The Medicine Of Self-Care

 

Yesterday was my first day back teaching at a local college after four months of being “off” for summer break. Being back in a fast moving, regulated system with lots of people, and lots of expectations and beats to hit, is always a reminder to me of how difficult it is to take care of yourself. The external pull for how to show up is so great that it often seems like you need an act of God or Nature to break free from the gravitational force of “do more, faster, and more perfectly.” It was only Day One of classes, and yet, many (most?) had already hit the ground running.

There is no lack of information out there on what we are supposed to be doing to take care of ourselves. We are supposed to manage our stress, eat a healthy diet and exercise more. I do not think there is a single person within earshot of the Western world that has not heard that advice. We read about it. There are programs for it. We can download apps to help us be better. Only…we are not better. We are sicker, more stressed, more overweight, more sedentary and more unhappy then we have ever been. We can look to multiple causes for the situation we find ourselves in ranging from the environments we live and work in, to how we feel about ourselves, to lack of direct experience around how to actually take care of ourselves.

Self-care is always a choice. Based on what is all around us though, along with what we have been taught, it is certainly no easy choice. It requires that we go against the grain; the grain of our own habits and beliefs, and the grain of a culture that makes doing the unhealthy thing the automatic, easy, and “right” choice. So what are we to do? Maybe we can get clues by looking more closely at the word “self-care.” The dictionary has many, many meanings for the word “care;” protection, charge, temporary keeping, an object of concern or attention. One definition of “self’ is a person’s nature. I would like to propose that we think of self-care as a way of serving, honoring and safeguarding our truest nature. And while that may seem like a tall order at first glance, it actually is not because what we are really talking about is a return to something that already exists within each and every one of us; the capacity to choose on behalf of ourselves. And how we get there may be simpler than you think.

While I was “off” from teaching this summer, it became very, very clear to me that in any given moment I had a choice to make. On the one hand, I could notice and respond to how I was feeling. On the other hand, I could act on what I was “supposed” to be feeling based on longstanding beliefs or what others expected I feel and do.This is the crossroads we all reach each and every day; will you honor what your truest nature is feeling and needing or will you do what looks good on paper? It is the difference between listening and ignoring. It is the difference between being authentic and automatic. So, what would it be like if you learned to listen way down deep and then chose to act on that? What would it be like to notice when you are hungry, tired, and thirsty regardless of what the environment pulled for? How might you serve yourself by noticing that the way you have your life set up is too fast, too demanding, too inhumane? How might your life improve if you just chose to trust that even though it might not look like anything you have ever seen, or for that matter anything anyone else has ever seen, it is your way nontheless?

I often tell my students that taking care of yourself is not a chore. Nor is it a burden. It is not some dry and obligatory way of “have-to” living. It is not built on guilt or shame. It is not about “being good” or “being bad.” Instead, it is a celebration. Of Life. Of your Truest Nature. It is a way of choosing on behalf of yourself.  It is something you get to do.

Darkness as Medicine

 

Years ago I was doing a shamanic training. It was an intensely deep, personal and arduous experience. Suffice it to say that when I began this inner exploration there was a lot I ran into about myself that I had been keeping from myself; both the light and the dark. A shaman is said to be one who sees in the dark; one who goes into those places most of us do not want to go because we are afraid of what we might find. Rightly so. At one point, utterly and completely overwhelmed by it all, I was wisely told, “This is your power coming towards you.” Nothing about my experience felt empowering. It felt dark, scary and beyond me.

When looked at from a certain angle, we are living in very, very dark times. And we are most definitely at the end of something. The evidence is everywhere. Every form of life is crying out in one way or another. We are drowning in violence. We are saturated in suspicion and hate for those we do not understand. Our bodies are screaming in pain and with great alarm. Nature rebels.

