I’m not a natural-born self-care provider — and I don’t think I’m alone here. I’ve always erred more toward the spartan end of the spectrum when it comes to attending to my own needs. They are all too easy to cast off in the name of caring for others, earning a living, and generally getting by in life.
But I’ve started to observe that the longer we go without caring for ourselves, the more these two things happen: we start to fall apart, and we become less and less interested in the world around us.
This is not an ideal state of affairs — yet we all yearn for the gold at the end of the rainbow. We all want to be happy.
The potential results of self-care, just like the happiness ideal we pursue, are not a guarantee in life. They don’t just spontaneously erupt into something wonderful. We have to put in the work, and the work can be at once extremely simple and incredibly difficult.
If we falter at the foothills of the enormous mountain of self-care we have to climb, may we at least take comfort in this: it gets easier, and it becomes downright fun once we truly begin to know why we are working so hard at caring for ourselves; once we know our motivation.
So, why self-care?
For me, I don’t think it’s about deserving a treat once in awhile. (Though I do. We all do.) It’s not just about owning our uniqueness and honouring every single thread of the one-of-a-kind fabric that is us. (Though we should work, very hard, at this.) It’s not even a lesson in self-love and self-worth. (Though these things need to be learned over and over.)
For me, while self-care is absolutely related to all these things, it’s also about something much more basic, and common-sense.
Self-care is about being human.
As a human, I am no less than you, and I am no more than you.
We are equally human, and sometimes this is the hardest thing to remember, and to base a life on.
As humans, we have the power to contemplate the nature of self, our place in the world, and how to contribute towards the good of other beings.
These are not qualities bestowed on every gorgeous species around us. This is why it’s so precious.
We have the power of consciousness and self-examination. We can work toward finding the organic rhythms of the world, and matching our actions to them.
We have the privilege of not living by rote, and of learning how to tame our at-times-monstrous minds; to settle into the quiet space of our own cosmic beings; and to be in the world with great gentility, humility, mindfulness and awareness.
Yes, we have this great ability to effect change, and watch the world evolve as our own happiness – stemming from peace of mind, and a generous and grateful attitude — grows.
We might want all these things, and yet we haven’t wholly achieved them. Why?
Because change is not a post-it note we can tack onto our lives, or a self-help book we can skim. It must come from deep within, and must operate on every level of our existence, and here is where the hard, but beautiful work of self-care comes in.
How many of us can honestly, like from-the-bottomest-of-our-hearts, sincerely declare that we love ourselves? And not only that, but every part of ourselves?
How many of us can look in the mirror, gaze deeply into our own eyes, and say “I love you?” I try to practise this, and I cry. Every time. Because I find it so hard.
So we care for others, maybe guided by the deep-seated notion that they are more deserving than us, that it’s wrong to put ourselves before anyone else. Yet confusion reigns: Why aren’t I worth it? Why is no one attending to my needs? What’s wrong with me?
So, caring for others becomes unexamined self-neglect; maybe even a pile of blame and resentment.
Care is not something we can reserve for ourselves alone, nor give it exclusively to others. We need to preserve the integrity of the whole, and we are as much a part of the whole as everyone else.
Until we can overcome our blockages and come to real terms with self-love, how can we hope to love the world, and every sentient being in it? How we can stop the violence — both to ourselves and to others — from unfurling?
I don’t mean to imply that self-care is a tedious chore or insurmountable task. It’s the opposite – it’s about discovering the bounce in our step, the joys of realising life doesn’t have to be so complicated, about enjoying ourselves. Additionally, taking steps to discover who we are and how we can bring our potential to light will take us leaps and bounds toward the healing of us — and by extension, the world.
We should never feel guilty about carving out time in our day to practise mindfulness; or falling in love with what we see in the mirror; or going easy on ourselves when we need to, without becoming complacent.
If we don’t learn that our own happiness and peace are also the happiness and peace of the world, we won’t have the luxury — or the privilege — of developing compassion, becoming caring members of our communities, and watching the world morph into the place of our dreams.
And we all deserve our dreams.
This article was first published on a beauty full mind.
There are things we know.
We know them because, at the very bottom of things, we are all the same in at least one fundamental way: we are trying to be better. Better to others and to ourselves and to the world. Better as lovers, friends, care-givers, citizens, activists. Better as humans.
