November 3, 2011 § 20 Comments
For the past few days, some of my favorite bloggers have been writing about self-care at Life After Benjamin, Chicken and Cheese, A Design so Vast, and Her Suburban Life. Also, Carry it Forward and Food: A Love Story consistently write about taking care of ourselves in an authentic way.
Self-care is a strange word. It sounds vaguely institutional and somewhat primitive and yet it’s a concept that has been rather fascinating to me for the past few years. It would not be inaccurate to say that I started out my adult life having no idea how to take care of myself. I knew the basics of course. I knew what I should eat and how much exercise and sleep I should get. But in times of stress, all those good ideas went out the window. In times of stress – which in my twenties and early thirties was about five days per week- I subsisted on less than six hours of sleep, cheese, green olives, and coffee.
It’s funny the things that didn’t work for me. “Treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated,” people would tell me, or “Become your own best friend.” The truth was, I felt like a slacker who had been given tons of opportunity and fortune but who had squandered it all away. I was treating myself the way I believed I deserved. And I had no interest in befriending as someone as lame and myself.
It’s funny what did work too. When I was pregnant with Oliver, I was unmarried and living 3000 miles away from my boyfriend (who later became my husband, poor guy). I was working in investor relations and it was a job in which even if I did everything perfectly, it was guaranteed someone would still yell at me at the end of the quarter. But one day, as I got off the train in Palo Alto and was walking down Emerson Street to my apartment, I passed a yoga studio that offered prenatal yoga. For years I had been meaning to go to yoga, but I didn’t want to be the only one in the class who didn’t know what she was doing. I peered in the window at the women, lumbering like elephants with their big bellies. I was only three months pregnant at the time. I figured I could do at least as well as them.
That was how I started with yoga: as a competition. But after my first prenatal class, I lay in savasana and felt quiet for the first time in years. Once you find something like that, you begin to notice its opposite. You gradually become aware of when you are not quiet and then you try to figure out how to get yourself out of that mess. You may try meditation next or getting more sleep. Or, if you’re like me, you may try to eat half the can of frosting instead of the whole thing.
To be honest, I am the least qualified person to write about how to take care of yourself. I have only recently started to get more sleep. And when the going gets tough, I often stop my meditation practice and start drinking coffee. Last week, during which I had to make a Halloween costume, plan and host a birthday party for six six-year olds, make a graveyard cake, take care of sick children, and finish up homework for my teacher training, I may or may not have eaten seven fun-size Twix bars one night and called it dinner. I know, you don’t have to say it.
But I am working on it. At least I am passed the point I used to be, when I thought self-care was for wimps, for people with too much time on their hands. In the last couple of years, I have read a gazillion books on the subject. More importantly, I met with my yoga teacher, Jessica Anderson, from YogaWorks in LA and with Laura Plumb, Ayurvedic devotee, yoga teacher, and educator. They both offered invaluable advice and instruction. I still don’t do everything I wish I did, but below are some notes from the trenches, which sometimes get me out of my own way:
1. Start Where You Are: This first rule could also be called “Don’t Make Things Worse.” If you eat a pound of chocolate, do your best to avoid eating another pound to make yourself feel better. If you haven’t washed your hair in a week, then put on a hat rather than beat yourself up. If you are feeling badly about yourself, be gentle with your heart. As Geneen Roth writes, if you find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator eating leftover Chinese food with your fingers, pull up a chair. Be kind to yourself. Sit down. Just stop making things worse, and things will get a whole lot better.
2. Start Slowly: After I consulted with Laura last week and she told me about the Veda-reducing diet that would reduce my anxiety, I immediately wanted to roast vegetables, cook up a pot of kitchari, and buy lavender-scented oil. This was during the Halloween/Birthday Extravaganza Week, and I knew that if I went gangbusters, I would probably have a meltdown. So, for a change, I slowed down. Instead of cooking up a storm, I made one pot of tomato soup. I started meditating for ten minutes a day. I went to bed fifteen minutes earlier at night. I bought a single bottle of organic sesame oil to practice Abhyanga. Baby steps.
3. Plan: When I met with Jessica eighteen months ago, she told me that in order to keep herself sane and healthy she planned out her week. She decided how much yoga and mountain biking she needed and what food she needed to buy to make healthy meals. My first thought after she told me that was shock. I couldn’t imagine doing that. If I had enough time to sit and make a grocery list and a schedule, then clearly I was not getting enough done in my life. Clearly, that was a waste of time. I still don’t always plan out my meals or my week. Most weeks, I don’t get to yoga as much as I want to and I often forget to soak the beans the night before. But when I do take time to plan out my week … man, life is good.
4. Pretend: aka “Fake it Till You Make It.” Here’s the deal. Often, when we need self-care the most is the time we believe we don’t deserve it. Right after we yell at our kids for fooling around when they are supposed to be getting on their shoes or the house is a mess or we totally botch something up at work, it’s easy to beat ourselves up. However, we are probably yelling at our kids and making silly mistakes because we ourselves are depleted. I am getting to where I can see this is true even if I don’t always believe it. Then, I usually pretend I am someone else, like Oprah, or Laura Plumb or Jessica Anderson and I try to imagine what they would do if they were me. Chances are, they would take a deep breath, give themselves a pep talk, make a cup of tea. What happens then is that once you start treating yourself as the person you want to be, you start to become the person you want to be. It’s kind of revolutionary.
