The missing ingredient in self-care

missing puzzle paintingIf there's one thing I believe in whole-heartedly, it's self-care. Your body, emotions, spirituality, relationships and work life are all vital for a full and happy life. It seems rather silly and short-sighted to neglect these things and hoping for the best. But self-care would be an interesting hobby at best, and annoying self-obsession at worst, if it was all about you.

Luckily, self-care oozes effortlessly. If you accept and love yourself, you create a stable inner home. People with stable inner homes can create a stable space for others, too. But there’s another way in which self-care can impact others, that doesn’t happen automatically: Making it possible for others to practice self-care. If it’s true that my own physical and mental health affect those around me (and who can still doubt this?) then making self-care possible for others, is an easy, yet powerful way to heal the world. 

We meditate, go on retreats, read books, listen to experts and explore our feelings in order to create capacity for ourselves to cope with what life throws at us. But it hit me – way too recently only: what if we use some of this capacity to create a little bit of breathing space for those who struggle for it? drops of waterPortia Jackson, prof of Public Health in the USA, says “self-care is influenced by who you live with, what you do, and what your community stands for”.[1] We are in contact with people, every day, who have little to no capacity for self-care. Isn’t it the most humane and natural thing to do, as we’re prompted on airplanes, to help others with their oxygen masks once yours is secured?

I’m reminded of these ancient words: “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rustic gate…. no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.[2] Centuries later, Richard Rohr echoes this when he writes: Without clear acts of free service (needing no payback of any sort), a person’s spiritual authenticity can and should be called into question. Divine Love always needs to and must overflow.”  Self-care that doesn’t impact the lives of those you come in contact with, is naval gazing – when your own thoughts and feelings consume you, sucking you right out of reality into your own spiral of self-obsession. 

Privilege is the absence of hindrances. We often don’t even realise how narrow the margins of many people’s lives are – how little space there is for anything joyful, peaceful, or restful. Can you imagine a life where there is literally no space to ever be alone? To lie in a hot tub? To go on holiday? And this while rubbing shoulders and being surrounded daily by luxury and resources you have no access to. We all share similar needs. We all get joy from acts of self-care. But it’s simply not accessible to everyone, for many and varied reasons. When I consider my own capacity for self-care, I see the striking absence of hindrances: 

I live in an equal relationship with my partner, where I’m “allowed” to have a life of my own.

I have some time to be alone, even if it’s 15 minutes a day. 

I have space to be alone, even if I hide in a tree in my backyard, or in the bathroom. 

I have help in my household duties which frees up space to fill with self-care activities. 

I have resources to aid my spiritual and emotional journey – books, podcasts, leisurely chats with like-minded friends;

I have the knowledge, experience, equipment and wi-fi to attend a zoom seminar or download a good talk;

I have the means to get safe childcare when I want to go out to fulfil a personal need. 

I live in a safe enough neighbourhood to go for a walk. 

I have good tackies to walk with. 

I can afford dental visits and good medical care, and can even sign up for pilates classes. 

I have a car to go to beautiful settings in nature – the beach, the forest, a mountain – where my cup is filled. 

I have choices at work: I can take breaks when I want to; I’m busy with meaningful work that makes me feel alive; I can get in my car and go pick up my child from school when she has tummy ache. I can get take-away dinner when I work late, to make my evening calmer. 

The list is endless.

Creating self-care capacity for someone else can be quick and easy, or involved and long-term.  It can be as simple as encouraging your housekeeper  to take 20 minutes during her morning to sit in the sun with her cup of tea. I’ve found that it helps to consider what you regard as self-care, and then see if you can re-create that in a suitable way….bearing in mind that lack of transport and unfamiliarity with certain environments can be intimidating. These are some ideas to make self-care possible for an employee in your office or home:

If she likes doing something creative, source some supplies, or create a corner for her to work, or a patch in the garden for flowers if that’s her thing. Enrol her in a pottery class (in work time – that’s probably the only time she has!). Book her a massage if her body feels stiff or sore. Drop her at the beach one beautiful morning, with a picnic basket. Paint her nails. Cook dinner for her and a friend or two, where you and your family serve her for a change. Help her download her favourite music or a sermon she’d enjoy. 

Has she ever had a weekend away, with no chores and responsibilities? How about arranging a night or two away for her, in a space where she is with whom she chooses to be, and doesn’t have to cook or clean – possibly for the first time in her life. (Be creative; and choose someplace where she’ll feel comfortable and cared for, not intimidated and overwhelmed.) 

povertyOf course, if her living circumstances are difficult, you can go really big and start the challenging project of finding and funding a house where she and her family can be safe and peaceful. A friend told me a lovely story of when she went to visit the house she bought for her gardener and his wife. The wife took her straight to the kitchen, and said: “I’ve never had my own sink. Now, I have one. When I’m alone here, I talk to it. I tell it: ‘Sink, you’re mine!’” 

I can just imagine that the mundane task of washing dishes took on a whole new, joyful quality!

If our self-care is only about our own oxygen, our spirituality is empty. I think that’s why we intuitively distrust the kind of spirituality that enriches the individual at the cost of others. Nothing, nothing in your life can change or grow without awareness. Awareness comes through self-care: taking time out to notice, to listen, to see, to feel. If we can create space for all individuals to grow, to find peace, to find inner strength, then we inch closer to a better tomorrow. 

For more reading: Five things you can do to help your domestic worker. Read 

[1] Portia Jackson, prof of Public Health, California

[2] The message, 1 Cor 13

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