I've learned to use a more appropriate "measuring stick" in the years that followed Nelson's death. One end is the reality of nature, and at the other end is potential.
Whenever I start noticing that I'm getting "off-center" (feeling that my peacefulness and balance are disturbed), I can trace it back to my self-care practices being de-prioritized or completely tossed by the way-side, even if only for a day or two. If it gets to be more than 3-4 days, my self-compassion seriously begins to wane, and fear morphs into self-talk which eventually becomes rampant and downright cruel, boxing me into a corner with my hands over my eyes and head.
Don't get it twisted...
Self-care is not selfish. Indulgence is when we prioritize the use of our personal resources on our wants ahead of our needs. Selfishness is when our needs and wants are drawn primarily at the expense of others.
When I say "self-care" I'm talking about taking responsibility to prioritize taking care of my actual needs (aka: well-being) above all else. It's kind of like the flight attendants say "Secure your own mask, before assisting others." and most of us have also heard the adage "You're no good to anyone if you don't take care of yourself." ...but I wonder, how many of us actually live in a state of cognitive dissonance (behaving contrary to our beliefs)?
It's hard to hear and even harder to admit. I should know. I fall into that state whenever my self-care practices fall by the wayside. As a coach, I want to be held to a higher standard because I feel like I should. ...and that's where the trouble begins. I start "should-ing" all over myself... Oy.
I'm pretty sure by now, that the term "self-care" has made it out into social media, the news, and even casual conversation...but how many of us really know what it is, and what it looks like?
While the specific ways we practice self-care can be different, what is ultimately the same is that it involves directing our own personal resources to cover our own needs above wants, our own or otherwise.
My personal self-care practices include things like
start the day by expressing gratitude to connect me with life,
stretches & exercises to support my vitality, flexibility, strength, and mobility,
vitamins & supplements specific for staving off depression & anxiety, and support mental focus & emotional balance,
secular prayer, meditation to calibrate my mind, heart & body to my values
set intentions for the day to provide clarity & direction
enjoy home-cooked natural foods like fruits, veggies, nuts & tea that support my mental, emotional and physical needs,
brief financial check-up for peace of mind,
listen to music to energize me and lift my mood
manage calendar & commitments to match my personal & professional goals, as well as personal thresholds to spend time & money, travel, and to rest & recharge in quietude,
recapitulate how I spent my day, how I felt, and what I want to do tomorrow,
at the end of the day, I write one or two sentences in a gratitude journal
pray for restful & rejuvenating sleep before I close my eyes into a peaceful sleep.
These are the things I aim to do daily. I've slowly built this framework into my lifestyle over the past couple of years.
Whenever I am consistent...
I feel so deeply in love with my life, that I wake up giggling, and feel the flow throughout my days. I easily transform challenges into opportunities and transmit Love, Light and happiness to everyone I interact with. I have a peaceful knowing in my heart that I am demonstrating all that I am capable of being in each moment.
I can actually see all of this and feel the positive current of fulfillment charge every cell of my being. It's beyond words to describe how truly amazing to live in a state of grace and gratitude!
Whenever I am inconsistent...
I feel like complete and total crap. I feel stressed, depressed, anxious and depleted. It's only in hindsight that I can see that whenever I'm inconsistent, things often either devolve into the madness they once were, or I'm seeing glimpses back into (an old life) of tormenting stress, armoring up defensively, and tunnel vision--fixated on quantity of work, to please, striving to be enough, etc.
I can't usually see past the madness and suffering during these times. Instead I can feel. I get the sense that the "walls are closing in," the reigns are tightening and the whip is cracking, and fear is feverishly poisoning and blinding me.
It's so different yet so familiar; that old life. It isn't until I "hit stop" on the horror movie I'm playing or until I scream out in pain that it stops... the old story falls away and I have a new chance to begin again...to gently restart my self-care practices.
Sometimes I reconnect with my intention to practice self-care to get back to higher ground, but I somehow restart on the wrong foot, rigid and regimented, finger wagging and whip-cracking--which defeats the purpose. It hurts, I recognize or cry out again, and the old story falls away and I can begin again. It's hard! Getting caught up in my old story, my old life is a habit that I've had for 40+ years.
It can be so hard to manage peace, progress and potential, because it requires practice, patience, trust and energy...all things which don't come without mindful awareness for me; but for all the joy, peace, hope, happiness and fulfillment I've seen on the other side, it's worth it. I remember that I don't want to carry around baggage of what could've been and the weight of guilt that would likely follow at the end of my life, knowing that I didn't try when I had the chance. I remember that I'm worth the effort and that I'd rather reach for a life of action & adventure instead of horror any day.
I need to actively note and respect my lifestyle choices by providing myself flexibility and support to say no to things that take away from self-care, or being wholeheartedly present to the activity. It can be challenging--especially when my self-care practices have slipped, and my tendencies ("old patterns") re-emerge to pay attention to quantity over quality, appearances over engagement, work over peace, perfection over failure, suffering over truth, distraction over coping, etc.
Taking personal stock
I recognize that I've internalized so many false ideas and developed harmful habits to support them. It takes daily time, energy, and practice to replace those fear-based habits with mindful practices because the price of regret is time--which I don't know how much I have here. None of us do.
In looking at my beloved Nelson, who died very suddenly at age 38, I'm glad that he lived well, with, from what I know of, very few regrets. He enjoyed life in the moment fully engaged with whatever and whomever. He didn't waste energy on worries and fear. He gave himself space to do the things that supported his happiness. He lead by example and he was unapologetically himself. His generosity of spirit was unmatched. He knew his tendencies and his goals, and he managed them both with what he knew in the present moment. His attitude about life surreal.
I was in awe of his energy, how he wielded it, and his ability to live wholeheartedly within the first few hours of getting to know him before we even started dating.
Thankfully I've come to see (and welcome that he) lives on within me through Love & Gratitude. I am blessed to now be able to live my life well because I can better see how it works altogether. First from Nelson, and now from mentors I've sought out, and from having my own experience.
When I fail nowadays, I aim to do so "daring greatly" (referencing Brene Brown quoting Theodore Roosevelt). When I muster up the courage to continue to do so, I am able to learn and grow from each experience. The pain is not suffering anymore, but expansion and strength. It can be a miraculous transformation that happens when I surrender to faith, love and gratitude for the opportunity.
Today, I can see how falling into old traps is an endurance test for me; one that is making me more adept at getting back up, a reminder for me to lead by example, and opportunity to try again, and one to be brave enough to pull back the curtain to show you the reality of how we will need to put in the effort at every stage of life to live it to the fullest.
Through all of these lessons and actively practicing self-care, I've rediscovered that we're all capable of living a life of friendship, service and leading life as an example of Love, Peace, Hope, Integrity and Gratitude.
I encourage you (as I often must remind myself) to both wonder & explore with purpose & light. Love & respect yourself as well as the nature & opportunities of experiences in your life and the rest will come.
What are some of your most valuable self-care practices? How do get back on track when something derails your days? I'd love to hear how you work through it! Email me or join us at our next Meetup group.