Thursday, November 28, 2013


Gratitude is the key to unlocking a more open and rewarding perspective on life. Feelings of appreciation are always accompanied by the elevation of one's state of life and the broadening of one's perspective. And, the more our life expands, the more profound our sense of gratitude becomes, to the point where we can feel appreciation even for the problems we face in life. -- Daisaku Ikeda

Awhile back when I was a caregiver for my father, I noticed that some people would show their support by sympathizing with my plight. “Oh, it must be so hard for you.” “I’m sorry that you have to endure this.” “How horrible that your father is no longer able to walk nor care for himself.” “You look tired, you poor thing!”

Alternatively, others congratulated me for encountering struggles, and encouraged me to win over my obstacles. Initially, I wanted sympathy and felt comforted by those who felt sorry for me. As I overcame my internal challenges, I found that sympathetic remarks, though well meaning, hindered my growth. In my weakness, I sought a “cushion” to protect me from reality, but I came to realize that the idea of security is an illusion. The truly compassionate were those who were strict and urged me to plow through my difficulties. Furthermore, those who criticized me turned out to be my “best friends” because their words aroused my determination to create a happier life for my family. Likewise, Nichiren states, " is not one's allies but one's powerful enemies who assist one's progress ('The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,' WND-1, 770)."  

My little ones!
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for my husband, my mom, my late father, my feline “babies,” my friends, Sensei, my Buddhist practice, health, and an opportunity to further my education. I am especially grateful for the hardships I’ve had as a caregiver: the lonely, sleepless nights; uncertainty of my father’s health; family conflict; financial hardships. I’m most appreciative, however, to those who shunned me and accused me of being an uncaring daughter. Believe it or not, the harshness of some peoples’ attitudes became nourishment for spiritual growth.

"The struggles we face might range from the apparently mundane (summoning the energy to take out the trash or to write a letter to a relative) to the vast (campaigning to ban nuclear weapons), but the essential challenge is the same. It is to overcome our own weakness, fear or inertia in a given moment and take action for the sake of the happiness of ourselves and others (SGI Quarterly, July 2006)." With this sentiment, I am sincerely grateful to you for visiting my blog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and enjoy every moment!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Robots as Caregivers?

A little while back, I submitted a proposal for my Master's thesis project which I will start early next year. It took me awhile to decide on my subject matter, but after researching various interest areas, I decided on the topic of robots as caregivers. Some professors were intrigued by my decision, while others were disturbed by it and flatly refused to support me. Nonetheless, I became interested in this topic due to current articles written on the shortage of caregivers. There are greater numbers of older people who need caregivers in relation to the numbers of caregivers available. Why not look at alternative ways to meet this need?

This past week, I had a chance to watch Robot & Frank on DVD. This film came out last year, but I only heard about it recently from my gerontology classmates who, upon learning of my thesis subject, urged me to watch this film.

Without giving much of the plot away, this story is about Frank, an older man whose behavior suggests signs of cognitive decline (i.e., unkempt home, rotten food in the refrigerator). His son Hunter, who makes long, weekly treks to check up on his father, is unsuccessful in trying to get him tested for dementia. Frank insists everything is fine, and not knowing what to do, Hunter buys a caregiving robot to help ensure his father's safety and wellbeing. Having the robot look after Frank provides piece of mind for Hunter who struggles to make time for his own children. To make a long story short, Frank eventually develops a friendship with the robot that serves as a caregiver and a non-judgmental confidante. In the end, after a series of risky events (watch the film to find out!), Frank deactivates the robot and eventually moves to an assisted living facility.

I enjoyed watching this movie; the relationship between Frank and the Robot was particularly touching. Although robots cannot replace the human touch, this film made them seem like practical options that might work for some people.

Me and my brother on a boat.
Technology cannot resolve all our issues, but perhaps we can utilize robots to provide respite and lighten the load of caregivers who are overworked, underpaid (or unpaid), and undervalued. If robots can help with various tasks, caregivers may also have some time to do what they need or want to do.

Incidentally, there is a recent article on BBC News online titled, 'A robot is my friend': Can machines care for the elderly? This story examines the idea of robots as caregivers. I am curious about what you think. Do you think robots as caregivers is feasible, or do you think it's a ridiculous idea? What are some alternative ideas to resolve the caregiver shortage? Thank you for reading this post!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Turning Poison into Medicine.

Chanting for wisdom.
When we care for others, our own strength to live increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our lives also expand. Actions to benefit others are not separate from actions to benefit oneself. Our lives and the lives of others are ultimately inseparable.  -– Daisaku Ikeda

Caregiving is hard work, and so much of past articles I’ve read emphasized the negative effects and challenges. As a former caregiver (and somewhat of a hypochondriac), I used to believe that caregiving stress would lead to premature aging via the shortening of my telomeres. On a positive note, recent news suggests that caregivers are healthier and live longer.

When my father became ill, the duties of caregiving were completely new to me and I felt inadequate as I tried my best to assist him.  As I had mentioned in a previous post, I was initially resentful of my situation, and would often daydream about how I would run away. Some criticized the decisions I made regarding my father's care, and I felt very lonely.  In the beginning, I spent “free time” crying and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, my Buddhist mantra, in order to manage the responsibilities.  

I chanted a lot during the caregiving years, and this helped to strengthen my resolve on days when I felt like falling apart.  My Buddhist practice also helped me to bring forth compassion and wisdom to make sure that my father was well cared for.  What was more amazing: caregiving became the springboard for tremendous personal growth.  I began to understand that the happiness of others is not separate from my own - No effort is ever in vain. This realization led to deeper happiness and appreciation, especially for the difficulties.  Eventually, chanting put me “in rhythm” with my environment so days flowed more smoothly, and it helped me to be flexible when situations were unpredictable. 

Through harnessing the power of Buddhist practice, I gained: compassion, patience, confidence, hope, sensitivity, affection, open-mindedness, flexibility, sense of purpose, spiritual growth, inner strength, and gratitude. I used to think caregiving was an obstacle to my happiness, but it became the cause for greater fulfillment.

I would like to express thanks and gratitude to all the noble caregivers who are working tirelessly everyday to make sure that loved ones are well cared for. Nichiren states, "...where there is unseen virtue, there will be visible reward (WND, Vol 1, 1278, p.907)."  This quote applies to all of you.  May your lives continue to shine brilliantly!