Last weekend I got to dress up as a heron for my friend’s birthday party (you don’t get to do that every day!) and helped lead a workshop on our role(s) as guardians of life for future generations. I’m feeling very invigorated by all the community and emerging ideas around me.
The guardianship workshop concluded by asking each of us to take a vow of self care. They used as an example the “Great Vow for Mindful Activists” created by Mushim Patricia Ikeda:
Aware of suffering and injustice, I, _________, am working to create
a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I promise, for the benefit of all,
to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. I vow to not burn out.
Ikeda suggests literally signing and dating this vow. She expands beautifully on why self care is so essential: “The longer we live, the healthier we are; the happier we feel, the more we can gain the experience and wisdom needed to contribute toward a collective re-imagining of relationships, education, work, and play.”
Yes, self-care! But what does this really mean? I want to suggest that self-care is not something we only do on the side, as a time-out of sorts. With awareness and practice, self-care can also be inherent in all that we do. Not only does this make us more effective, I think it is also necessary for us to create healing and change in our lives and in the world.
I have approached self-care in two different ways in response to physical injuries. This example helps me see what self-care might look like in other contexts.
Self Care Version One: Rest.
As a teenager I was dancing in a way that created a repetitive stress injury. The first thing I had to do was stop. I gave my body some room to heal. I tried to figure out how much dancing I could do without overdoing it. The answer was very little. So I stopped dancing for many years.
Rest is a good things and there is really no getting around the value of sleep. It is a natural way that the body re-balances itself.
But have you ever found yourself so easily prone to being wiped that you spend more time resting and less time doing what you love? Or perhaps you’ve been in a place where you just can’t get enough rest no matter how much you sleep. Sometimes we also might experience feeling really lethargic or drawn to oversleeping because we are hungry for this feeling of re-balancing and sleep might be the best tool that we have.
Self Care Version Two: Finding a New Way to Do Things.
Eight years ago I had major surgery involving my chest, neck and arms. Resting from the surgery had resulted in my body feeling frustratingly frozen. After hitting a dead-end in physical therapy, I began working with Feldenkrais teacher Nick Strauss-Klein. The Feldenkrais method focuses on helping the body find a new way of moving that feels so easy and good that it so no longer interested in the injury patterns.
At the end of each lesson I would often be surprised how effortless it felt to turn, or roll over, or sit up. I could see how the “disorganization” in my body had been causing me to put in tons of unnecessary (and ultimiately painful) effort. I not only healed from my surgery this way, I also ended up healing my dance injury. I went on to create my very dance-filled life.
The purpose is to make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant.
I certainly experienced that as I went from pain and limited mobility into dancing. What made this possible was awareness; every movement was more aligned with the truth of my body. Rather than moving incorrectly and then taking care of myself by resting I had discovered a movement that was an embodiment of self-care.
The rest and care was in the movement itself.
Integrating self-care into your life might not simply mean scheduling time for a walk in the woods as well as marching for justice. It can also mean that you experience self care simultaneously to caring for others. Research has shown that volunteering can make people happier. I’m talking about becoming even more consciously masterful of how you are caring for yourself as you care for others.
My Qigong master teacher Chunyi Lin shares that he has learned how to be nourished by his connection to the universe at the same time that he is talking, leading workshops, doing healings etc. This is what makes him a master and capable of giving generously of himself. It is also something that we all can learn how to do.
The key factor here is how we cultivate our awareness. If we are not aware, our primary resource may be sleep. If we learn how to be aware of not just the movement of our bodies, but of our emotions and energy, we can get increasingly masterful at bringing ourselves into balance. Coming into balance gets easier and faster, until we can do it in the moment.
With awareness we can recognize new possibilities in impossible situations. As we come into alignment with our whole being, leaning into what’s possible becomes easy. It even becomes elegant.
Wouldn’t be wonderful to see these impossible-feeling times transformed into something elegant?
Your self-care is integral to that process. I invite you to join me in taking the vow of self-care and to keep developing the mindfulness skills that make self-care and social transformation elegant.
Want help finding that sweet spot between engaging with the world and self-care?
There are two upcoming opportunities dedicated towards coming into alignment with ourselves so that we can engage with the world in a way that is deeply honoring to our bodies and purpose in life.
- WISE UP Game Night
A playful and embodied way to get clarity about how to wisely move through these times.
- Rising to Meet What’s Next: Engage more deeply with these transformational times by attuning to your inner wisdom.
A deeper dive to help you attune to the voice that is ignited within you, compelling you to respond to our rapidly changing context of suffering and injustice.
Make self-care an (at least) weekly practice!