This edition of Reflections is an update of one I sent in the spring of 2016, when things seemed very different from the way they seem today, somehow. Still, the message to care for one another and ourselves seems more and more important.
I hope this day finds you well and aware of blessing. What has gone right today so far? I have found that I needed to ask myself that question today. I’ve been tired and inclined to forget how many beautiful things have gone right to bring me to this moment, this page, this writing to wonderful YOU!
So thank you, Universe, for all the blessings you are showering on me at every moment. I so appreciate them!
I want to write to you today about self-care and self-compassion. About what it is, who are the “selves” we’re caring for, and how we do it.
“Self” is a slippery word. There are ways in which we have no “self” at all. Rather, we are part of the Great Sea of Being, entirely undifferentiated from any other thing in the Universe. And they, in turn, are undifferentiated from us.
But we have this thing called consciousness, and the other thing called ego, and they help us maintain boundaries around ourselves. Those boundaries are not bad, per se, but they can be difficult to manage in healthy, skillful ways.
It is the boundaried Self that I suggest today we care for.
So how do we do it?
I’m realizing as I write this, that I could write article after article on just this subject, so forgive me if there is much I leave behind at the moment.
How do we do it?
For one thing, I think it’s important to identify those parts of ourselves that make up a life: Platonic relationships, physical well-being, romantic and/or sexual relationships, spiritual connection, mental health, emotional centeredness, right livelihood, etc. What are the parts that feel solid, where you feel as though you are giving yourself the nourishment you need?
And where are the parts where you feel you have your work cut out for you? Where do you feel a longing, a lack, or a sense of brokenness or void?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw you into the deep end and suggest that you address all the hard parts at once, especially if conscious self-care is not something you’re used to.
Nonetheless, and I quote this Black, lesbian warrior poet with all respect, Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Especially for those of us who are marginalized due to various identities, and most of all, for those of us who are Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color Lorde’s quotation is super-important and a call to action on our own behalf. By “political warfare,” I believe she means first of all, that the culture will not take care of us, that the culture, in fact never meant us to survive (to paraphrase another poem of Lorde’s). Late-stage capitalism is not the habit of taking care of anyone but the most privileged. We need to care for one another and for ourselves, both.
Second of all, caring for ourselves is rooted in self-compassion. Self-compassion is the fine art of forgiving ourselves for being human. For messing up. For needing to apologize. For not being able to keep all the balls in the air. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is much more effective at building a positive self-image than are efforts to take “Self-esteem” head-on.
Self-compassion makes us more able to work for a just culture, a place where all of us, those who are privileged and those who are not, can work toward what the Rev. Dr. King called Beloved Community. Self-compassion helps us work for and care for that culture, to demand the revolution that will bring it about. Ultimately to live together in a way that “self-care” will not only be the province of the privileged.
Self-compassion gives us the power, energy, and vitality to do the things we most want to do, and one of the things I most want to do is make the world a more just and kind place for all people, including, and sometimes starting with those who are most oppressed in our society.
Self-compassion allows us the energy to foment revolution, if that’s our inclination, because it teaches us that we can learn from our mistakes, heal from our wounds, and try again.
As Parker Palmer says, caring for ourselves is not only caring for ourselves. It can mean caring for the world. If we don’t stop with ourselves, if we bring the same compassion we learn for ourselves into the rest of the world, we become agents of transformation.
Furthermore, the very acts of changing the culture mean that those of us with privilege will think less about whether we need a spa day and more time leaning into creating and maintaining just culture that takes care of everyone. Where we have child care, roads and bridges, education, safe housing, and health care because people who love one another, people who care for one another, people who build a culture together care that we all have these things.
The culture needs to change such that where we have privilege, as adrienne maree brown says, we will “dismantle any myths of privilege,” and where we struggle, we will “claim our own joy, dignity, and liberation.”
So all that said, I ask you again, where do you need some special care and compassion? Where will routine help you and keep you well? You think you can’t do routine; you think it’s boring or useless?
Well, first, I ask you this: forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for everything every day. Just start there.
And then, I challenge you. I challenge you to find some routine that is life-giving and that you can practice for some number of days. Maybe as few as 7 days: A week of breakfast at the same time every day, a week of journaling first thing every morning, or a week of every day working in the coffee shop so you can be around people if that is nourishing to you. Or a week of carefully curating your social media, or even taking the week off from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I so need to do this, and it terrifies me!) Or a week of spending five minutes, sitting at the edge of your bed each morning, just breathing.
Something small with enough days that you can see how you feel after.
And then decide what you want to keep. What is nourishing? What made you say, “why have I not been doing this all my life?” Something tiny. Something the reminds you of the beauty of the world – and maybe that’s it, simply writing five things from the day past for which you are grateful.
Whatever it is, I’d love to hear about it. Simply reply to this email, or if you received this from a friend, write to email@example.com and I’d love to get back to you.
So much love. So much love,