpourings of love with grace and gratitude.  There have also been a few times when it felt challenging for her to be on the receiving end of such love, and we worked through that together as well.

The words “giving” and “receiving” do not really do justice to the process I am describing here.  In everyday language they seem like opposites and very different from each other.  One of the things we have learned in our Community of Care is that giving and receiving are so closely intertwined as to be virtually the same thing.  When a friend is willing to receive our support she is giving us a huge gift: the ability to be present with her.  We share love and, in love, there is always complete giving and receiving simultaneously.  We are not giving from our own storehouse of energy at that point, but from an endless Universal Love that flows through us.  We are both renewed.

When I broke my ankle a few years ago I, too, was the recipient of much care.  Each day someone brought me food and Reiki.  Often, the person giving me Reiki shared something they remembered that I had offered them in a yoga class or in a conversation that was meaningful to them.  I realized that each person was glad to be able to offer back something to me (I was a teacher for most of them), and that helping me was a way of completing a circle of love. It was a beautiful gift to know that something I had said held meaning for them. And what they told me supported my healing process.

I am excited and a bit in awe of the communal wisdom that is present in our group.  We are so much more powerful together than we are separately.  I can rest in this.  The final element in our community is Trust.  We trust ourselves, we trust each other and we trust life to be enough just as it is.  This is a miracle of high proportions.  This goes against my personal training and much of the training of our culture, and I am grateful for all who keep reminding me of the beauty of what is possible.

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