We have a choice to make, each and every one of us. How will we choose to be in this time of great upheaval? Will we put our heads in the sand, refusing to see? Or will we turn towards the pain and violence we see all around us and do the bravest thing of all; find it within ourselves. I have built a life on choosing to see. Deciding to know, no matter what. I will tell you that this one decision alone has brought me the greatest comfort, joy and inner confidence that I have ever known. Equally it has brought me the greatest fear I have ever known. It is terrifying to look at those things we have shoved beneath the surface. But like anything pushed down long enough, it will makes its way back to the surface at some point, with or without our consent.

Whatever is breaking down in you, let it. Whatever is dying, say good-bye and thank you. Whatever is struggling, hold it tenderly and then allow it to release. Do not try and get past this. As I was once told, “When all that can falls away, what remains is true.”  We need to let what needs to, fall away. We need to become the ones who can see in the dark. The ones willing to become familiar with those banished places within ourselves. For only in knowing the dark places within will we be in a place to understand the totality of who we are. And in knowing this, we will understand and shift what is happening all around us.  As the saying goes, “As within, so without.”

Wounds as Medicine

 

Six weeks ago I was running in the woods and thinking about what I had seen one of my chickens do, which was to leap up in the lightest and most graceful of ways. I was trying this as I jumped over things in the forest. It was fun. I felt so alive and young. Then, WHAM! I was on the ground. Somehow as I was leaping over a log, one foot stepped on a branch fixing it into the earth while my other leg came down on top of it. Pain shot up my core and for a minute I could not breathe. I was caught so unawares. That alone made me sob.

When I looked down at my shin, I swear I saw bone. It was grotesque. I couldn’t bear to look at it so when I got home I put a band-aid on it without even cleaning it out. I left the band-aid on for two weeks. While I felt an almost continuous sensation there, I just could not look at it. Finally, in the presence of other people, I did look. It was a little gross, but getting better. I regularly showed “my wound” to my husband like I was a kid with a boo-boo. He would put on his concerned face. This helped. Then the scab came off, revealing a whole new level of wound underneath the scab on top. There is still a bruise which runs the lower half of my shin and is sore to the touch. But it too is healing. I am seeing that even though the worst is over, there are still some things I need to do to help this along.

This experience has paralleled for me the first real “wham” that we get in the world when we are young. The one that cuts the deepest simply because we were innocent to the possibility of its occurrence. At first, it feels like it’s too much for us, so we cover it up with false stories, behaviors and defenses because we are too afraid to look at it directly. And then slowly, if we are lucky and starting to wake up, we look beneath what we have covered up; hopefully in the presence of caring and compassionate people. We start to look at the hurt, becoming aware of what caused it along with noticing the ways that it has radiated out into our lives. And if we are smart, we learn to tend to ourselves lovingly; all the way to the end. No matter how long it takes.

This morning, I was out running the same loop. Just as I became aware of judging my body through cruel and misogynistic eyes, WHAM!  I’m back on the ground again. This time with bruised palms and a scraped knee. I start to cry. The thought immediately comes,  “I’ve gotta stop doing this to myself.”

The truth is, those original kid wounds were inflicted by others, and yes they cut deep. But, worse yet, are the wounds that we daily inflict upon ourselves.

When Did You Stop Dancing?

 

Recently I was away at a dance gathering. At one point, we were asked to reflect upon why it is that we dance. Many, many reasons quickly came to mind. I feel more open and free when I dance. I feel more attuned to my body and connected to others when I dance. These reasons were all true, but were somehow less than the ineffable gift that dancing brings to me. After letting that question rattle around for a bit, the truest answer spontaneously came. I dance because I am more of who I most want to be.

I once heard of a tribal custom where when someone would fall ill, the healer would ask a series of questions. One of the questions was; “When was it that you stopped dancing?” Here, dancing can be viewed literally or metaphorically. Really what is being asked is, When was it that you stopped doing what it is that makes you feel most alive? Traditionally, that absence was recognized as a blueprint for illness and disease; a kind of soul-sickness that eventually makes its way into the body.

