Does Self-Care Mean Doing More or Less?

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Happy Wednesday Dear!

This week it became evident that spring has sprung in DC.  The cherry blossoms defrosted better  than I expected after our late winter storm, and on Monday afternoon I was delighted to take a long walk among them in my pink birkenstocks and short sleeves.

Long awaited through the dark, dry winter, this magical time of year is finally upon us.  It’s so glorious and worth all of the waiting. They make me feel  filled with a sense of possibility and creativity that feels nothing short of rebirth.  

Of course, this time of year also has me thinking about self-care.  A friend recently forwarded me this article in the New York Times about how the concept of self-care has recently become exploited to generally mean idleness within the privileged classes.  

I’m thinking about what the author is saying.  To her, self-care means being creatively stimulated.  She likes feeling in the flow of an emerging idea or story and needs that stimulating energy to be nourished.  Slowing down feels stressful, and thus, relaxing is not self-care to her.

This shows that self-care can be  so different for all of us.  Talking to the security guard at my building, it’s clear that for her, self-care is cooking a big Sunday crab boil for her family.  After a long week of work, she delights in spending her Sunday cooking for others.  

To me, cooking a huge weekly meal for people is the opposite of self-care.  I always get nervous, plan too much and feel exhausted afterward.  Yet I appreciate the way she talks about cooking, and from our conversations, I became  inspired to care for myself in other ways.

Right now for me, self-care is being fairly idle.  Filling my spring Self Care 101 class immediately upon my return from India took more energy, humility and faith than I had expected.  Over these past few days, self-care meant sitting too long at a cafe, watching multiple episodes of Jane the Virgin and generally not doing anything of consequence.

I know I am privileged to have this kind of extra time to do nothing.  Yet by not giving myself the time to rest when my body, mind and spirit are asking for it, who am I serving?  

What I hope to say by sharing those thoughts is that self-care is a deeply personal act.  Each of us will choose a different way to care for ourselves, and I believe all of those ways are right.  

When done correctly -- meaning when we engage in self-care that authentically nourishes us -- self-care is extremely humanizing.  When we treat ourselves kindly, we gain more energy to care for others.  As we relax and let our guards down, we become more self-aware and can begin to embody perspectives different than our own.

The important thing is that we choose what feels like self-care to us, and that we enact it regularly in our lives.  Even if it inconveniences other people, we still have a right to advocate for our own self-care. If someone else’s standard doesn’t work, or actually causes more stress (boot camp anyone?), then we are allowed to throw away that definition.  

And because self-care is not a static concept, we are also allowed to change our idea of it through the seasons and times of life.  We can adapt our self-care so that it continues to serve us for the rest of our lives  

It’s from this place that we can encourage other people to care for themselves and honor the many different ways they choose to relax and recharge.  This might be by giving our employees more personal time with pay, or by letting an exhausted friend off the hook when she cancels plans last-minute.  It means honoring our partners when they choose to take a vacation by themselves or to spend an extra night a week going to yoga.  

We are all individuals capable of amazing things when we authentically care for ourselves. The more we see this in ourselves, the more we recognize in others, including those people who don’t look or live like us.

Let’s honor this spring with a real rebirth.  We can start with our own self-care and fill up our wells with water that feels sacred to us -- and only us.  Energized, we can share outward by being wildly generous with true joy.  

We can sprinkle this earth with water, treat it all like it’s so very holy and praise the people who walk upon it as the saviors we’ve been so desperately searching for in our lives.