The Joy of Caring

Doreen Schweizer

The real basis of connectedness comes through our actions.
When you interact with another person, a connection is made.
–– Thanissaro Bhikkhu

We act in this world in three ways: speech, action, and thought. In keeping with the current VIMS exploration of the word, concept, and experience of care (apamada in the Pali language), we might consider that we give and receive care in this world in those same three ways––what other way is there?––and that the quality of our connectedness is directly related to caring. The above quotation from Thanissaro continues:

Now, it can be a positive or a negative connection, depending on the intention.
With generosity [caring] you create a positive connection,
a helpful connection, a connection where you’re glad that the boundary is down,
a connection where good things can flow back and forth.

In mid March after the second of the two big storms, I went out to do a little post-storm shoveling. I had done the bulk of it the evening before, so I expected just a little snow. However, both the Lebanon road plow and the sidewalk plow had come through after the man who plows for me, so there were two-and-a-half windrows––long piles of heavy, hard snow––at the end of my driveway. I dug into those piles with great ardor and with some amount of as yet-unnoticed resentment. My energy mounted, and pretty soon I was aggressively throwing the snow from the piles into the street! Gradually, I did notice the tension in my body, the gritting of my teeth, the arising of the thought, “See how they like it. . . .” As awareness of my anger dawned, all of a sudden in that sunny, cold winter air, I started to laugh. It was ridiculous, really, and I knew it. I woke up and was right there––present at the beginning of the heart’s shift to enjoyment. I felt a sense of wonder and appreciation for the dedicated public servants who were working overtime to keep our community going. Just at that moment when my mind-stream was slipping out of resentment, a man in a truck with a snowplow was driving by. We caught each other’s eyes. He stopped and backed up; he asked if I wanted his help. Yes! His plow cleared the driveway within a minute or two. Afterwards, we talked for another moment. I told him how I had been vigorously throwing snow back into the street. He told me that he often gets calls from his plow clients who live on the busy Route 10, requesting that he come back and re-clear the driveways after the town plow comes through, because they can’t even shovel out. We laughed together about it all, appreciated the angst of all involved––including the public road crews––and then went on our separate ways into a happier world.

Care: “ . . . a connection where good things can flow back and forth. . .”

I experienced a lot of joy in this very short encounter, such a simple yet profound moment of caring. There was the obvious caring connection between me and the man who stopped to help me move the snow piles: care expressed through actions and words. There was also evidence of the birth of care in the internal, subjective unfolding of my appreciation and compassion for the Lebanon road crew: care expressed through thought. Perhaps more fundamentally, there was the mindful self-awareness supported by a kind, interested, and patient attitude towards the process of my body and mind on that cold morning: care expressed through use of thought. Miraculously, I didn’t beat myself up for harboring resentment. I was heedful, careful, and curious. Actually, the whole experience arose from the caring intention (care expressed through thought again) to get the snow off the walks and out of the driveway, so that the other people who live in my house and the arriving sangha members wouldn’t be harmed in their walk to the barn.

From a Buddhist perspective, caring has everything to do with joy and happiness. The good news is that caring is an ordinary human capacity that we all have. And we can cultivate its benefits both for our own well-being and for that of others. Recognizing and rejoicing in the joy that caring brings to all involved can help our positive connections grow. Four important inherent qualities, common to all of us, provide the basis of Buddhist ethics and guide our caring relationships. These are 1) a friendly, open-hearted kindness (Metta); 2) an instinctual, compassionate impulse to protect others and ourselves from harm (Karuna); 3) a rejoicing in the good fortune of others and in our own goodness (Mudita); and 4) a spacious, balanced evenness of heart, which trusts and cares and is patient with the natural unfolding of things (Upekha). You can feel how these are some of the “good things”––good feelings––“that can flow back and forth” in a moment of care.

As a kind of bonus, when we grow and utilize these four boundless capacities of our hearts, we are also diminishing those other very human capacities, the ones that lead to carelessness, cruelty, and despair. The practice of kindness releases the heart from ill will; compassion releases the heart from the wish to harm; rejoicing releases the heart from discontent; and equanimity releases the heart from the mindless passions of anger and lust.

Hatred never ends through hatred.
Only through the willingness to love
Is hatred vanquished. –– The Buddha

Caring: “It is not just a matter of faith;
It is a matter of practice.” –– Thich Nhat Hanh

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A New Year’s Resolution: Be Careful
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