Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cultivating a practice for self-care

Why is it so hard to attend to our Inner Garden? To nourish ourselves on an inner level, to keep our commitments to ourselves to practice good self-care? The feedback I got from my last retreat brought this up - how can I continue to make time for myself, and why is it so hard?

Like eating your cereal every morning or brushing your teeth, nourishing your inner needs is a practice. It’s not something you can just think about once in a while, or muse about while on vacation.  It is a daily practice that you build into your life.

Whether you decide that the best way to nourish your inner garden is to surround yourself with beautiful plants, move to a house by the water, write in your journal every morning, or do yoga on a regular basis, the important thing is that you follow through with a commitment to yourself. But how do we do this?

It’s easy to be lead by the outside demands, by the crazy whirlwind of activity, work, children, hobbies and responsibilities to others we need to fulfill. There's never enough time, we moan. But we often don’t even put ourselves on the list. Start by asking, in what area is your commitment to self-care lacking? Make a list of what is missing to create balance – is it a spiritual need, a physical need, an emotional need? Where do you feel supported and fulfilled, and where do you feel less ‘full’?

For instance, if I look at my own life, I have a few checks and balances. On the inner garden side, I have had a long standing practice of sitting meditation, every morning for over 30 years. I began to do yoga about 16 years ago, and that part still feels really good. But my self-care on the physical side is not ideal – I lack cardio exercise, I huff and puff going up hills, so I know I can treat my body better by getting out and walking briskly more often, or getting on that elliptical machine hidden in the basement. It feels good when I do it. So I will concentrate on remembering how good it feels to move my body. And how lousy it feels to be the last one up the hill.

My eating habits are pretty healthy. Check. But my commitment to my writing needs more ummph. I let it slide, I do laundry, check emails, write to friends on Facebook, basically, I work without a deadline so no projects are getting to the finished piile. For instance, the interview transcrips are on hold, while I stare at the tape recorder sitting on my desk and fill my day with other 'to do's. My poetry manuscript I have been working on sporadically, when I have time.  I don’t know why I can’t make this a priority, but I think it's about believing in my own work enough to get doing it. The best solution for me will be to carve out a regular work time and not take phone calls or read emails during that time. This is a weak muscle that also needs exercise.

One way to increase your commitment to self care is to write about it in your journal. This too demands a commitment however. There will always be something in the way, something important calling your attention. A phone call, an email, a needy child, a volunteer project, a committee meeting....lack of sleep will make you sleep in and miss your appointed writing time. But if you’ve decided that you want to be more self-aware, if your intention is to be curious about your inner workings and understand your stresses, your joys, your obstacles and your achievements, writing in your journal is a very useful tool. Knowing that you will be pleased with the encounter with the Self could be the motivation you need to sit down and do it. 

Don’t let not knowing what to write about be another hurdle. If you don’t know where to start, begin with a question. What do I need to think about today? What is bothering me, causing me lack of sleep? What scenario am I rehashing in my head? What guidance am I looking for? Or simply make a list – things I am happy about, things I am dissatisfied with, people I love to be with, things that drive me crazy, ways I can take better care of my inner garden....and write. Finding a teacher and taking a class is a good way to get started, to find motivation and inspiration for things to write about, and to start a regular schedule.

With practice, you develop a thirst for the good feeling movement, meditation, or journal writing brings to your body. You develop a feeling of calm inner peace by focussing inside. Nourish that desire for peace, let it guide you towards more and more inner work.

Pay attention to how it feels, does it make you feel good? That’s what will strengthen the muscle, to correlate the feeling you get, in the moment.


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