As published in Elephant Journal, December 5, 2018:
Let’s make a deal: what if we all agree to stop using the term “self-care” to justify extra glasses of wine, shirking responsibilities, and avoiding the people we didn’t want to see anyway?
Ideally, our daily self-care regimen supports us in being more fully, wholeheartedly engaged with the world rather than helping us to avoid it. However, our sneaky little minds often make it difficult to discern which actions fall into the true self-care category and which are pure escapism.
Here’s my personal litmus test for determining when my habits are helping or hindering:
Does it make me exhale?
Our bodies are truth-telling machines. Our minds can litigate and justify, but our bodies remain honest witnesses to our experiences. That exhale indicates that we feel safe enough to have removed a layer of our invisible, conditioned armor. When I think about the times this happens for me – with friends who are comfortable in silence, meditation, experiencing nature, a delicious meal, embarking on a walk with no destination, taking action after procrastinating, getting a really great hug – some deeper part of me received a dose of a sorely needed medicine.
Does it calm and/or focus my mind?
From looking at the ocean, reading, engaging in contemplative practices, to a game of ping pong, these are ways to take our minds from a place of frenzy to a place of focus. This is where Netflix can actually fit into the category of self-care… for a while. It can be very settling to take our minds off our own story and place it on someone else’s for a while. But we know everything can be either medicine or poison, depending on the timing and the dosage. When an activity starts to dull the mind – creating neither calm, focus, nor inspiration – that’s the time to activate our internal discipline, grab the remote, and stop the binge.
Does it reflect my integrity and belief system?
According to Instagram, self-care involves chocolate drizzled on anything and a lot of cute boots. I’m an Ayurvedic practitioner, so a pint of ice cream isn’t going to reflect self-care according to the principles by which I live. Connecting with community in meaningful ways will be self-care for me; hanging out at the bar may not be.
Does it engage my Soul?
We often view self-care as something that serves each of us separately, in our own bodies. But beyond the caring for these bodies, Self-care implies an active engagement of our truest Self (capital “S”) in the world to imbue our lives with meaning and purpose. Volunteerism and service are pillars in my self-care regimen. Ditto for poetry and art museums.
Am I engaging in self-care as a form of procrastination?
Last but not least, one of my personal favorite vices. I wonder if anyone has ever meditated to the point of enlightenment while putting off mopping their kitchen floor.
Self-care is about capacity-building, which means it is not always synonymous with comfort. More often, it involves turning off the auto-pilot to inquire what we need to feel fully enlivened, for our minds to settle, to connect with our deeper needs. It may look like planning our meals for the week, it may be a journaling session, and –every so often– it may mean an episode of Game of Thrones.