Many of us are compassionate "carers" – whether as a parent, a spouse, a daughter/son taking care of our older parents, and/or even as leaders managing a big team/organization/company - where there is a dilemma of how to effectively embrace the compassion for the suffering and struggle of others without suffering from the "compassion burnout" ourselves. This type of burnout is common in carers, where they become so overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending stream of problems that it begins to seem hopeless, pointless, or too much to bear.
How do we care for others - be in family, work or society - without the burnout?
Based on my understanding, there are 3 states of mind that people move from when it comes to how we care for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us. Each one is a state in our consciousness, and completely normal, but ONLY one of them truly allows us to continue to care, while still maintaining equanimity and most importantly, keeping our well-being intact.
When we are operating from this state of consciousness, we have become obsessed with the concern for others, with not much space left for anything else in our field of awareness. Our consciousness is completely “full” with care (aka “Care-FULL”). While concern for others leads to action initially, and is generally a good thing, going too far can leave us feeling emotionally depleted, stressed, and anxious.
Over time, our initial intention that started with compassion and wanting to make a positive difference in the world are now fueled by anger and fear. We exhaust ourselves and try to control every action, every consequence and every situation. We are unconsciously trapped in this, and anyone who does not agree with our perspective becomes “part of the problem”.
Finally, we get so upset, that we burn out. We feel misaligned, we enter into a self-reinforcing loop of ineffectiveness and hopelessness, building frustration and leading to apathy .
At the other extreme of this spectrum of consciousness, we cut ourselves off from our innate compassion and become "care-less", as in "I couldn't care less what's happening around me, and that I've got my own problems".
While this may initially guard us from getting burned out, when we adopt a care-less attitude towards life, we start to make not-so-good choices in our approach to life and others. It can cost us family relationships, friendships, working relationships, and above all disconnect us from our own relationship to innate wisdom and well-being within. Life feels empty and stagnant, there is loss of vitality and with a general sense of apathy.
So if being care-FULL depletes us and being care-LESS distances us from our shared humanity, what's the alternative?
This state of consciousness is not about being in the middle of the spectrum or balancing it, instead, it is a state (if I would even want to call it as a state) is the space that can hold both care-full and care-less states. To be care-free doesn't mean not caring. It simply means that we're not trapped or possessed by either concept of "care" in our thinking, worrying about them in our head and ruminating on them throughout the day.
Because our consciousness is free of any concept of care (care-full or care-less), we are free to care about anyone and anything without the fear of being worn or used up.
When our mind becomes fluid, it flows through any perspective or even better, no perspective at all – which is the perspective of here and now, or the presence.
And in that very moment, our natural compassion, which is our true nature, wells up. We may cry more but each tear hurts us less. Our innate intelligence and wisdom are right there where we left them, guiding us to change what we can, accept what we cannot, and most importantly know the difference between them.
This is the freedom IN life, this is the intelligence OF life and this is the alignment WITH life.
Cheers to a FREE life!