It never fails; when I get down with a cold I turn all existential … the time spent in a semi-dozing state, the absolute tiredness, the quiet because I’ve come to the end of my show on Netflix.
Existential, as in, what am I doing? What are we doing? Just this morning news of another shooting, ridiculous presidential tweets, people struggling the world over just to survive.
Existential, as in, why write? Or try to heal?
As I go through the accumulation of a few days’ email, my own lassitude keeps my finger on the delete button … delete, delete, delete … all these newsletters, emails, offers to change my life … wonderful I’m sure, but there’s just no energy to read another strategy, another fix-it-quick technique, another smoothie recipe that will make sure the cancer doesn’t come back.
God! Right?? If you are still reading, thank you. Because I am going to write anyway, rouse myself from my lethargy and talk to you about what I think matters, about those little things that can get us through the day. Step by step to save the world.
Giving a Shit Starts With You.
What makes you feel good? Brings a little burst of joy? Who/what makes you laugh? What makes you sigh with pleasure and relief?
How often do you do/feel/experience those things?
The thing is, dejection about the state of the world, our health, our finances, or whatever, is pretty easy to fall into. We all have down days. Fair enough. Yet as I write, the snow—first one of the season—is falling, and my neighbor is outside with her toddler for his first snow. He’s michelined up into his snowsuit, stumbling around, trying—as I still do—to be functional with mittens on. It’s adorable. And I just let myself watch him, and feel joyful.
Watching a toddler in the snow is self-care.
A friend I know makes exquisite facial oils, decadent in their fragrance and skin-soothing base oils. Every night I rub some in my hands, mix with a bit of rose water to emulsify, and smooth on my face. My ritual takes, what—15 seconds?—I breathe in, and let my hands feel how precious my face is, my skin, my wrinkles, all of it. I think of my friend, who I love.
Loving attention to myself is self-care.
My cat happens to be soft as a bunny and invites me regularly to pet her, which I let myself take a few moments to do, because I like how she feels and smells. After about a minute of pets, she will invariably give me a little chomp, and then I move on with whatever’s next.
Although it’s nice for Luna, honestly, petting her is one of my favorite forms of self-care.
To bring self-care into your brain train, you have to give a shit about yourself. You have to honor and admit that you want things, time, experiences just for you. Not for your kids, partner, boss, or whoever/whatever else you are constantly giving to.
It’s ok to care about yourself. It’s ok to love yourself. It’s ok to want to take time for you.
I Don’t Have the Money/Time
Self-care is about taking the time to do or experience things that make you feel good. It’s that simple, and does not have to involve what my sister once called “rich lady therapies.” If you have the resources for weekly pedicures and massage—wonderful! Do it! Purchasing and enjoying services keeps people employed and you feeling pampered, so that you have that much more to give to whatever and whoever it is you care about.
But I invite you not to bail on yourself if you don’t have the money for a weekly massage. Self-care is not about money. Nor even really about time—my examples above all are under 5 minutes each. Two of them are free. (The facial oil is an investment of about $30, and lasts for months. So could technically be almost free: pennies per use.)
Do you have awareness of what brings you pleasure? Relief? Joy? Being able to care for yourself starts with the consciousness of what makes you feel good.
Nothing Makes Me Feel Good
If you are in the place where you feel totally numb, I hear you. I know how painful that is … how dulling, how exhausting. I’m so sorry if you are there. I know that it can take a seemingly ridiculous amount of energy or brain power to even think of one thing that you like.
When I was recovering from cancer, the one thing I could identify that brought me any kind of pleasure or relief was smell. I bought a diffuser and some essential oils, and as I lay in bed, utterly wrecked, I could inhale these different blends of scent, and I found this simple sensual practice very healing and soothing.
Is there one small thing that you could think of, that brings you a feeling of something other than numb? Wrapping yourself in a soft blanket? Fixing a perfect cup of tea or coffee—taking time just to smell it? A piece of music? Poetry? Something in nature?
When I was in the throes of a devastating heartbreak, the only thing that soothed me (in a healthy way), was flowers. I would take long walks around the neighborhoods (it was summer) and bury my face in roses, peonies, sunflowers. I would lay on the ground in parks, underneath trees full of bloom. Often I would cry. But I felt better, being in contact with these physical manifestations of growth, life, hope.
My point is, there is always something that we can do for ourselves. Some small thing. And small things lead to bigger things. If we can care for ourselves, even at our lowest, our most abandoned, then there is hope that we will get well, recover from heartbreak or ill health or grief, learn to feel equilibrium again.
Self-Care is NOT Self-Destruction
I think it’s important to make the distinction between self loving acts and things that just allow us to numb out further or escape. Look, I get that we all want to space out on shows, drugs, food, or whatever. Sometimes I feel that it’s appropriate. But numbing out is not the same as nurturing yourself. And while it may feel good to kill half a bottle of wine every night while you blank out on Netflix, that may not actually be a kindness you are doing for yourself in the long run.
