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.
According to the list of needs compiled by CNVC, one of our core needs is that of mourning. Seems almost a bit counter–intuitive, doesn't it, the idea that human beings – and indeed, ALL human needs everywhere, as far as the paradigm of Compassionate Communication is concerned – NEED mourning.
Nearly everything in our bodies, minds, hearts and environments (in most countries, anyway), ask us to shift away from mourning – to embrace joy to create more joy, to speak to the universe in strong, positive and open terms to receive beauty in bounteous ways. Mourning also brings up connotations of grief and bereavement, which in death-denying cultures (indeed, sometimes I sense the idea is more to be “death DEFYING”) is a strong, almost institutionalised sort of denial and avoidance.
So why is mourning a need?
Earlier this week I had posted something harvesting gratitude and celebrating met needs. To my mind, it is very natural, while having gratitude and celebrating, to mourn needs that have not been met. A practice of gratitude may not truly be complete without a space for mourning. Perhaps because in every moment we choose – one act over another, one meal over another, one conversation over another, and so on.
During the NVC India Conventions, facilitators warn against "MMS" – the Might Miss Something disease, which threatens to drive one into a frenzy over making choices. We make choices all the time, and by nature of the choices, we miss SOMETHING. It is not often that I can choose something that meets some needs without "losing out" on other needs that may have been met in another situation. Even when I am in a situation that is causing me great pain, I am making a choice to be there.
For example: Today morning, I sat down and decided to write this little blog post – meeting my needs for self-care, expression and learning (amongst others). At the same time, by choosing this, I have so far:
I can find other ways of meeting the needs I've so far not met today – I could call my dad later (and I will, beware Baba!), I could cook after I finish and I could also nap through the afternoon (feeling a warm ripple of peaceful humming joy at that idea!).
However, for me to make a conscious decision, though, it supported me to have three minutes of connection with myself right now to see what it is I'm missing, to really ask myself: “What is it that I am longing for?”
Mourning, on a moment by moment basis, has the potential to create an awareness and spaciousness inside me to support myself in being more fulfilled in the day.
I also see my unmet needs as little puppies yammering for attention. The danger of ignoring these puppies is that over time, without connection and some minor Band–Aid–like action (such as stretching my body out for some rest and ease, or sending my dad a small note on Facebook to say "Hello, will call you in a bit!", and so on), those puppies become hungry, raging, rabid monsters. Have you ever burned out and snapped at someone from an unmet need for rest? (I do it all the time, to my regret!)
When I do not mourn my unmet need and responsibility for meeting it – by actively staying with my mourning and feeling all the sad and angry feelings, thinking all those scary thoughts, and really connecting with myself over what I want – then I am more likely to be violent in my words, thoughts, actions and behaviour, with myself as well as with others.
This is one aspect of mourning – the day-to-day, moment-to-moment checking in, connecting, and creating space for more gratitude and compassion in my inner and outer world.
Inner Mourning – Grief and Bereavement
The other aspect of mourning I want to look at is perhaps a bit more complicated: mourning for a loved one, someone who has passed away. Perhaps similar thoughts could also apply to a lost dream or a lost opportunity.
Grief and bereavement has been a companion in my life – albeit a neglected companion thanks to how I have looked at grief (as something to be intellectually understood and not really felt). Grief is huge and the prospect "feeling grief" is on the whole terrifying. This might explain the elaborate ways in way people can try to not feel it. For me, understanding and dealing with mourning on this level has been a struggle, both conceptually and palpably, in my own practice.
As I write this, now, I am also suddenly aware that this is also not the first time I've written about it (links below). Clearly, I'm still thinking and learning about it. In the context of Mourning and NVC, I only have a few thoughts.
This kind of mourning transforms us – Ashley Davis Bush talks about this a lot – and there's no getting away from that. In that, there is a need here to mourn the person and aspects of one's being that have left us with the loved one – on one level for understanding and acceptance, but also to own that depth of experience that in many ways enriches how one looks at life thereafter. (As I write this, I have my mourning lodged somewhere in my chest, screaming, "That is a poor bloody substitute." Seriously.)
It has helped me to see my mourning as a deep emptiness. When I tried to put an image to the feeling, all that came up was a depressingly fallow field after a war (and for everyone this would be different I'm imagining). It was terrible to think that a huge part of me that had once been nurtured and joyfully occupied by my mother, and brother, and so many others who have died, is now this wasteland of grief.
But, fallow fields are still nurturing – they just need more time, more healing. The earth has its own inner wisdom, and so does each person. Over a period, you can start sowing new crop here. Not to replace the one who has gone, but to truly celebrate them, to grow from them, and heal yourself and your inner wound. Mourning is that fallow land, that dry period, a most basic kind of healing.
One of the most powerful insights into mourning that I have ever read is Miki Kashtan's piece on "Loss, Empty Space and Community" where she talks about this idea of empty spaces and how it is incorporated into traditional Jewish grief practices, as well as how it interacts with her own journey and understanding.
This is my general understanding about mourning as a need. Mourning as a practice on the other hand is a lot more difficult than writing down a lot of words and thinking about it. From what I can tell, it's that thing about carrying it inside you, holding onto the pain, really breathing into it – going "through" rather than going "around" – and emerging on the other side, potentially. That part I don't know yet, and I'm working on it!
My earlier non NVC based articles on death and mourning:
The Weekly Needs Study is a study of Needs as I understand them, in the context of Nonviolent Communication, or Compassionate Communication. 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.