This is a far more open-ended post than the ones before - as for me, speaking about self-care is like delving into an uncertain part of the sea, which I am only now learning to navigate.
I have travelled for the last ten days, meeting my needs for self-care in many ways. At the same time, while I have been trying to write about this one for over a week, it has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would. Even sitting down to try to write about it has been an effort - as this "weekly needs study" has taken on the character of an introspective investigation more than anything else.
Self-care, as a need, showed up in a big, unmet sort of way last week, when I found my instincts leading me away from a plan I had made a month back. Instead of attending a workshop I was looking forward to, I found myself honouring my instincts, though I didn't realise at the time that they were leading me towards caring for myself in a way that served me better at the time.
This helps me trust my instincts more, as this was exactly what I needed. And yet, I know that as a conscious choice, I would not have taken the break that my body, mind, and heart needed. In fact, the decision to change my plans, and do something entirely different, was almost traumatic.
I am aware that I find it very hard to give myself permission to relax, care for myself, and give myself the loving attention I need.
Writing this is difficult as well; I have some resistance to this, in the form of blankness and confusion. Clearly, I am still learning.
I do know that Self-care is a hell of a lot more than the occasional pedicure or backrub (though god knows I love those). Over this last week I've had a few big thoughts, which appeared as fancy neon-sign-like epiphanies, without much elaboration, as mostly I don't understand them enough in a practical sense.
- Self-care is a kind of SELF-PARENTING, or caring for yourself as a parent would
- Self-care also as SELF-LOVE, loving yourself as as someone who loves you would care for you, though treats and gifts that express this love
- Basically, Self-care as treating yourself with the love, kindness and actual respect that you would offer anyone else, with presence and empathy. Through TALKING to yourself, LISTENING to yourself, and indeed, taking TIME to heal what's going on within
While these sounded very nice in my head, I have a thought that self-care, much like most other things, is a daily practice.
There are a number of wonderful, amazing people, like Line (thehugdealer) and Hazel (who likes to 'spreadjoysmile'), who are blogging more regularly about radical self-love, and about creating a sort of regular, doable, everyday practice. Perhaps, in our habitual practices, most of us are not able to (or just not used to) take time to connect with ourselves. Making friends with myself requires me to show up for myself everyday, to create a path to myself that, over time, becomes easier to access.
As always, it helps me to think about this in terms of puppies. If my inner self is a puppy, and I have not given it much attention, it may choose to show up as an angry wolf monster type thing, or to retreat inwards and refuse to emerge until it has the assurance that I am here. Showing up on a daily basis - whether it is through half an hour of rest in the afternoons, or an hour for reading everyday, or talking to oneself in the mirror - creates that pathway, and offers that assurance to an alienated part of myself.
So how do I do that? Here are some of the things I've learned about meeting my need for Self-care, either through hands-on learning, or from others who have a better grasp on it, over the last ten days.
Jumping into the ocean
I did this not ENTIRELY literally, but also quite literally and quite often. For me, this has something to do with PERMISSION. Allowing myself to do whatever I am longing to do without doubt, guilt, or hesitation. In the most literal sense, it means jumping into the ocean when the instincts call for it. It also means exercising requisite caution, as that too is a part of self-care - and giving myself the permission NOT to jump into the ocean on days where it felt less than doable. Oddly, I was always supported when I needed to be!
I don't know why this surprises me every single time I come to this realisation. There is simply nothing as healing, heartening, and fortifying as sleep, and the lack thereof can create utter chaos. Have you ever slept on a bed that feels like a teddy bear's tummy? It may or may not be the best thing in the world.
Talking to my body parts
I do this sometimes, and not often enough. The intention is to do it when there is injury or illness, or even crushing self-loathing and shame, connected with my body parts, to treat every part of myself as a unique, special being, and offer it the gift of presence and empathy. This is also connected with Focusing as a practice. Recently, I've been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and, perhaps because this is an area of shame, I have not been paying attention to my throat and thyroid glands. One commitment I have to myself is to have a conversation with them in the next week, and see what's up. (This is exactly what it sounds like!)
Self-care often sounds like a "selfish" need. And yet, it is a Need that lives amongst other needs like harmony and peace, and is life-serving beyond myself. My biggest learning (which was offered to me by a couple of others) in this context, is this: when I am cared for and nourished, when I have enough resources to care for others and nourish and serve life in whatever way I choose to. Caring for myself does actually serve life. Doing what I love, what my instincts call for, supports life to come into its fullness - as I am fulfilling what is natural to me. In that sense it is not "selfish", so much as "self-full" - filled and nourished to my warmest capacity, and therefore able and willing to give from my own heart.
It isn't always easy to sense into yourself and find that you need care. Like Thom Bond says in his Introduction to NVC on YouTube, we have spent a really long long actively learning to disregard our feelings. And so it is quite difficult to even be aware, from moment to moment, about what one is feeling.
A feeling is different from a "sense" (for example, "I feel that I am being judged"), or a "thought" ("I feel that he needs to change his attitude"). Examples of feelings would be anger, sadness, disgust, irritation, dejection, overwhelmed, and so on.
