Last week, we focused on aligning our body, mind, and spirit. We revisited the Conscious Eating Guidelines and identified ways they can help us find inner guidance around eating. We are letting go of our illusions of control and learning to trust that our body has a Higher wisdom of its own. We are also letting go of the outcomes our ego has envisioned, learning to trust and discover the abundance of precisely who we are. In moments of fear, anxiety, shame, or despair, we can practice surrendering our will and turning to a Higher Power. We remember to practice Reaching in, Reaching up, and Reaching out.
This week, we add the practice of self-care to our toolkit of alignment strategies. What is self-care, and why is it so important? Self-care occurs through acts of nurturing ourselves with compassion. These acts help us to acknowledge that we are human beings with needs. While this may seem obvious, it is often a fact we have largely ignored. Particularly as women, suppressing our needs sometimes feels like an unspoken rule, a requirement to be loved and accepted by ourselves and others. But we cannot continue to deny our humanity if we want to heal and grow. Our ability to love, accept, and care for ourselves is the foundation of our ability to fully love, accept, and care for others. We are like passengers on an airplane: we must secure our own oxygen mask before we can help anyone else.
The concept of self-care can feel confusing and even convoluted in a culture that often exalts self-sacrifice. Perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on our own experience of pushing ourselves to the breaking point. When we overextend ourselves, what are the fruits? What are the costs? We might get curious about persistent feelings of overwhelm, unappreciation, resentment, and even abandonment. What is the connection, and what is our part? Although well-worn, self-sacrificing, victim-narratives can be socially acceptable and often validating, we might consider if these serve us. In truth, we cannot rely on imperfect humans to take care of us or meet all our needs. Neither can we expect others to provide us with the care we hope for when we signal that our needs do not matter.
Part of mindfulness means taking positive action to ensure that our own needs are met. A helpful mantra here can be: “I am accountable for my own resentment.” When we feel overburdened and disconnected, this is the time we most need self-care. We can ask ourselves: What do I need right now? We can treat ourselves like we would a dear friend or a beloved child in distress. When we feel safe and connected, we can more easily find our center. From this place, God can help us navigate all of life’s challenges.
In the past, taking time for ourselves may have brought us negative feelings, including guilt and unworthiness. Yet, we do matter and can make space to feel that within us. As we struggle to overcome these or any other limiting beliefs, we can allow them to be just as they are and consider them with compassionate curiosity. We can trace them back to the narratives, rules, or beliefs they are tied to and examine them through the light of our Higher Power. We can ask ourselves: Do I accept or reject this belief? What mantra or Truth statement might replace it? The practice of repeating simple statements like, “I am worthy of love and attention” when such feelings come up can help us rewire our brains.
Conversely, some of us may have mistaken self-indulgence for self-care. In doing so, we may have used food, drugs, alcohol, busyness, sleep, shopping, entertainment, work, church, or even other people to soothe or numb ourselves—believing these were acts of self-care. But there is an important difference between self-care and self-indulgence. Self-care answers our legitimate needs with true nourishment, bringing us closer to our hearts and leaving us filled. Self-indulgence is usually an escaping behavior that numbs us from our actual needs and feelings. Such escapes may feel good for a moment, but they never truly satisfy, leaving us empty. After indulging, we can find that the pain or discomfort is still there, often worse than before.
Learning to recognize and respond to our needs with compassionate self-care is essential to mindfully loving ourselves. Self-care gives us permission to be human. Through compassionate self-care, we can uncover our softness and allow our brittle armor to fall away. We can become more available for loving relationships with others. We are able to live more awake and open to all the experiences life has to offer us.
Self-care practices may include:
Spending time in nature.
Getting enough sleep.
Eating something truly nourishing.
Going for a walk.
Enjoying spa or massage treatments.
Investing in therapy or self-improvement.
Spending time alone.
Spending time with friends.
Taking a bubble bath.
Listening to uplifting music or materials.
This list is not exhaustive–there are limitless ways we can show care for ourselves. Let’s mindfully notice what speaks love to our soul in each moment and practice self-care as a foundation of our daily conscious living because it honors our divine identity and brings us back to home.
Does this nourish me, or does this deplete me?
Week Nine’s mindfulness practice asks us to focus on one question that will move us toward discovering true self-care: Does this nourish me, or does this deplete me? This question, when mindfully offered, unlocks our inner guidance for joyful living.
Truly nourishing our body, mind, and spirit is the precise objective of all self-care. But doing so requires us to really listen to our intuition in the present moment. This week, let’s take special notice of any time we catch ourselves using the word “should.” When we “should” on ourselves, we can cut ourselves off from our inner guide. Consider what happens when we hard-wire a “have-to” mentality around movement: we typically kill our intrinsic motivation to exercise, reducing the joyful experience of embodiment into a tedious means to an end. The “should” depletes us. We do the same “should-ing” with food when we assign labels of good or bad, attaching shame like price tags to certain foods. When we wait to see if other women at the table are ordering salads instead of just deciding what we want to eat, we are “should-ing” instead of living. Anytime we compare ourselves, pedestalize people who appear perfect, or believe that our efforts will only be enough when we match some ideal image, we deny our value and blind ourselves to the beauty within us. All of these habits serve to diminish our worth and damage our identity, depleting our divine sense of self.