We want the world to be better, healthier and happier, and we have learned that to do this, we have to work on ourselves.
And so we find books and read what wise people before us have learned about the path of (self) realization. We learn, find communities of like-minded people, meditate, pray, and set intentions. We try to tread lightly on the Earth and focus on positive outcomes.
We have also come to understand that we need to be a little bit selfish in order to be more giving.
“I often joke, half sincerely and half seriously, saying that if we wish to be truly selfish, we should be wisely selfish rather than foolishly selfish. Our intelligence can help to adjust our attitude in this respect. If we use it well, we can gain insight as to how we can fulfill our own self-interest by leading a compassionate way of life.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We understand that we need to care for ourselves so that we can care for and serve others, that we can’t relegate ourselves to the far-off, dusty corners of the room and then expect to be a radiating presence when we step out into the world.
We have learned, in other words, that to self-nurture can possibly save the world.
But. But. What is most simple can be the most difficult thing to achieve.
How do we typically understand self-care?
We try to eat right, get enough exercise, breathe deeply, take time for ourselves, walk in bare feet on the grass, hug a tree, do creative things. We purge our spaces and try to simplify our lives. These are great things to do.
Still, we are consumed by the feeling that it is not enough, that nothing is happening, that we are not free of the darkest parts of us, ever-threatening to spill over and cause destruction from the inside out.
Maybe we need to simplify even further. Get down the very bottom, to the deepest, most basic nitty gritty of it all.
We want to learn how to love ourselves more? (Yes—self-care and self-nurturing necessarily lie on a glorious pillar of self-love).
How about starting with saying it?
I love you.
It’s not too difficult to tell ourselves that we should love ourselves, that self-love is our birthright. Right?
Yes, I love myself.
It’s not too hard to say it and even be a little bit convinced.
But now let’s try this: let’s go stand in front of a mirror.
Take a few moments, breathe deeply, and take a really good look. Contemplate what is right there. Notice the lines, the symmetries, the colours and folds of us, the changes. Make discoveries. It might be shocking, disappointing, refreshing, terrifying, exciting.
It probably won’t be boring, because we don’t often take the time to try and examine those aspects of us that manifest physically and ever-so-slowly on a daily basis. We have images of ourselves based on our thoughts and memories, on our best photographs scattered throughout the social media universe, and through what we’ve been told by others. So we come to feel we “are” a certain way that that this “way” is unchanging.
None of this is in the mirror staring back at us. The mirror can’t show us our memories, only what is there, reality as it is, if we’re being truly present to the moment. And we want to love all of it.
The first time I stared into my own eyes with the intention of telling myself “I love you,” I was startled by how reluctant I was, how I felt like I was taking up far too much space. I felt so incredibly naked, and a stream of thoughts and feelings coursed through me.
You’re not worth this exercise.
Go away and work on yourself some more first.
This is ridiculous.
(in a tiny voice) But I don’t love myself, so how can I say it?
I brushed aside my terrible fear of telling myself what I say so freely give to the people in my life who matter to me so much. I used my thinking mind to convince me that it was perfectly alright for me to do this exercise, that it’s meant for everyone. That I truly believe everyone is worthy love, and that this must include me.
Say it out loud, I told myself. It will be much more effective. I knew this because of how difficult the prospect was.
My face in the mirror looked at me expectantly, and very shyly.
“I love you.”
They were the loudest words I’d ever heard. Almost an intrusion. Love bit right into the gentle space of a world I’d concocted for myself that offered many paths of least resistance, where self-love was being shelved for another day.
Tears flooded my eyes instantly. I could feel the little girl inside of me filling up with hope and an openness I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I watched the tears roll down my cheeks, and a smile come to my lips; I noticed my mouth had a tendency to purse in a way that reminded me more and more of my mother’s mouth.
I come from my mother.
I come from a pure vessel of love.
I come from an enormous, aeons-long lineage of love. A human legacy of love.
It’s the simplest thing we can tell ourselves, and also the most shocking, and possibly the most activist-oriented and transformational thing we can do for ourselves, if we want to really begin
“I love you” is a great, powerful, tumultuous gateway to a universe full of infinite love, and what a service we’ll be doing the world if we can find our way there.
*Published in elephant journal, here.
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