Etak is the oral tradition of Micronesian navigation, which uses no instruments or technical manuals. It is the opposite of my umbilical GPS devices. Outrigger canoes, paddled by Palu masters, travel a mapless ocean with etak guidance. Sure, they use knowledge of stars, swells, seasons, currents and creatures of the sea and air like other navigators, but the focus and force for a Palu master is that his canoe is stationary—the islands move on the sea around him. He is the heart of it all, the core, and is as sure of this, as we Westerners are that the canoe is moving.
Delusional? Self-centered? The ultimate in narcissism? It has been working for their extended voyages for millennia—holding to their own center.
Caregivers know the stressors of navigating without landmarks, day after day. In the desire to be known, or loyal, or to do the right thing, I lost my bearings for such an interval that I misplaced my center and my world became untethered. I was other-centered. A focus on self-care would have helped but it seemed, at the time, so…selfish. (Oh my, what big boundaries you have...) However, caregiving is not a sprint, and self-care is essential for the long distance journey of caregiving. Who hasn’t heard this from the mouths of well-meaning observers? But how?
Our Longings and Our Discontents: Inner Guidance Our longing and our discontents are our constantly updating how-to maps. Their voices are directly from our hearts, waiting for us to listen. Even if you wall them off for a lifetime, they will continue to wait for you (all the time whispering…) until you exhaust all other possibilities for authentic navigation. (Quick, somebody, anybody, tell me what to do and where to do it.) They are gold when we can start listening. Until then we are brave explorers in other people’s stories but tend to lose our own God-given narratives.
We cease to be the hinge, but becomeunhinged or the ultimate in co-dependence—making others our center and sole focus.
For the prolonged caregiving voyage, it’s a common dilemma—to misplace our center. I knew better than to make Betty my nucleus…but it is so easy to become disoriented in the self-sacrifice of a life-and-death drama. If you have your core compass anchored in another, who is now dizzily free-floating in illness and shifting from earth to cosmos, getting lost increases to otherworldly dimensions to become a fun house (funny-farm) ride. As a hospice chaplain, I must say that this is not a bad thing—to not be of this world--but it’s not yet your thing. It is not yet your time. It’s their journey.
Our caregiving goal is to watch over them and provide what comfort we are able.
“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seems to characterize our age.” — Albert Einstein
I must remember how to equallyvalue what is happening under my own skin. I must hold to my own beautiful heart-center to stay grounded (on this side of the veil), or we will all be lost in a vast ocean.
What would happen if I were as intent as a Palu master? It had been a long time since I asked myself what I wanted. What if my center was my compass?
“Small is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” ―Albert Einstein, The World as I See It
“Let me listen to me and not to them.”—Gertrude Stein I can trust in such a compass—the Etak Compass. I want to find that midpoint in myself that interconnects ‘what is’ to my mind, heart, and gut in such a way that I am rooted to the center of the Earth. It will steady me, when all else fails and my beloved others die (or leave). Even then, I navigate to better—one small, sweet island at a time.