Letting Go of Solitude
Caretaking gives this writer an opportunity to enter a new kind of sacred space – not a place of solitude, but a place of wholeness and holiness.
For many years, I looked to solitude as a sacred space for nurturing my soul. My routine was to get up early, retreat to a small desk by a window, light a candle, and then meditate while waiting for the sun to rise. I found this morning ritual deeply satisfying and helpful in setting an intention for the day. I never posted an actual “Do not disturb” sign, but I certainly relished this time alone for meditating, reflecting, and journal writing.
But then things changed. My husband became chronically ill, and I became his caregiver. This meant being available and responsive to his needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Prior to his illness, Phil was strongly independent and actively engaged in interests of his own. As a married couple, we did many things together, but we also enjoyed doing some things alone and each having a space of our own. After his illness, this was no longer possible. Everything became a shared space, and the unpredictable became more common than a regular routine.
I struggled, at first, with trying to hold on to my agenda, to maintaining a routine that would allow me a time and place for solitude. I was afraid that if I let go of this sacred space in my life, I would lose my grounding and a part of myself. But then I recalled a passage from the musical Les Miserables – “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Reflecting on these words by the French writer, Victor Hugo, brought about a profound shift in my thinking. Caretaking was giving me an opportunity to enter a new kind of sacred space – not a place of solitude, but a place of wholeness and holiness. Caretaking would become my spiritual practice, not an obstacle to spiritual growth.
With this new understanding of caretaking, I was able to enter more fully into the space we shared together. I let go of the need for solitude and focused, instead, on ways to make our time together more comfortable and beautiful for both of us. I lit candles, kept fresh flowers on the table, hung a hummingbird feeder outside our window, and played Phil’s favorite selections of classical music. This became our sacred space where we often sat together holding hands in silence or engaging in conversation. I still need quiet times and time to just sit and breathe. Fortunately, we found a place where we can breathe together.
Most of us will, at one time or another, be called to serve as a caregiver for someone we love. This might be a parent, child, spouse, parent of a spouse, or close friend. The situation may be long-term or only temporary. Either way, it will be challenging – maybe even frightening. While all close relationships thrive on commitment and courage, there’s something more required when one person is a caretaker and the other the care receiver. Here, vulnerability, sensitivity, and courage become constant companions. Caregiving consumes a great deal of time and energy. It can drain strength and determination and may even diminish hope for the future.
I recently read an essay in which a caregiver suggested that if you’re planning to care for a loved one, you should prepare yourself to give up your life for them. I disagree. While caregiving isn’t easy, it can be life fulfilling. It can bring out the best in who we are as humans. I find that caregiving is expanding my life, not restricting it. It’s forced me to move from a place of reflecting on empathy and loving kindness to actually putting them into practice.
I often looked to meditation as a time to become more focused on the present moment. Caregiving is now doing this for me. As I care for Phil, I’m very aware that our future together is uncertain. Phil is aware of this, too. So instead of spending a lot of time thinking about how to move forward with our lives, we focus on the preciousness of the moment.
Caregiving is tough and messy. It’s also demanding and draining. It leaves little time for solitude and meditation. It forces us to move from reflection to practice. I still look for opportunities to be alone, to meditate, and to reflect. But I now keep the door to my room—and to my heart—open. What I once regarded as my sacred space, I now see as a shared sacred space. This space isn’t a physical place outside of ourselves. It’s an inner space – an opening – where the essential things in life reside. I may be the caregiver, but I know that in this sacred space I’m being cared for, as well.