Zen and the Art of Eldercare

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP

A few years back on a road trip through Alaska I listened to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the main character works through his serious neurosis by completely focusing on his motorcycle and how and where it takes him through life. As I figure out my way from the dark existence I find myself in with this sisyphean task of taking care of my Mom with brain cancer, I was reflecting on how my journey is similar to what the main character experiences in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Talking with my friend Zienna yesterday about the quagmire I’m in, she said, “You are only in a quagmire because you are living in your ego. “ She went on to explain a three phased egoic model based on either being a rescuer, a prosecutor or a victim. And I could tell which one I was being based on how I was feeling. If I was feeling over burdened, I was playing the role of rescuer. If I was feeling angry, I was playing the role of prosecutor and if I was feeling self-pity, I was playing the role of victim. WOW – I am living all three roles in this situation I find myself in. No wonder if feels so dark and yucky here for me.

Rising Above the Insanity of Eldercare

Rising Above the Insanity of Eldercare

Last year based on David Hawkin’s book, Power vs. Force, I assembled an energy of emotions matrix. In Hawkin’s book, he shows how our emotions carry energy. And the more positive your emotion, the more energy and positive influence you have in your life. I created a summary that showed a return on investment based on emotional energy. The more positive emotion, the more of a return you got back living in that emotion. According to Hawkin’s this impact is logarithmic. The lowest level positive emotion is courage (which is the absence of fear) and Hawkins placed that at a 200 level. Anything below that level, and whatever emotion you are experiencing is giving you a fractional return on the energy you are investing. In my company we coined this “living above the line or living below the line.” The line being the demarcation of positive vs. negative emotional energy. I naturally live at a fairly high level of emotions – the your success is my success level. So for every moment I spend living at this emotional level, I get a 10,000 times return on investment. I am learning more how to live at higher levels, and I get glimpses of how to do that here and there – especially in meditation.

So creating a mind map of Zienna’s egoic model, I thought, hmmmm this feels a lot like a below the line existence. No wonder if feels so dark to me here. I decided to create an above the line mirror of the egoic model. I call this the love triangle (ooooh – that doesn’t sound so good). In the love triangle, you have partner, advocate and victor. In the partner role, you feel energized, in the advocate role you feel hopeful and in the victor role you feel you are winning. In this model, you feel that you are one with others that you are all in this together and that we will prevail.

In the Buddha Brain book, the authors talk about one of the causes of suffering is hatred. Hatred breeds in an environment where you feel it is us vs. them – a divisive situation. This is what exists in the below the line existence of the egoic model. In the love triangle, it is an inclusive existence that increases individual capacity to love others. The way I can tell the difference – when I’m living below the line in my eldercare responsibilities I feel burned out. When I’m living above the line, I feel inspired. (Inspired enough to share my experiences with others).  The main way I am going to stay above the line in this situation is to make taking care of myself the priority over taking care of others.   The only way I can be there for others is to be there for myself, first.


One Response to “Zen and the Art of Eldercare”

  1. Imtiaz Hami Says:

    Ultimately its hatred that destroys. The emphasis on this issue is the cornerstone of much of the Buddha’s thinking.