“Should-ing” also implies a rigidity about the way things are supposed to be. Let’s try to empty our cups of our strong opinions, opening our eyes to the pattern of impermanence. Consider how everything in life, including ourselves, constantly moves and changes. Truth flows in and around our fixed ideas and through the concrete boxes we like to create for ourselves and others. Concepts evolve as our experience widens our vantage point. Let’s contemplate the idea that right action may not be set in stone, and instead each moment calls for its own discretion. Likewise, let’s consider the idea that there is no such thing as good food or bad food, nor is there such a thing as a perfect body.
We may find there are moments when a chocolate chip cookie, warm from the oven, is genuinely the most nourishing and loving thing we can offer our souls. Yet, in other moments, that same chocolate chip cookie can feel self-indulgent—leaving us feeling depleted, ashamed, or bloated. Similarly, there are times when exercise awakens and empowers our souls, releases and cultivates energy, and builds our passion for life. But there are also times when challenging exercise depletes us. Sometimes our body really needs a gentle walk, a bubble bath, or safe and loving touch. The same is true for work, which sometimes channels our energy in stimulating ways. At other times, work can leave us feeling drained and irritable.
Even when we are obligated to attend to tasks that deplete us, we can shift our mindset and find that mundane things can be done with presence and power. For example, folding laundry can be a nourishing experience if we use the opportunity to ground into the present moment. As we feel the texture of warm clothes in our hands and breathe in the scent of fresh soap, we can ask: How might this simple moment nourish my soul? This question points to the task at hand and also to the attitude we bring to each moment.
This week, we consider: What would it be like to stop framing my daily life through “should’s,” rigid rules, or other people’s expectations? What would it be like to mindfully trust my inner guidance and live life as an experiment instead of a test? What am I afraid will happen if I listen to and honor my own soul’s wisdom?
Let’s remember humility and loving awareness, standing ready to honestly consider the fruits of our actions and make corrections as needed. Perhaps this week, we can create a little more space to trust in our ability to truly nourish ourselves, follow our inner guide, and imagine a more playful and authentic life.
As we approach life with openness, curiosity, and wonder, we can do more than simply survive; we can begin to savor life. Savoring moves us into the direct experience of each moment; it invites us to learn, grow, explore, and enjoy the physicality of this beautiful world. Too often, rather than savoring, we consume. Perhaps we mindlessly munch on food as we hypnotically gaze at the television, not even tasting what we eat. Or maybe we share intimate gestures with our partner, but our mind is somewhere far away. We are right there, but yet, we aren’t. We may do the same thing with information: consuming podcasts and stacking up statistics or ideas that we repeat but never internalize. We can fill all our time learning about progress without ever experiencing it.
The present moment is where we can savor life and our unique experience; it is where we practice being with what is right in front of us. There is no way around it. The possibility of transformation is always right here, in the direct experience of our hearts, minds, and bodies.
This week, let’s bring mindful awareness to noticing when we consume rather than savor. Let’s notice what feels nourishing and what feels depleting. When we find ourselves depleted, let’s respond with self-care and observe how mindful self-compassion can shift our energy and attitudes. Let’s try to make the quality of each moment an end in itself, rather than looking to a future outcome for fulfillment. Let’s use self-discipline to honor our inner guidance instead of using it to prove our worth.
As we shift our priority from efficiency to quality of experience, we may find that we naturally slow our pace, organically tuning in to the physicality of simple things. At mealtime, this slow-down can enable us to eat mindfully; to notice the tastes, textures, and aromas of nourishing food. We can also notice—with loving and nonjudgmental awareness—the moments when we make food or exercise choices that feel depleting. We can allow that depletion to work in our souls and trust that simply noticing it will move us closer to the alignment we long for. Let’s take more pleasure in movement during our daily practice and notice how the rhythm of our heartbeat enlivens our whole being, how our breath frees and opens our heart. Let’s take every opportunity to laugh freely, openly, shamelessly.
To do this, we must shift our end goal from outward perfection to inner peace and alignment. Our program is designed to nurture this mindset. If we listen, our heart always calls us to nourish the part of us crying for care. As we practice responding with self-care and tenderness, we will soon notice the many happy moments that fill our days, and these moments can become our anchor through whatever challenges we are facing.
Self-care guides us towards self-love, opening us up to the power and abundance that wants to flow through us. As often as necessary, we kindly remind ourselves that we deserve to be cared for and that we trust in abundance. As we do so, we find that we can accept all of ourselves with grace, hope, and compassion. When we mindfully honor our body’s signals, we stand in our wisest power. We learn to trust our inner sense of alignment more than we trust any external means of tracking our success–including mirrors, scales, or other people’s admiration. Before long, letting go of these measures no longer feels terrifying. Letting go instead becomes freedom from mental, emotional, and physical bondage. We trust our body’s guidance because our body is the gateway to something Higher. When we reject, objectify, or ignore the body, we limit the spiritual connection we truly crave.