When I look back over my life, the times I was dancing reflected periods of both great freedom and a sense of belonging. So whether it was the years of ballet, dancing alone in my room, sneaking into clubs to dance when I was underage, teaching aerobics or finding my current dance form, I am never so charged with life as when I am dancing.

What is it that brings you most alive? This is not a should. This is not done as a means to an end. It is not a job you parlay into something else. It is, instead, something that lights you up from within. It is something you do just because of how it makes you feel, not because it gets you anything.

If you don’t know what it is for you, look back to childhood. Back then being charged with the sheer joy of doing what we enjoyed most of all was all we knew how to do.

Trust As Medicine

“Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” Goethe

Learning to trust yourself is perhaps the greatest evolutionary leap you can take. It is a powerful and revolutionary act to decide to have faith in yourself. But… Maybe you know almost nothing about what it means to trust yourself, having never considered what it would take or feel like. Maybe trust was broken with you when you were young, and so you never established that level of faith within yourself. Maybe you are so busy, frazzled, and screen addicted that you do not know where or how to begin. Or if you even have the strength to begin. Perhaps it feels easier to let someone else be in charge of your life.

If we are to be the authors of our own lives, we must develop a faith in ourselves that is bigger than what is outside of us. Trusting our inner capacities comes from within and takes time to cultivate and develop. Maybe you think it is not enough to trust yourself.  After all, you’re no expert. Who are you to decide the rules? Or how things should go. Who you are is the only one who will ever know what it is that you need to do to live your life. The scary and overwhelming truth is you are already deciding. Each and every day we decide what to trust; either what is inside or outside of us.

We must remember that we are the ones who know what we need. We must learn that we can listen to, and trust, that small, quiet voice within. We must learn to lean into the uneasy, nagging feelings that tells us that something is off. This is so much easier said than done. We are inundated with external information about how to live from sources ranging from the benign to the opportunistic. This can leave us feeling as though others know better than we do. Most of us have had no training in this regard, furthering that feeling that it is natural or at least easier to follow another person’s rules, ideas or influence. And yet, if we are to serve as the guardian of our own lives, we must turn towards ourselves and develop a deep capacity for trusting what comes from within. The stakes are high. We are talking about the only life we have.

This is an important place to pause and to point out that as a culture we tend to be very, very hard on ourselves while expecting things to be quick and easy. There is nothing quick, easy or guaranteed about this process. Your way will take time and be unique to you. And while we must allow for this to take the time it needs, we must also simultaneously hold that the clock is ticking. Nobody else knows what you should do about your life, but you do. You do. Your only task in this regard is to find ways to access that knowing while allowing for the missteps, mistakes and miscalculations.

Daily, we have gut feelings about what is happening all around us. The next time you have one of these sensations, pause and take note of it. What does it feel like? Where is it located? Maybe even say something out loud to yourself about it. Then, notice the way the rational mind will try and turn it into something else. Be aware of both sides. Then, make a choice and see what happens.

 

 

Change

 

Look around at all there is before us individually and collectively. Whether we are talking about peak oil, global warming, financial instability or health, all signs point to the same requirement on our part; a willingness and an ability to change. And yet, even when change is obvious, necessary and ultimately inevitable, it can be the one thing that we sometimes just cannot do.

Have you ever really, really wanted to make a change and just couldn’t get there? Have you ever recognized the damage that your current habits bring to your life but are still unable to shift? So much goes into how we have created our current habit patterns. There is childhood and the things that we were taught. There is the way our belief systems and identities are bound up with what we regularly do. There is the way that we want to fit in with those around us. And there is so much more.

In order to make lasting change, we need more than just information. Contrary to popular belief, the culture of information overload we currently live in does not automatically equate to change. As a matter of fact, it often serves as a distraction from the work of real change. What we need is a way to get below the noise, the resistance and the distractions. We need a way to access what is beneath the surface, what is unconscious, what has been left unnoticed. Without this, our conscious mind can state that it wants change, but it is the unconscious that needs to choose, as it is this part of us that serves as the invisible motivator of our behavior.

