A Field Guide to Life – The Practice of Self-care

by Brad on February 5, 2013

This installment of A Field Guide to Life invites you to take care of yourself – as in, you. Although we’ve been taught self-care is self-ish, the opposite its true. Only by keeping ourselves filled can we remain strong enough to care for others and the world. Challenge: shift your perspective; change your world.

 

Practices for Self-Care

“When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others.”   – Anaïs Nin

You matter. Your life matters. You are here for a purpose. You cannot be your purpose if you’re being someone else’s. If you are to manifest your own greatest potential, you’ll need to build a foundation of a strong and healthy self. We’ve been taught a bad lesson most of our lives – that self-care means self-ish. Nonsense. If you don’t care for yourself and your own needs, how can you sustain the energy you need to live the true purpose inside you, or care for others? You can’t give what you don’t have.

I used to travel significantly for business, listening flight after flight to the safety briefing, wondering each time how I could possibly put on my own oxygen mask before I helped my children. On one flight, for no [apparent] reason whatsoever, it dawned on me. If I couldn’t breathe, I’d be of limited value to my sons. By this time, they were old enough to put on their own masks, but I was just catching on. At that point, curiosity helped me begin an inquiry into the topic of self-care.

17150828The inquiry led me down fascinating back roads, but the essence of my experience is this: when you fill yourself to the brim with exquisite care for every dimension of your being, you have embedded into your way of being a process that creates its own energy … energy of sustaining your own life. With this, a miraculous opportunity arises. Filling yourself with love and care is like filling a water bucket. When the bucket is full, it overflows. When you’re full with care, you overflow, too. Keep filling. The overflow becomes the energy that powers your life. The amazing thing is that this energy is available “for free;” it’s overflow. Never again need you be drained of your energy. You’ve created a very powerful machine – your presence – powered by the idea that self-care matters. You can’t sustain a life of meaning and purpose if your bucket is empty, no matter how caring you may be. Serving others offers meaning and satisfaction, but without a sustainable source of energy to do the serving, you can sustain neither your own life nor theirs.

Practices for self-care help fill your bucket and keep it full. As you “do” the practices, one of the side effects is that you change the way you see and think, about yourself, about self-care and about serving others. You actually rewire your brain’s neural pathways to redefine your ways of believing. Below are practices you can adopt to care more fully for the true self you are. 

From the practices that follow, start with ones that “feel right” for you. From there, add new ones each week. Resist temptation to label or judge practices; each one has something to offer you. As before, journal your experiences as a way to cement your new learning into new habit. If you think you don’t have time for these, ask how much time you spend watching TV. Problem solved.

Take care of your body:

  • Walk: Your body needs exercise; your mind needs cobweb clearing; your emotions need a break; relationships need to include one with yourself; your soul needs quiet time; your spirit needs connection to nature. Walking does all these. You can walk regardless of the weather or your age. Thirty minutes each day is a good start; that’s two miles if you get into it; it’s a mile if you just want to absorb. Do more if you like. This may be the most significant piece of self-care you can do. A few criteria: walk in silence, even if with a friend; honor the time as sacred and purposeful, resisting temptation to make things-to-do or grocery lists; actively notice sights and sounds of nature; tune out whatever humanity you must deal with.
  • Yoga: In addition to needing activity, your body and mind want to be flexible and to be connected with each other. Yoga is a great way to do both. Take a weekly yoga class. Then for 15 or 20 minutes each day, do as much as you remember from the class. Over time, memory and your practice will improve. Yoga is not about perfect poses, but about presence, practice and integration.
  • Nutrition: How you treat your body reflects how you see life. Figure out what “healthy” means for you, (there are many good sources, and each of us is different), then honor your body with good nutrition. Your body is your vehicle for the work you do in the world. Fuel matters.

Reconnect yourself with your Source:

  • Be in nature: You are part of nature. Nature renews and refreshes. She nurtures and embraces. Denying the experience of that deep, primordial connection is a cause of the personal and societal malaise, stress, depression, and loss of spirit we experience today. Break the habit. For an hour or so twice a week, be in nature. Don’t ‘do’ anything; just experience nature’s gifts. You might find a special location, so as you return regularly, you get to know it personally. Being in nature doesn’t mean sitting under a tree talking politics; nor taking a back road to the mall. It’s purposeful, quiet, reflective time in the natural world. If you need something to “do”, listen to nature’s messages; she offers all you need to unravel life’s mystery. Ponder the word reverence. Despite its simplicity, and despite its initial awkwardness if it’s new to you, this practice reconnects you with soul, spirit, the unity of all life, your own deepest truth, your higher power, and the center of your existence. You’ll never be alone again.
  • Listen to inspiring music: Inspiring music takes you out of your everyday thought process, opening you to imagination, intuition and spirit. Like the others, this practice is intended to be purposeful – not just incidental. Listening to the radio on your way to work doesn’t do it. Choose music without words, because words draw you into thinking; avoid rock or rap. Sit quietly for a half hour or so; listen.
  • Watch a sunrise: Once each week, find a place you love and watch the sun rise. This ritual breaks a daily routine and opens you to celebration of new beginnings and rhythms in life. There’s a reason that, for millennia, human rituals have included sunrise. If you choose a place to which you return each week, you gain awareness of seasonal changes as well. It doesn’t count to watch the sun rise from traffic on your way to work, nor on your way home from an all-night party.   
  • Have fresh flowers in your home: Fresh flowers not only touch the emotions, they’re also a reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life, inviting you to appreciate and be present for each moment. Thank them for the gifts they offer in your life: beauty, fragrance, connection, rhythms, the sacred. Native Hawaiians celebrate flowers as a metaphor for life: we are here only for a brief moment; there’s time only for love. When it’s time to part with your flowers, Hawaiians say, “honi ka ua” (“kiss them.”) Say thank you.

Connect with others:

  • Build or join a community: Communities are collections of individuals united by a common thread. The thread may be a passion, love, friendship, a mission, common inspiration, mutual support, faith, or family. Through mutual nurture, healthy communities energize both individual and collective. As you connect, notice how community moves you forward, how your presence helps move the community toward a shared vision of the future. A caveat: if the common thread of a community is “what’s wrong” or complaint, the resultant “community with attitude” has little power to change anything in a meaningful way.

Enjoy the experience of life:

  • Have some fun: Fun is part of life. Here’s an idea: do something outrageously fun for yourself for less than $10. This is a great way to discover inner self. Only you know what’s fun for you. In doing it, you open to your innate childlike wonder and innocence. When I first did this practice years ago, I made a picnic breakfast one winter morning, and went to the ocean to experience sunrise. What I didn’t anticipate was waking to a temperature of 11 degrees below zero that day. Needless to say, there were no crowds, but I’ll remember that day forever.
  • Adopt a sport or hobby: Any regular “activity,” such as playing a sport or doing a hobby, connects you with yourself. If it’s something you truly love, it may connect you with many or all of your six dimensions. What have you always loved?

 

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