5. Create a Ritual: In our yoga teacher training, Rolf told us that anything can become sacred once we bring our attention to it. Laura last week told me about tratak, a candle meditation that is deeply calming and centering. She also told me about Viparita Karani Mudra, or lying down for fifteen minutes with your legs up the wall. It could be a yoga class or a run or meditation. It could be a walk with your kids or spending time with your spouse. It could even be eating breakfast in silence or listening to the birds. There is something about a ritual that is soothing to our souls, that reminds us that while we live in these limited physical forms, an aspect of us is truly unlimited and connected to something bigger than we can imagine.
I once thought that devoting some time to taking care of myself would make me into a different person, into someone who was more patient, who subsisted on kale and ginger tea, who wore yoga pants every day. Obviously that hasn’t happened. Most days I wear jeans with a hole in the right leg, because that is the knee I bend down on when I am tying shoes, wiping noses, and putting the chain back on Oliver’s bike.
Taking care of ourselves isn’t about a vegan diet or taking baths, although that may be part of it. Taking care of ourselves is about treating ourselves with a level of dignity so that we remember who we truly are. If you treat yourself like a queen, it becomes more difficult to get upset about the snide remark your friend made. If you give yourself enough time to get to yoga and play something uplifting on the car stereo, it is harder to honk at the third person who cut you off in Logan Circle. On the other hand, if you eat leftover Halloween candy for dinner, it’s a lot easier to get upset at your husband for taking a business trip and leaving you alone with the kids for four days, how could he do that to you, doesn’t he know that you won’t get a minute to yourself?
Last week, Laura said something that I have been thinking about every day. She said that even if our main job is to care for other people, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a little time for our own evolution and go inward every now and then. We deserve at least that, don’t we?
And that is why I am offering my first ever giveaway. I am offering Laura’s Maha Shakti Detox Protein Powder and a copy of the Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner on Monday.
February 9, 2011 § 14 Comments
A few weeks ago I blogged about a mediation class I went to. I wrote that it was the first time since I moved to Washington, DC that I felt safe. That I felt like I was in a group of friends. That I felt like I belonged. Granted, it was a bit of a crazy meditation class. Some people saw colors and others said they felt bliss and light. I didn’t really have those experiences. I felt like I always do when I meditate: anxious, resistant to looking at all that simmers below the surface, annoyed that the lyrics to “California Gurls” keep rushing through my head.
During the week after the first class, I did what I always do: I dismiss anything that doesn’t make perfect, rational sense. I decided that the people who felt blissed out and saw colors were making it up. It couldn’t have been real. I mean, I like the idea of karma and chakras, and the dharmakaya, but deep down, I don’t really believe in it. I can’t believe in anything without fossilized proof, evidence, a theorem.
What surprises me is that I have been back to meditation five or six times. In fact, I haven’t missed a week. I don’t know why I keep going. I suspect it has to do with something I read by Pema Chodron, which said that the point of meditation isn’t to have a great experience, but to get to know your own mind, to make friends with yourself. It probably also has to do with the fact that Mimi in her Talbots sweaters is so sane, so clear.
I definitely don’t go because meditating is fun. Mostly my legs fall asleep and my neck hurts. For a few minutes I think of nothing and then congratulate myself because this is the goal of meditation, right? And then I realize that it’s not that I’m not thinking, but that I am resisting thinking. California gurls, we’re undeniable. Fine, fresh, fierce, we got it on lock.I am avoiding the plunge below the surface, that icy underworld which is just about the most terrifying place imaginable. Under the surface is where the monsters live.
While some in the class are experiencing the dharmakaya, I am cringing at the thought of how sharply I spoke to Oliver. I am wondering if I should go to New York to see a friend by myself, even though Gus is still nursing. I think of what a jerk I am to my husband sometimes. West coast represent, now put your hands up.
But then, I’m not really after bliss or colors or some Kundalini energy release. What I am after is an excavation. What I am tired of is deceiving myself. For most of my life, I have lived with blinders on, seeing only what I wanted to, trying to block out the wars and the homeless and sadness. There’s an inauthenticity to this kind of life. There is a lack of integrity in trying to pretend I am not a Navy wife when that is exactly what I am or in saying that I don’t need Washington DC friends when really, I am lonely. It doesn’t make sense to lean against the kitchen counter and eat thirteen animal crackers, when really, i just want to cry for a minute.There are about a zillion ways to hide from your own life, and I have done every one.
This month, I bought an issue of the Shambala Sun., which is definitely not something I normally read. Usually, I read the New Yorker, and US Magazine, and sometimes Real Simple. Shambala Sun is kind of hardcore. But Pema is on the cover this month. And I’ll read anything about Pema. In the magazine is an article about Pema’s “Smile at Fear” teachings, which I think is kind of great. Smile at fear. I never thought of smiling. I just sing songs like Dorothy on the yellow brick road. Sun-kissed skin, so hot, we’ll melt your popsicle. Pema writes, “The basis of fear is not trusting yourself. In a nutshell you feel bad about who you are.”
Trust myself? Sirusly? Rilly? WTF?
Oh why the hell not. Trust seems to be a big theme here in the blogokaya. Lindsey Mead Russell’s word of the year is “Trust” and every time I read her blog I am inspired. (my new favorite is one about navigating our own lives). Katrina Kenison writes so beautifully about trusting in the present moment and in letting life unfold without tugging so much at it. When I asked Mimi what to do with the fact that all I think of on my meditation cushion is all I don’t want to think about, she told me to welcome all of those monsters into the light. “The light dissolves them,” she said. Rolf Gates told me that starving people eat garbage, and the key is to realize that we are the starving people. Kristin Noelle, on her lovely blog “Trust Tending,” wrote a beautiful ritual for dealing with parts of ourselves we don’t like so much.
Forgiveness is the theme here. Compassion for ourselves. Love. Bravery. Trust. Letting the light in. After a few months of darkness, I am ready for the light.