The year of radical self-care
The bravest thing I asked my 30-year old self to do was slow down enough to see "me".
Who was I? What kind of lifestyle was I creating? What kind of people was I attracting? And most importantly, what kind of story was I telling myself? Sometimes, we don't stop and look, because we're scared. It's natural to fear. Especially when we're on the precipice of change. Something in our ego senses it and actively resists.
Richard Rohrer says "The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it's not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.”
In part of this slowing down, I started examining the messaging going on inside my own head, and it felt pretty negative. So made a little deal. Thirty was my year for radical self-care. Anything self-care related was on the table—books, conferences, experiences, weekend getaways to California. Anything my little heart wanted, I went to great lengths to make possible. Because as women, we need to relearn that the desires of our hearts are good.
But what amazed me was how hard it was to just say "yes". My mind easily produced one-thousand reasons to justify not spending money on self care. Reasons like:
"What if I don't learn anything life-changing at this blogging conference. Won't it all be a waste of time?"
"I already have too many self-help books. Why not just be content to read one I already have?"
"Is this just another personality test thing? Oh, I already know all about that."
"I've never been to a counselor before. What is she going to ask me?"
"Can I really take four whole vacation days just for me? Isn't that selfish?"
There are so many reasons not to begin, especially when it comes to the important work of growing our self-understanding. Learning to sit with the questions, the long silences, and the areas where we feel weak is hard. But as my friend Morgan likes to say "Doing the inner work allows us to hold space for others to meet us there." And that's exactly why I committed myself to a year of radical self care.
Holding space for others to grow in their self-understanding is my goal.
And so I started doing my homework. I bought an all-inclusive membership to a gym with a spa and women's lounge outfitted for every relaxation need. Some days going to the gym for me doesn't even involve working out, but just soaking in the hot tub or sitting in the steam room. And when my inner self-critic demands I endure a punishing workout before I let myself indulge, I started to learn how manipulative I am with treating myself well. I always feel like it I have to earn what I enjoy. Like giving myself a gift, even on a daily basis, wasn't acceptable.
Dear women, this is a big problem.
Just think about how you give gifts to other people. Do you give out of a place of delight? Of course, you do, it's a gift for a friend! So why is it that we struggle so much to do the same for ourselves?
Your body is a gift
Richard Rohrer says "Self-care is never a selfish act— it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch."
Ridding ourselves of the collective guilt of taking care of our bodies is a need, not a luxury. Our nature as women is to deeply nurture, and when we turn that energy away from ourselves in neglect or disgust or fear we destroy the most precious thing about us. So when we take that long hot bubble bath, we aren't being frivolous, we are doing exactly what we do for the rest of the world in providing a safe space. We are reflecting some of that love back on ourselves, and rightfully so.
Western society is just now awakening to the crisis that we are acting more like disembodied minds than whole, integrated present beings, and technology is only making it worse. We pay entire workforces of people to sit at their desk and only use their minds to solve problems. That's why we see a resurgence of yoga, meditation, and the other slow arts of connecting to our bodies. We are returning to that primal wisdom we've known all along, but stuffed away in a dusty corner somewhere and forgotten about.
That soft, feminine energy we are so good at is making a comeback.
But before we can bless others with it, we must learn the much harder art of blessing ourselves. As most things in life, this is all about staying present and showing up for our desires. Heartbreaking as it is, we've been culturally trained not to show up for ourselves. Everyone else comes first. Our cultural identity is more martyr than fierce feminine presence. And we know by now that change is an inside job, so what can we do to get unstuck from this place of disconnectedness with ourselves? If we can't snap our fingers or think our way there, we must realize that the pace our lives are going at is too fast.
Befriending our bodies through mindfulness
Being mindful of our thoughts, the good and the bad, and sitting in it without judgement is the first step. We are expert self-curators, from our Instagram albums to our Snapchat filters, which means we are especially harsh critics. We see the flaws and only the flaws. We have a zoom lens on the bad things and live in thinly veiled terror that others will judge us for our imperfections. And all of this takes a toll on our beloved bodies, the place we call home and the skin we should feel the most trusted and loved in.
Bessel A. Van Der Kolk of "The Body Keeps Score" says this of mindfulness: “Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.”
Compassion and curiosity are to beautiful components that arrive from being mindful and present in our bodies. And I'm not just talking about taking a yoga class. Mindfulness is anything that brings us home (i.e. to the present moment). This can be dance, a pottery class, improv, singing, playing a musical instrument, or swimming in a body of water. It requires a graceful softening around our heart edges and of releasing control. Anything that helps us flow with the currents of life instead of conspiring against it.
The larger chunks of day we can take for self-care, we will begin not just seeing, but feeling the difference. As I close out this year of radical self-care, I plan to set up practices to sow it into habit. What the body practices, it remembers, and if we can slow it down and show kindness and acceptance to our bodies, just imagine what is possible for us! We will no longer accept bad treatment from those whose love we feel we have to earn. The burden of insecurity will lift off our shoulders. The question "Am I worthy" will be a bold declaration instead of a meek wondering.