“Letting go is not a one time event, it is a habit that requires consistent repetition to become strong.” Yung Pueblo
We don’t always realize where we are until we decide to step away. That’s exactly what happened to me last week as I pondered my fatigue and my inability to enjoy pretty much anything. Not only was I stuck in my own busy routine, I was (and still am) distraught at the events unfolding in the world. I can feel pretty overwhelmed, powerless, even hopeless at times. I needed to step away from my life, my family, my responsibilities and let go. It was time for an attitude adjustment and the quickest way to adjust attitude is to change one’s environment so that’s exactly what I did. I spontaneously booked a room and headed to Point Reyes. By myself. No one to look after, to feed, to nurture.
I found myself in a spacious room, overlooking a beautiful pasture with windows on three sides. I felt myself take a deep breath and realized that being alone, without an agenda or responsibilities, was the most important gift I’d given myself in very long time. I was able to think, feel, relax, let go.
How can we find ways to care for ourselves in a world that is chaotic and turbulent? Are we able to cultivate joy and ease when there is suffering around us, inside of us?
The idea of self-care when others are suffering, maybe even losing their homes and communities, their stability–even their lives–can feel selfish, undeserving. Personally, this is a theme that I have struggled with throughout my life, growing up as a first generation immigrant and a daughter of a holocaust survivor. Am I allowed to relax, to truly enjoy myself when my family has been through so much, when there is still so much cruelty and suffering in the world? Am I allowed to be gentle, pursue self-care and really let go?
When I examine my own methods of self-care, I can see that I easily fall into a trap of becoming too rigid with my beliefs and practices, over-emphasizing the physical component and neglecting parts of myself that need a gentle touch. I have cultivated routines that revolve around exercise and nutrition, being busy, working hard and at times these patterns can be more hurtful than helpful. I talk and write about the importance of health, nutrition, exercise, sleep. I KNOW their importance, but there is a danger in becoming a slave to habits that can perpetuate self-criticism and personal injury. I have to repeatedly learn to develop rituals that are forgiving and loving, then remind myself over and over to lean into softer practices that help me love myself–as opposed to beating up on myself with exercise, overscheduling and ultimately poor sleep. Knowing it is not the same as living it.
A lot gets said about self-care these days, but what is it really? It’s meaning is loaded with both ambiguity and expectation, easily interpreted through a lens of rules, guidelines and deep beliefs about “best” practices. Our culture is fixated on certain methods that tend to emphasize things like exercise and nutrition–including but not limited to when and what to eat, how much water to consume and how to track every bodily function to optimize health. There are so many devices we can plug into that track steps, hours of sleep, resting heart-rate, calories consumed and calories burned. It speaks to our cultural fascination with perfection and over-focusing on the physical component of well-being.
While these devices can be helpful for certain people, they can easily turn into fixations that create more anxiety and even self-loathing, as people continue to raise the bar higher and higher towards achievement, consumerism and perfectionism.
I invite you to deeply examine your attitudes and practices that either support or detract from your well-being.
How can we experience self-care as a process of letting go, instead of ramping up? We have to remember that letting go is a present-tense verb. It is the act of full presence, noticing how we are feeling and what we are thinking, then releasing that which no longer serves us in this moment. Like daily hygienne, we can find ways to thoughtfully care for ourselves that is an act of loving kindness.
Letting go, an overused and misunderstood phrase, is what we are born to do. We start letting go the moment we enter the world, as we separate from the safety of the womb and become our own person. We then proceed to let go throughout our lives, of infancy, childhood, innocence, dependency. It is truly our life’s work. The scale of what we are tasked to let go of is immense, from the daily minutiae of how our day’s plans turn out-or not- to our wildest hopes and dreams. We struggle to let go of small and big alike. We are tasked with letting go of feelings, dreams, people, partners, plans, careers, homes, grief, guilt, shame, identities, youth, health, and beliefs. The list is daunting. Ask anyone, and they will give you their own bewildering list of what they have had or are trying to let go of.
Our lives are a process of learning to acknowledge what we have and what we are giving up. Because of this deep and irrefutable truth, it is essential that we have methods to support us on this wild ride.
Exploring and discovering what brings calm and ease into your life can then become a ritual of self-care which is ultimately the cultivation of self-love.
Rituals are rehearsed practices that steady us when life falls apart, and sustain us in our daily agendas. Rituals help guide us, reminding us to show up fully in the moment, take a deep, nourishing inhale, a long, slow exhale and arrive. Rituals are an opportunity to reflect, inviting the senses to ground us in this present moment.
There are so many tools and methods to help us. Find yours. They are all around us, available anytime, anywhere. Here are a some ideas. Remember, even if you already have ritual in your life, it’s really important that you are gentle with yourself, present with whatever you are doing and intentionally kind with your thoughts.
- Movement practices–walking, stretching, yoga, tai chi, dancing, gardening
- Breathing practices–meditation, prayer, pranayama breath work
- Be with others who are doing the same activity
- Prayer, chanting, drumming
- Aromatherapy–essential oils, incense
- Massage–nourishing and receiving care
- Music–listening, playing, creating
- Writing–an ancient practice that has so many dimensions
Writing this post is a reminder to all of us, including me, that examining and challenging our beliefs is actually part of how we can go inward to better care for ourselves. Learning to love and care for oneself is the challenge of a lifetime. We can learn–or remember–to live with peace, integrity and compassion for ourselves and for others.
“Few problems have ever been solved by ignoring them.”Isabel Wilkerson, Caste