Most of us have been asked to "control out emotions", "not get so emotional", "be more rational" - things like that, which take us away from feelings. Indeed, feelings can be quite overwhelming. This is particularly true of feelings like anger and depression, which have the quality of shadowing, or corroding through, other experiences and feelings. Anger can take over when things feel too sad, or too disgusting, or too overwhelming, and make one forget about moments of love, or joy, or even of pain.
And then there are wordless feelings - which are more like a "felt sense", or even a physical sensation - like a punch in the fut, or knees turning to water, or a shakiness, or lightness... these are feelings too, and speak of something that is arriving from our inner landscape.
There is a kind of wisdom in each feeling, each emotion. Nonviolent, or Compassionate, Communication suggest that each feeling arrives as a reflection of the state of our needs, and is connected only with the met- or unmet-ness of our needs. When my needs are met, I am likely to feel joyful, lighthearted, playful, warm, and happy. And when my feelings are not met, I am more likely to feel frustrated, resentful, hurt, angrry, and sad.
Whatever I am feeling, it is coming from within me, and not because of something someone did outside of me. No one has the ability or power to MAKE me happy or sad, angry or hurt, or even warm and "loved". These feelings are direct reflections of me - the life energy inside me, indicators of whether my life is enriched and served, or alienated, in the current moment.
So how do I feel my feelings and not get caught up in my thoughts? Below is a small offering, in the form of a quick exercise, for anyone who would like to try it out! If you would like to, you can download it following the link at the end of this post.
Here is CNVC's list of feelings!
Although I was thinking of writing about Rest and connecting with my own experience of Rest as a need, this week Support has shown up in so many ways that there is a synchronicity I'd like to honour. Support in the form of friends, family, and total strangers, especially on days when I really needed that support.
The absence of support - or the perceived absense, or Support-when-it-is-an-unmet-need - brings up a sense of something like infinite isolation. Perhaps there is an underlying current about being disconnected from the world, and other needs like love and care and belonging that are not met. Ever have those days when it feels as though everything is falling apart completely and nobody around you seems to notice that you are coming apart at the seams? I know I've had plenty.
Usually, at some point of time during a day like that, I make some decisions about my life, like:
These are very sneaky ways in which unmet needs show up - needs that very deeply rooted and need a lot of nourishment. Usually, for me, Support is one such need, and because I've spent a lot of time trying to make sure I can survive in a world that can be overwhelming, my need for Support is quite neglected as well. Sometimes it arrives like this, in thoughts that try to bring me all the way down to where it is buried. And at other times, when I am not ready to travel down to the unmet need (in any which way), then the unmet need arrives in a blaze of glory and makes itself known. Loudly.
So why has this week been different?
I am honestly not sure. I think I may have my unmet need for Rest to thank for it because all of my attention has really been on wanting about 4 more hours of sleep everyday! Perhaps in focusing on the absence of one key thing - and indeed the absence of it altogether - has helped me not put energy into creating this spiral of how "everything is awful". For whatever reason, I've had the privilege of experiencing a lot of support and love and kindness this week!
Support feels like the qualitative opposite of isolation, which is bringing me to the idea it is about inter-connection and inter-dependence, and in a very real sense, about being loved and cared for by people, situations, and things - or the universe. For me, the longing for Support felt very guttural, almost recalling childish longings for my parents, though not always as intense.
When someone turned up without being asked, there was a sense of unconditionality to their presence, that I so valued. Unconditional in that there was no binding agreement pushing me towards a specific kind of response. And when someone turned up because they were asked - several people this week! - it was still beautifully unconditional, still a kind of holding, a kind of warm loving, that inspires trust in that things are working out in the best possible way. Which perhaps points to another aspect of the need for Support, in that maybe for this need more than others for me, there was also a sort of spaciousness and openness that needed to be created beforehand. Not something huge, but along the lines of a small opening to possibility. Perhaps even in simply acknowledging to myself that I needed help, there was some openness in me to receiving said help.
In some cases, it also requires me let go of my ideas of what Support looks like. Sometimes support is not my friend meeting me at the time I want her to, but a stranger buying me coffee, or another friend warmly inviting me to her home (sublimewe calls this "an unasked offering"), or a cabbie who tells me a story about his family. Rather than being attached to an outcome - like "this conversation is meaningful only if my question is directly answered" - when I am open to hearing other things, sometimes my questions are answered in altogether different ways.
All these ways of Support turning up are ways that are so enriching, and maybe if I had had more energy this week to be attached to my preferred outcome, I would have missed out on what could arrive in the real, authentic sense, in longing for what could not be! This also points me to the learning that attachments to outcomes like these take a lot of effort!
And how it feels in my body is kind of like what a big, warm, cuddly bear hug feels like - my senses are soothed, my bristling back calmed, my panicky bits held, and a sense of deep, hopeful belonging.
Can you think of what Support feels like for you? Has Support ever turned up for you in an unexpected way? Or do you have troubles asking for help, and what holds you back?
The Weekly Needs Study is a study of Needs as I understand them, in the context of Nonviolent Communication, or Compassionate Communication. For this study, I intend to stick to CNVC's list of Universal Human Needs. The idea is to do one need at a time, every week, in a personal, investigative (rather than informative), and open manner, to create a space for learning, reflection and conversation!
Please note that this is based on my understanding of NVC or Compassionate Communication, and there are probably a gazillion other ways to understand Needs, and indeed, NVC itself. Please feel free to check out CNVC for more information.