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Posted: September 24, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Attitude Adjustment: Don't Think About Caring -- Just Care

(Editor's Note: We all want to be present with those we care about. So why do we get so anxious about it? The author of Care of the Soul suggests a healthy attitude adjustment.)


I confess that there is something perverse in my nature. Whenever I hear someone presenting an idea with unusual conviction, and I sense even a little anxiety in it, perhaps revealed in excessive passion or the need to convince, I consider the opposite. For example, people often tell me how important it is to be in the here and now, and so I entertain the value of being in the there and then.

I understand the point in being present to whatever you're doing, but the idea of being present takes you away from simply being present. It becomes a program and an ideal. To be really present you may have to stop thinking about being present. Confusing, I know, but just parse it step by step and you'll see my logic.

I sense some sentimentality and perfectionism in the idea of being in the here and now, and this can be a subtle way of avoiding the very thing you're advocating. The philosophy of the here and now may be more exciting than being fully engaged. Being present with your heart entails giving up some of your ego wishes, including your desire to be present.

I find great value in the there and then. The past is always at work in the present. As a therapist, I like to listen to stories of the past, not to explain the present, but to gather the pieces of a life into a living organism. Some people try to get away from their pasts. They don't realize that avoiding the past is to cut off from the present.

As the years go by, I find more value in paying attention to night dreams. They are not of the here and now, except as they underpin daily life. They are from another realm and another time zone altogether, and yet they influence the present, perhaps even more than the intention to be fully engaged.

I also worry that the emphasis on being present makes the "I" too big. What difference does it make if you are truly there? Maybe it is more important for you to be receptive to the presence of the other, to really open yourself to entertaining the reality of the other person. Maybe it's more important for you to allow the other to be in your here and now than for you to be so conspicuous. Maybe you should hardly be there at all, except to take in the world that makes itself present to you.

The spiritual teachings I cherish most are those that tell you how to soften the self so that life can happen. Spiritual teachers stress toning down the self because spirituality easily inflates the ego. It's easy to see a big, obtrusive self getting in the way, but more difficult to spot the small, nearly invisible ego that is even more troubling. Whenever you attempt some spiritual goal with the idea of advancing, say, into being in the here and now, the self is likely playing a major role.

So, let me say it publicly: From now on I will not be concerned about being in the here and now. I may frequently wander into the past and into fantasy. I want to be present to memory and imagination as much as to whatever is going on around me. In fact, if we ever meet, you may notice that I'm not present much at all. I'm the kind of person who easily walks into telephone poles and forgets what I just said or what I intended to do, so lost do I get in the rich world that is not visibly present.

Maybe this means that I'm not such a spiritual person. So be it. For me, it is not as important to be spiritual as it is to be.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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