By Teresa McLellan
I find it quite interesting and “almost” humorous that I committed to writing a blog about self-care and then could not find the time to actually write it! While I am getting much, much better at taking good care of ME, I still have too many unrealistic expectations, push myself too hard and struggle to maintain balance in my life. However busy my schedule is though, I try to find time in my day to BE with ME, in stillness, listening to my body, my heart, my mind and attempting to meet my needs as best I can each day. My mental health, well-being and peace of mind depends on this daily practice and my relationships are better for it.
First let me clarify what I mean by self-care. When I first started practicing self-care many years ago, I made a list of things to do that I enjoyed, that gave me pleasure and that provided me some relaxation. On the top of my list at that time was bubble baths with soft music and candles. As a single mother of two young children, this act was truly a luxurious treat. That old list also included walks in nature, going to the gym and eating healthy. Before I really understood SELF-care, these were all just behaviours, activities and things to add to an already full to do list. That is why I am writing to share with you what I now know, understand and have experienced about SELF-care that is way deeper, more satisfying and fulfilling to my entire being. To understand this, we need to understand the SELF.
Virginia Satir used the metaphor of an iceberg to capture and describe the intricacies of the human experience. She said that every human being has thoughts, behaviours, perceptions, beliefs, feelings, judgments, expectations and yearnings. We all use coping, have a physical body and most will have access to 5 senses. In addition to these different layers, she described a much deeper SELF as our true essence, our spirit, the I AM, a connection to life or life energy, the core of who we are. This part of us is complete, whole, in balance and perfect harmony as it is. However it gets lost or buried amidst many unresolved issues, emotions, expectations, judgments and pressures. Ultimately we get lost in our own human experience. Without self-awareness and the act of self-reflection, we stay stuck, disconnected, lost and we use an excess of energy living this way. When our energy is depleted we risk fatigue, exhaustion, illness and burnout.
SELF-care is about reconnecting, restoring, replenishing, rejuvenating, and reenergizing our spirit. As an imperfect human being, I disconnect from myself often throughout the day. However, as I become more aware of this disconnect, I can choose to reconnect at any time. Today when I practice self-care, I am actively and consciously reconnecting to my source of life. As I choose me, I choose life, I also choose love, light, peace and joy. As I reconnect with me and my deeper spirit, I am reminded that I am already whole exactly as I am. I can accept me as I am and embrace all of me. Even the parts that I had previously judged. In this place of deep connection with me and with life, all is well. I am safe and anything is possible. I have hope. I believe. I know I will be okay. When I am disconnected I forget who I am. I get caught up in who I think I should be, who I think others expect me to be and who I wanted to be. I get lost in this false self, trying to be somebody I am not. When I remember, I come back to me and I breathe. Self-care is the act of returning to me: honestly, intimately, deeply and unabashedly.
I believe the foundation of SELF-care lies in attachment, mindfulness, and self-compassion: In attachment theory, our secure base or safe haven is one who is there for us in times of distress. That loving, attentive and responsive caregiver is present, available and trustworthy when we need them. Do we attend to ourselves in this same way? Are we trustworthy when it comes to our own self-care? Do we protect ourselves and keep ourself safe or are we our own worst enemy? Can we be attentive, nurturing, present, responsive and sensitive to our own needs?
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as a way of paying attention, in the present moment without judgment. One can be mindful of the outer world and the inner world. SELF-care is more about being mindful of one’s inner world. For some, this inner world can be quite foreign and for others it can be frightening, however this inner world is our human experience and without accepting it and caring for it we react quite unconsciously to the outer world without ever truly knowing ourselves. Self-reflection, the witnessing and sometimes sharing of one’s internal experience has been said to have a profound effect on the brain. We are our own witness during self-care.
Kristen Neff says self-compassion is treating yourself the same way you would a friend or anybody else that may be having a difficult time with warmth, kindness and caring. We are often so harsh, critical and demanding of ourselves when we struggle, make mistakes or are not perfect. She says that self-compassion recognizes suffering as a common human experience. In order to be mindful of our own suffering, we must be aware, take the time to check in with ourselves, listen to our inner experience and tend to our needs with respect, sensitivity and honor. This is SELF-care.
So when I make the time to be with me, I ask myself: what do I need right now? Then I listen. I sit in stillness until I hear the answer. I listen with compassion and kindness, patience and understanding. Especially if it has been a while since I stopped or listened. Have I been kind and gentle with myself or critical and demanding? Have I been balancing doing and being or have I been pushing myself and never letting go? Or maybe I have been procrastinate and putting off what is truly important with little to no motivation or energy for me? Do I put others first ignoring what my insides are screaming for? What do I need right now?
This time, this choice, this action to BE with ME is self-care.
Stop, Sit, Listen, Be
I am me and I am okay.