Transforming Responsive Caregiving into Seeds of God by Wally Swist
The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and a God seed into God.
– Meister Eckhart
The first things you notice about Dr. Amanda Mullen is that she is a petite and fashionable woman whose age is indiscernible. She is fashionable in ways that elicit comfort and not ostentation, which precipitates an intuition that she may well be in touch with an active compassion. When she speaks, what is ostensible is that she has had practice in mindfulness training and has done an amount of inner work within herself and her own psyche, since she is focused and direct, but always kind and balanced.
Dr. Mullen is a licensed therapist who calls her expertise “brain change”—treating memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Campbell was once asked about the fourth chakra, which he referred to as “the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and relayed that Carl Jung thought he might have made it that far up the scale of the seven chakras. Without inducing flattery, but attempting for precision, Dr. Mullen’s therapy can be described as evolving out of the fourth chakra. She spreads “God seeds,” as Meister Eckhart suggested. She would remind me that dementia caregiving is not a perfect art, nor is it an exact science, but what I have gleaned is that there can be trees bearing fruit in a dementia patient’s orchard if the caregiving is responsive. Responsive caregiving is living completely on another level of daily consciousness, and is, in my opinion, a daily practice for the ardor of gaining access to the fourth chakra which Campbell so aptly associated with activating divinity in the heart.
What then is responsive caretaking? What difference does it make, and why would it lead to disseminating “God seeds” which could grow into God, as Eckhart suggested?
My partner, Tevis, suffers from dementia. Dementia is a degenerative disease. Caregiving for a dementia sufferer—or, as Dr. Mullen might phrase it, a patient going through “brain change”—is an arduous daily task, since the disease changes within the sufferer daily. Dementia can be thought of as being mercurial: it turns up here, appears there, and the more the disease progresses, the more it surprises, and shocks, the caregiver.
In responsive caregiving, the caregiver holds up a mirror to what the dementia sufferer might say, such as when Tevis once asked me if I had been to the antique store in Woodstock, Vermont, that we were intending to go to that same morning, and told me that others were going along with us. We were about to walk out the front door to the car, and I was taken aback, since I had found the antique store for her, even suggested that we go there; we had been there together at least twice before, and we just don’t bring others along on our travels for any number of reasons. To indicate that I was taken aback was an understatement, and I did not respond proactively but in desperation, frustration, and unfortunate annoyance. If I had held up a mirror to Tevis and to what she said, I could have responded in a responsive way, such as: “Oh, yes, I have been there before—with you, in fact; and although we can think about taking others along with us in the future, there is no on else going with us today.”
Responsive caregiving not only provides proactivity in a situation but also enables diffusion of conflict, both inner and outer. Moreover, responsive caregiving opens the heart, and when the heart opens, compassion is emitted, sometimes in astounding ways. Compassion possesses a bathing effect. Compassion heals—both the precipitant of compassion as well as the beneficiary of compassion. Opening the heart, which precipitates the flow of compassion, releases God seeds. God seeds lead us to God. Leading us to God makes us, essentially, more present. And when we are present, we truly do experience eternity—and not just our own eternity, but true eternity in the moment, which then is actively experiencing the presence of God in us.
Eckhart’s description of “God seeds” astonished me when I reread this passage recently. It took seed in me in a way that I couldn’t shake despite myself. However, taken in conjunction with Dr. Mullen’s theory of responsive caregiving, I experienced a coalescence of both her and Eckhart that has developed within me a new awareness of what I am called upon not just to accomplish but to do.
When Tevis asks me if there are other people in the house, for instance, and I am shaken by that question, I can hold a mirror up to her question in my mind and ask, “So, you believe there are other people in the house? Who might they be? Tell me about them. I’d be more than willing to listen.” If Tevis wants to purchase a book at the library sale, and we already have rooms full of books, and the book just doesn’t qualify, I no longer want to say what I believe is true (that we don’t need the book), but to offer instead: “What a lovely art book, it will certainly go well with all the many other art books we have.”
I very well may not have responsive caregiving in full parlance, and certainly not in confident practice, but I have begun—and as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke reminded us, “We are all beginners.” Even to begin to practice responsive caregiving in harmony with spreading God seeds is an exciting possibility. If these God seeds take root and become trees, even temporarily, in the orchard of Tevis’s dementia, and then flower and bring fruit, it is better than any conflict or misunderstanding, since I attempt to clarify misunderstanding many times per day.
If we can find God seeds through the work and practice of responsive caregiving, then we can live not just fuller lives, free of conflict and with reduced stress and stressors, but we can also live more closely to what Campbell referred to when he spoke about the fourth chakra being “the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” If this practice is done with vigilance we begin, as Rilke suggests, with the wonder of beginners everywhere to experience divinity in the commonplace, which is where is it always found, and to revel in the drudge and difficulty of the everyday. We only need to ask the responsive questions that lead us into being present with God and ourselves, not necessarily healing what can’t be healed but in living in harmony with what is as fully as can be. I truly believe that the planting of God seeds opens the heart in love, which is unfathomable in its bathing us in what is unknowable, and that at best we can equate to our abiding in God. ♦
Wally Swist’s recent books include Taking Residence (Shanti Arts, 2021), Evanescence: Selected Poems (Shanti Arts, 2020), and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018). His book A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature was the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize and published in 2019. A Writer’s Statements on Beauty: New and Selected Essays and Reviews was published by Shanti Arts in April 2022. A previous essay on caretakeing, “Participating in God’s Being,” may also be of interest to readers.
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