The idea of “self-care” can sometimes feel selfish or narcissistic. But the idea of a pattern of work and rest and caring for our very human needs has been part of spiritual practice for centuries. The Benedictine tradition (c. 526AD to present) specifies a “rule of life” – a pattern of work, prayer and rest that supports the body and mind as well as the spirit. While we non-monastics do not necessarily have the latitude – or even the desire – to follow a fixed daily schedule, paying attention to what supports our best self helps us be our best self.
In these turbulent times, self-care is more important than ever. Think of self-care as a bank account: when you are depleted, you have little to give. The more reserves you have, the more generous you can be.
Anna Guest-Jelly at Curvy Yoga* talks about “care instructions.” Whichever phrase you prefer, a “rule of life” or “care instructions” are a general outline of what supports you: body, mind and spirit: what helps you be at your best. You might have to start with those things that you know put you at your worst, and go opposite.
As we head into the holidays still in the midst of COVID, still in the midst of election uncertainty, still in the midst of racial unrest, let us take care of ourselves and encourage our loved ones to do the same.
Here are some of my care instructions:
- Take the first few minutes of the morning to spend quiet time with yourself and God. The form may change from season to season or even day to day – sometimes taking the form of centering prayer and at other times, journaling, spiritual reading, or just paying close attention to what’s going on in nature outside my window. This morning time definitely supports the rest of my day. Over the years, I’ve noticed that my days just don’t go as smoothly when I miss it.
- Get outdoors! I have really come to see how much better I feel when I get outdoors, whether for a hike or bike ride, an amble around the garden or just to sit in the sunshine on the deck. Even a ten minute walk in the drizzle or cold is supportive.
- Get regular exercise, and don’t resist manual labor. After a lifetime of avoiding manual labor, I’ve come to recognize how useful it is in discharging stress – especially if it is outdoors.
- Meet regularly with a spiritual director and/or spiritual direction group. This helps me keep my attention on my intention, keeps my honest, gives me an opportunity to process and integrate, and gives me the perspective of others on the journey.
- Eat nourishing, delicious food, enjoying caffeine, fat, sugar and alcohol in small amounts that don’t disrupt your moods I feel physically healthier, mentally sharper and emotionally more even-keeled when I follow this instruction.
- Pay attention to your emotions and journal them out. Being more attentive to when I’m feeling jacked up, angry, confused, or spinning in circles, and stopping to journal, to get the swirling thoughts out and allow the emotions to flow through always –always – gets me to wisdom on the other side. And helps me to respond rather than react to the situation that triggered the emotion.
- Allow yourself to express your quirky humor. Humor keeps me from taking myself too seriously and lightens the mood for others.
- Stay in touch with those you love, and nourish new relationships. They keep me rooted and supported and allow me to help others stay rooted and supported. And they are just plain fun!
- Be intentional about fun. When I don’t have enough fun in my life, I can get really cranky, resentful, and not much fun to be around.
How about you? What are your self-care instructions? What rule of life do you wish to follow?
Invitation to Action: Take two minutes right now to list 3-5 of your care instructions. You can always add more later. And plan to follow at least one of those instructions this very day.