This is a recurring theme at the moment. Self-care. If you are living any kind of spiritual life, seeking to be of service in the world and to others around you, then it is crucial. Yet it can be challenging to sustain a good, robust self-care routine.
The word routine for a start, smacks of rules. I’ve tried that way; lists with daily “jobs” for self-care such as meditation or so many minutes of cardio-vascular exercise, food black lists, goals for positive habits and attitudes to cultivate. It means that I always manage to turn something positive and life-giving into something restrictive and limiting. And then I begin to avoid it – no eye contact with the self-care rules! – and then it goes out of the window.
So how to cultivate a practice of self-care that brings joy?
- Give yourself the same compassion as you would another. I love the phrase from the Bible about how God feeds the sparrows, and that “you are worth many sparrows.” You would feed the birds in your garden (if you have one), you would give to a nature charity, or buy a copy of The Big Issue. You would offer someone on the bus your seat, or listen to a friend who rings in need. How would it be if you gave the same kind of consideration to yourself? You’re allowed. You are much loved. When you’re tempted to avoid self-care can you try to approach yourself, gently, as you would another?
- Listen to your body. I am only just coming to understand the power of this. The body knows. While we live so much of our lives now in our heads, in our thoughts, we are, in essence, creatures, beautiful, complicated, earthy, creatures. What do you need right now? I’m not talking about stuff, a new album or those killer pumps you saw yesterday online. How is your body? Are you feeling any discomfort? Where is that coming from? Are you fed and watered? Do you need ten minutes to clear your head? Listen to your body and treat it with respect and love, it is an incredible gift.
- Linked to the point above, but are you getting enough? And how is it when you sleep? Does it take ages to drop off? Are you often awake in the night? Sleep is our time to process and reset, it’s our CTRL – ALT – DEL reboot. Giving some thought to creating a good sleep environment for example no phones or tablets in the bedroom, fresh air where possible, a good pillow, lavender oil to help you calm after a hectic day, is a good starting point.
- Find your passion. What sets you alight? Do you run? Or enjoy baking? Or reading? Do you like to play board games or geek out with Kerbal or Minecraft? Do you enjoy creating with art? What is the thing that makes your heart sing, that takes the embers of your soul and sets it ablaze? Finding this, whatever it is, points us towards our joy, towards our vocation. The place, as Frederick Buechner says, “where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Now that’s magic.
- Know yourself. There is so much around about self-development, courses you can take to be a better human, ways to hone your soul. It’s worth starting out with some self-knowledge first though. Who are you anyway? If you’re on a spiritual path then the Enneagram is a great tool to look at our core strengths and needs, and for looking at how we interact with others Myers-Briggs is tried and tested. Knowing that you’re an Introvert rather than an Extrovert for example can help you pinpoint the importance of time on your own and help you avoid burn out.
- Find your tribe. Who are those people who support you? We are designed to be communal creatures. We are designed to have others around us to support us and who we, in turn, support. Find those people. They might be in your family, or in your circle of friends, you might find them through an online group or on Facebook. Finding a mentor or spiritual director can also be good. Someone to help you take a good look at where you are and where you’d like to be headed.
It’s a beginning. Compassion, body care, finding your passion, knowing yourself, finding your tribe.
You are so worth it. Brightest blessings.