I cannot be alone with this any longer…
True confession, I bristle when people start talking about self-care. Weird. I believe giving energy and care to ourselves is non-negotiable. Easily the most influential and far-reaching contract we have to fill during our time here on Earth. So what is it about the popular idea of self care that makes be cringe?
Up pops the latest “Awesome Ideas for Self-Care” article on the computer screen and I pull back into my chair. Ever so suspicious, I think, here it comes.
Logically, I know the intentions are a pure as a mountain hot spring (leave out the dirty bathers of course). The concept radiates all things “good”; self-nurture, self-love, refresh, recharge, health, and wellbeing to name a few. Yet it smacks of judgment and morality. Sort of like, this is what you should do, or all good people do self-care. Oh and, it’s not selfish, they add.
Honestly, it often feels like my dad reminding me to clean my room rather than the life-line I was looking for.
Underneath all of the benevolent encouragement to take a walk or a bubble bath is the fact that self care happens between me and myself. It is the ultimate relationship. It runs deeper than carving out time to do something I enjoy or picking an activity off of a list of self care ideas. The endless lists of what to do shoot past me at the speed of light. I have my list: Reading, yoga and eating healthy nourish me. I absolutely feel better when I take time to do these activities. And, I guarantee you, I will NOT make time for them if something more important comes up. None of us would.
The trouble starts here.
It is not a lack of ideas on self care that keeps me from taking action. It is not the belief that self care isn’t valuable. I know it is essential. And it is also not a lack of time. I am allowed the same 24 hours as everyone else. I choose how I spend those minutes.
What keeps me from doing self care is the internal struggle between different needs and values.
On this hidden battle ground are my need to be loved and accepted by others. Insert real life. If I think for a millisecond that taking the time to soak my feet in an epsom salt bath threatens my approval rating with others, then forget about it. I must wrestle with the need first. I have to feel secure enough, safe enough, or at the point of not caring before I will give myself permission to focus on me.
This applies to higher order needs as well, such as feeling esteem and accomplished, or mastery and meaning in life. In everyday terms, this means I might go into work early, or take on another project, rather than spend an hour at the gym if I feel valued at the office for my skills and ability to produce. I may think, they need me, they count on me, I’ve got this. Who has time for the treadmill when the source of my confidence, meaning and perhaps even status are derived from my job performance? I will choose the one that makes me feel like a rock star. Exercise can wait until I’m done saving the Universe.
You get the idea. We have needs and values that influence our choices. Seeing the need empowers us to meet it head on. We start by asking the question, what do I need? Over and over, what do I need? Resist the urge to pull out the white flag if answers don’t become apparent at first try. Stay curious. Ask yourself follow up questions. For example, when I’m needing help, I ask myself, what kind of help and how can I get it? Keep on the hunt for answers until you get to details and action steps. This is a conversation with yourself that develops with time and attention. Give yourself this gift. You will blossom in ways well beyond what the ordinary self care protocol provides.
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”
William S. Burroughs
Don’t misunderstand me, the mission is still to be happily and wildly engaged in activities that create thriving health. This practice uncovers a path to get us there.
When we focus on meeting our needs, self care moves from checking off a TO-DO list to an intimate dance of recognizing and filling the gaps. We plug the leaks and seal it with a kiss. This presence to ourselves builds trust and self-love like gangbusters. We are available and honor what we truly need and what we feel. The energy to take action flows like electricity from a giant reservoir of desire.
This process of seeing a need and taking steps to satisfy the need happens repeatedly and each time we show up for ourselves, we move a bit further down the continuum to the place of genuinely being the most important person in our lives. Self care becomes life rather than a special event we “should” do.
Once our glass fills up, it begins to overflow. Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, our hearts swell and expand so big they burst open and spill love out in all directions.
May you feel the blessings of your own sweet love.