I’ve had to identify those things that I do that are actually self-harming, rather than self-care. I know it sure feels good in the moment to eat half a chocolate cake or a whole box of cookies (they’re gluten-free, local—so it’s ok, right?). I love shopping online, and it’s only another $50 on the credit card. All good as I’m doing it. But after? Not so much.
Acts of self-care will not have negative consequences after you’ve done them.
There’s a concept we talked a lot about in the energy healing school I went to: negative pleasure.
I won’t go into it deeply here, but it’s when we learn to re-wire our brain to negative experiences instead of positive ones, usually as a response to trauma or overwhelm as a kid. And then we plug into those unhelpful behaviors instead of sourcing from a place that would actually be more affirming and healthy.
For example, I felt pretty disempowered as a teen. Shopping was a way to feel good, to feel like I had power. So instead of learning other ways to feel strong as a young woman, I learned that retail therapy was a way to feel good. Not that shopping is negative per se or always, but it became a bad habit for me with negative consequences.
My friend learned to smoke in middle school, to feel more at ease in social situations. Cigarettes become synonymous with acceptance and feeling cool. So when she needs to plug into acceptance, she smokes, rather than finding healthier ways to feel ok.
You get the idea. Some negative pleasure is more extreme: self harm, drugs, sex addiction, and so on. Those are easier to spot, though not easier to stop.
Of course, unplugging from negative pleasure is a bit of a life work, but god, it’s worth doing. Check in with your habitual “feel-good” things: shopping, social media, emotional eating/drinking, smoking pot or cigarettes, gossip, porn. Maybe these things are fine for you, or maybe they are draining your energy and making you feel icky, or even threatening your mental or physical health. Be honest, but compassionate.
We all have self-destructive things we do, because we don’t think we deserve authentic joy and self-connection, and we don’t know how to have that connection in the first place.
Core Values and Self-Care
Key to understanding what will really make your heart sing, as it were, is deeply grok-ing your own core values. I’m a sensualist, and I value nature, creativity and freedom. So things that tap me into those aspects of myself are nurturing.
You have your own values, your own hard-wiring for pleasure and comfort, values that may be buried under years of denial, pain, conditioning, whatever. If you can come into deep contact with yourself and your heart, you can begin to uncover what it is you truly value, and what you need to do for you to care for yourself.
Sometimes people are completely lost about who they are at their core. Lack of clarity is where Astrology or Akashic Record readings can be helpful, to lead them back to themselves. Body-centered practices are key for uncovering the self too—dance, yoga, EFT, walking quietly (without headphones) in nature are a few examples.
I’m happy to help you rediscover your core self, to find clarity about your longings, your passion, your heart’s needs. Reach out if you are curious.
Ultimately I believe self-care, self-nurturing, and self-love will save our species. If we can’t love ourselves … how can we care at all—really—about the planet, the elk in the meadow, someone else’s kid, the homeless man on the corner? If we can feel love, we can give it. If we’re just numb, then what can come of that? What grows there?
So writing my article for you has made me feel better—because writing is something I love to do—and in the process, though I’m still sick, not at my best, I feel hope for tomorrow, and a bit of restored faith in myself.
And maybe, I’ve touched a little place in you, so that you feel inspired to care more deeply for yourself. I hope so.
I’d love to hear about your self-care practices, where/when it gets hard to be nurturing, and what you might need to create more loving space for yourself.
P.S.: If you’ve been feeling some overwhelm about the general state of things, I want to include part of an inspiring email I got from Kelly Diels. Once you’ve cared for yourself, consider the following:
“Coming back to a model for how to contribute your life and your gifts…
…even when you feel like you don’t have a pre-established analysis to contribute or a material way to help…here’s how it maps out:
- The feeling of helplessness and overwhelm contain good information. They’re a cue. They tell us to look for people who are already working in this space because they have the knowledge and networks to make things happen.
- So, research the helpers and the experts already doing the work.
- Then look at your talents and competencies and see what you’ve got that they might most need. If you’re a caterer, maybe you cater an event. If you’re a publicist, maybe you publicize their gala. If you’ve got a workshop or a product, maybe you donate proceeds from your sales to their organization. If you’re outlandishly famous, maybe you become their ambassador. If you’ve got a TV show, maybe you dedicate some airtime to them. If you’ve got $10 on your credit card, maybe you send it their way. If you’ve got a phone, maybe you text the numbers they’re asking you to text.
We’ve all got something to offer and it’s when we offer them, one-by-one and en-masse, that we make a difference.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and helpless: remember, that’s good information. It’s a cue for you not to try and take it all on yourself — but instead, look for the people who know what to do and use your gifts to lift, amplify and resource their great work.
It’s never on one person, but each of us does have a contribution.
And together we rise.
love + justice,