Here is an approach to try for getting beneath the surface. Sit quietly with pen and paper in hand. Close your eyes. Think about a change you would like to make. Let yourself bear witness to things you have tried and struggles you have encountered. Then, ask yourself; “What is the downside of changing?” Yes, the downside. List out all of the negative aspects for you of making a necessary or wanted change. What will you lose? What will hurt? Let yourself write as much as you need to, uncensored. Next, ask yourself; “What is the upside of staying stuck?” Yes, if you can believe it, there are positive reasons for you to stay where you are, no matter how much it hurts. Suspend judgment as best as you can while you write.

Change happening to us is something we can absolutely count on. We are living in greatly accelerated and accelerating times. And with that comes the necessity to navigate ever greater and ever more frequent changes occurring in our lives and in the world around us. With this acceleration comes the opportunity to learn how to be more creative and nimble in our approach to inner and outer change. With a shift in perspective and skill set, change becomes the fuel to power us towards our greatest expressions in the world.

 

Inspired by The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner

Fear as Medicine

 

Fear is a powerful motivator. From a yogic perspective, fear, along with anger and lust, are considered to be the most powerful energies in the body. They are associated with our animal nature and are beyond the rational mind. The enormity and wildness of this level of power terrifies us. One yogic tradition, however, saw the value in harnessing this energy by calling fear and God by the same name, believing that the ability to ride and transmute fear was the directest route back to God. In shamanic traditions, power coming towards you is understood to initially manifest as fear. In order to claim the next level in your work or personal growth, you had to find a way to work with fear in a way that did not overpower you, but instead fueled, focused and enlivened you.

In this culture, there is no end to the amounts of distorted, manipulated and imagined reserves of fear being generated all around us. And there is no end to the ways in which we can call these fears unto ourselves. As the technologies advance, this scenario increases exponentially. We must learn to recognize when fear is being sold to us in the form of “news”, entertainment and “public service information” which comes to us as de-contextualized and hyped-up information. To be in the presence of this type of information puts us in chronic states of arousal where we can only see the world in black and white; me vs. you, survival at any cost. This is a dangerous state to put the body in as it promotes imbalance and disease. Believing the enemy to be everywhere, it destroys the healing power of our relationships. And it robs us of ourselves and our ability to live life fully and wholeheartedly, at peace in the world.

Consumed by fear, we cannot manifest the gifts that are ours to bring to the world. Bound tightly in tension and protection, we are driven to overwhelm and despair, to playing victim or violator. We wind up afraid of everything. Afraid of life itself. Afraid of the workings of our own bodies. Afraid of the differences between us and and our differences of opinion. Under the sway of survival mentality, we are destined to obsessively check the weather, crave safety notifications, seek out unhelpful amounts of health testing and procedures, and all the while, we ruminate about ISIS. We long to put a safety helmet on everything we value and scrub it all down with antibacterial soap.

If we desire another existence, it will require us to do the unthinkable; to look squarely in the face of our fears and see them for what they are. It will require us to take responsibility for our experience as opposed to projecting our terrors out into the world and onto other people. It will require us to know the ways that the animal fear helps to keep us safe and alive while the distorted and made-up ones keep us from living. It will require us to say no to disturbing and terrifying content. It will require us to become more animal-like; trusting the instincts and intuitions that all mammals possess and rely on without thought or question. All those, of course, but us.

Appreciation

 

I attended a yoga class right before January 1st, where the focus was decidedly and unusually not on our New Year’s resolutions, but instead on appreciating what it is that we have been and done over the past year. No goals to be had. No diets to be tried. No personality quirks to work on. It was amazing! The appreciation that ran through me had a palpable effect on the fluidity and grace of my body. And as for my mood? Ease, lightness and joy were in abundance.

