Self-Care Isn't Always a Day at the Spa

I read a wonderful article today by Heidi Hansen called Kaleidoscope of Chaos: How Traumatic Boundary Violations Destroy the Capacity for Self-Care. It’s about trauma and its long-term effects on one's ability to step into and act within self-care.  The author, a trauma survivor herself, spoke bravely about her struggle with self-care and why it can feel near impossible to engage in activities that bring self-care into regular practice.  And it got me thinking about the whole topic....hence this post.

The practice of self-care is central to my tenet of "What's True Now?" and is one I intend to revisit over and over--because in my humble opinion, it's not talked about, practiced, embraced, wrestled with nearly enough in our modern day lives.  Or, it's talked about in banal terms that often make me want to roll my eyes and grumble, "if it were that easy, I'd be out of a job and selling smoothies on a beach in Tahiti."

Self-care is often misunderstood as engaging in activities that make you feel good. Immediately.  Like some kind of fix or distraction away from pain.  And sometimes it is. Sometimes, the very best gesture of self-care is a 5 minute love affair with a brownie drowning in dulce de leche...or a warm bath with bubbles past your armpits...or napping in the middle of the day despite the load of laundry that needs folding and the food that needs cooking.  These can all be radical measures of self-care.  But the key to determining whether it's self-care or habitual distraction rests on identifying what's actually happening in the moment.  And here it is again:  the practice of raw honesty about one's present moment brings about a kind of clarity that can allow us to feel, very deeply, what we need most as we meet life on life's terms.

So there will be times, then, that self-care means pausing right in the middle of a really uncomfortable feeling and doing NOTHING.    Breathing, noticing how our bodies feel experiencing that uncomfortable feeling, watching as the mind works fast and furious to create a story that's attached to the discomfort (some of the most common of the human condition:  "I'm always going to feel this way," "this feeling means ________ about me as a person,"  "who would love someone who feels this way"...............).  

And sometimes self-care means coming into full awareness that we are massively distracting ourselves from our pain or discomfort and choosing to bury ourselves in that brownie.  And that's ok.  Let me repeat that really important thing...THAT IS OK.  Pema Chodron often talks about a warrior as one who is willing to see the mind and habit patterns beat the daylights out of them, and yet still stay committed to travel the path of awareness of things just as they are.  

We can also look for information about habit patterns in our self-care commitment.  Do I notice that most times I feel lonely, I go to plan brownie?  Or each time I experience anger, I bury my head under the covers?  And taking a look at those habit patterns without judgement but with rigorous honesty and sincerity is also an act of self-care because it means we are willing to be intimate with ourselves.  And this, folks, is hard, and brave, and bold.  But without that intimacy with ourselves, we run the risk of living our lives scurrying away from one discomfort after the other, mired in one distraction after the next, like a dog chasing its tail.

In my book, that is suffering.  And it is a suffering that most of us have trained in for most of our lives so it's up to us to decide if we want to train in practice that meets our suffering in a whole new way.  A way that allows us to be fully human, flawed as we all are, and still awake and aware and deeply interested in what's really happening in any given moment of our lives.

So I invite you to take a moment today and ask yourself how you might deeply care for your being today, just in this moment.  From that quiet, non-judgmental inquiry, from that space cultivated by a big old PAUSE, we all stand a better chance of responding to our needs rather than yielding to habitual patterns of reactivity.

Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!

With love and bows,