In New Age circles, there is a body of work known as the Abraham Teachings. Underlying it all is the belief that appreciation is the closest vibration we humans have to Divine Love. This flies in the face of the attitude that says we must keep ourselves under our own thumbs with our noses to the grindstone. What if it were true that appreciating who we are and what we have done, as is, was the path to Love, Truth and Connection to All That Is? What if we were not supposed to be beating ourselves up?

Get Your Boots On

These are interesting times. Like it or not, this world we have inherited is created anew each day by all of us. And not just by the bad guys and the saints. How is this done? Through our thoughts, beliefs and actions which amount to the stories we create, live and share. These are burning times. Times filled with greed, hatred and violence. And these things are not only out there, they are in here as well.

I just spent a week away on retreat and in training. It was like boot camp for my mind and kid’s summer camp for my body. Over the course of a week, I followed fears, judgments and the smallness of my conditioned mind while maintaining a strict regimen of focus on what it is I truly desire: loving connection. I watched story after story unfold, ones that have been driving me and torturing me my whole life. And I kept moving. I kept dancing. And when I was able to claim all that I was bringing to the world, only then was I able to truly appreciate and connect with those around me. It was hard work and it was heaven on earth.

Yogi Bhajan, the famous head of Kundalini Yoga here in the West once said, “One-third of us are dying, one-third of us are going crazy and one-third of us have our boots and backpacks on.” For me, boots and backpacks on means you have determined yourself to be a spiritual warrior and you recognize that the battle is within yourself. Always. No more fixing or condemning anyone or anything. No more projecting fears.There is no work to be done out there, only in here.

 

(Thanks, Toni)

 

Digging Deeply Enough

A number of years ago I wound up with a crazy rash that covered about 3/4 of my body. The fact that it was unsightly was the least of it. The real problem was that it itched, intensely. Especially at night. After weeks of this I would wake frazzled and insane. I searched under every rock I could find trying to account for this condition. I saw every manner of healer; from an acupuncturist to a well-known dermatologist. From a medicine man to a primary care physician. From energy healers to…you name it. I looked at my diet, my emotions, my past lives, and on and on it went. Nothing seemed to help. It came and went as if it had a mind of its own; a sick, twisted, unexplainable mind.

After several years of this, I came to some basic truths; the fact that healing requires patience, the necessity of meeting the body’s most basic biological needs and the non-negotiable need for self-care born from self-love. For years my acupuncturist had been telling me that in any healing journey you had to dig your well deep enough to find what you were looking for. He explained that most conditions will resolve themselves with the assistance of any approach, and that what mattered most was your willingness to stay with something long enough for it to be helpful. In other words, patience. He equated the journey to digging a well looking for water and that if you kept digging a little and then changing spots, you were going to miss what you were looking for and wind up with a bunch of half dug wells and no water. Which ironically brings me to the other thing he kept telling me; that I needed more water. And for some crazy reason it took years for this truth to kick in. I thought it had to be more complicated than that. Didn’t it? Water just seemed so…anticlimactic somehow. Far too simple, common and obvious to ever be of use. I mean, really, what was happening to me was monumental! It just had to require some very intense, complicated and maybe even expensive and difficult to come by cure or procedure. Right? No, not right. Until the body’s most basic needs for oxygen, water, whole food, sleep, movement, ease and connection are met, you do not know what you are looking at. Period.

And so, during the times when I was “patiently” digging my well, and before I had dug my well deep enough to find the simple solution of water, I learned how to take care of myself. When the rash would flair, I would drop all ideas of cure, all expectations of what should and should not be and would just be with myself. Like being with a baby that would not soothe, I tried to hold myself as well and lovingly as I could. I would place no conditions on me or my skin. Radical self-care was how I thought about it. I would take baths which soothed my raw flesh and I would work to soften the intensities of my mind. I gave up on miracle cures and the idea that healing had to be complicated and external. I gave in. I surrendered. And I got better. In fits and starts at first. And then in whole wonderful clumps.