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Self Care

Self care is essential. It makes life more enjoyable; equips us to face life's challenges; provides an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves; and it allows us to bring our best selves to our many roles--as parents, partners, friends, children, colleagues, etc. The concept of "self care" can seem like something you have to find extra time for or prepare for in some special way. While it can look like that sometimes, it can also be so much more simple and woven into your everyday life through things you already do. And it's powerful.

Prioritizing yourself and your needs (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) allows you to be more present and grateful and joyful, both for your own personal experience of your life and in how you show up for the work you do in the world. 

As parents, the work of raising children is to not only keep our little ones safe and happy but to also teach them ways to be and relate in the world--which includes modeling for them how to treat ourselves and others. They watch everything we do--what do our self care practices (or lack thereof) teach them about how they should treat themselves?

As changemakers weaving a better world, our work is to be the change we wish to see (as Gandhi says) in all aspects of our lives. Each aspect of our own life that we can bring into alignment with our values serves as a thread to strengthen and grow the more regenerative and just world we are co-creating. As we know, we can't make all of these changes overnight--but how will our culture change if we do not first change ourselves?

Being the change we wish to see includes being intentional about how we show up for ourselves while we're showing up for the planet and all of its current and future inhabitants. The systems of capitalism and colonialism and patriarchy continue to inflict so much pain and violence on people and nature--and these are the same systems that tell us that self care is selfish, that self care is unproductive, or that if we do practice self care, its only redeeming quality is that it makes us better workers and providers. These are myths perpetuated to keep these systems in power, to keep us working so hard that we don't have capacity to consider if this is really the kind of society and world that we want for ourselves and our children.

Masculine & feminine energies
I recently listened to a series of inspiring interviews called the Vibrant Mama Summit, hosted by Kate Borsato, and it synchronized perfectly with some recent shifts in my life (described below) that made self care so clearly necessary. Kate interviewed Jessica Flint, Founder of Recovery Warriors, who spoke about masculine and feminine energy in the context of motherhood and self care. I'm also reading Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin, and he talks about this as well. 

Given that gender is not a binary and that gendered language can be exclusive and problematic, I wonder if there are better terms to use in understanding this metaphor. For some, these gendered metaphors add additional depth and clarity and resonate with their lived experience. But ultimately this concept is describing elements of humanity that don't have to be gendered in this way if that doesn't resonate with you. Where possible below, I'll use "'doing' energy" instead of masculine, and "'being' energy" instead of feminine.

In the interview, Jessica Flint explained that everyone has both masculine and feminine qualities. The masculine part of ourselves, which is dominant in modern society, emphasizes doing and action. Many of us, perhaps most of us, feel this continual pressure to do more and be more productive. Many of us have been conditioned to emphasize the importance of productivity since our earliest years of schooling. Bill Plotkin talks about how this emphasis on productivity (and ultimately, GDP or other monetary measures) is a pillar of "egocentric society," which focuses on material wealth and social status at the expense of nature, people, and true human connection to self, community, and the natural world (of which we are part). 

While this "doing" energy that we all have is a valuable and necessary part of being human (and has allowed us as a species to accomplish so much!), the dominant emphasis on this part of ourselves, combined with the societal pressure to suppress and deny our "being" energy, is a contributing factor to so many problems in the world. Charging forward with our actions without being receptive to feedback or listening to the pain of others as a result of our actions is what happens when we exclusively embody "doing" energy and ignore our capacity for "being." Think environmental degradation and unregulated carbon emissions in the name of profits; or coming across land and stealing it, slaughtering the indigenous population already residing there in the name of manifest destiny; or giving your executives raises during a pandemic while cutting employee wages. An overemphasis on this "doing" energy in society can lead to action without presence, without emotion or empathy. 

These are examples of unfettered "doing" energy wreaking havoc. But obviously we also know that doing and thinking and contributing to society can all be wonderful, necessary things. This "doing" part of ourselves, though, isn't all that we are here to experience as humans--and in excess without the balance of "being" energy, it has proven to be harmful to life and humanity itself.

As a balance to the masculine/"doing" energy we carry, feminine energy is about being, receiving, and feeling. When we allow ourselves to embody our "being" energy, we can actually feel our emotions without suppressing them, we can be comfortable with receiving the nurturing care that we need without feeling guilt that we aren't doing something "productive." We can sit with ourselves and simply be. 

Living in a society that emphasizes "doing" means that even when we do practice "being," such as in meditation or mindful moments, we often justify doing so because it will help us be more productive later. It is true that embodying our feminine "being" energy through a practice like meditation helps us later to embody our masculine "doing" energy through our work or other responsibilities. This is the balance of these two parts of ourselves. 

The key is recognizing that we are often off-balance, skewed in the direction of "doing" energy due to the society we live in. When we recognize this, we can create balance by placing intentional emphasis on "being" energy for its own sake, not simply to serve our "doing" energy. Our self care can be for ourselves, without needing to justify how it will allow us to serve. 

I'm still wrapping my head around all of this, so I welcome your comments, insights, and resources for how to better understand these elements of ourselves and how we seek balance, knowing that it's always an evolving dance.

Self care is essential, effective self care is connecting
All of this is to say: Self care is essential. It's essential for the sake of our own personal experience of a richer and more connected life, in which we can feel our feelings in healthy ways, process them, and grow in our personal development journey. It's also essential for us to be more present and effective in our relationships and in the work we do in the world. 

We are most effective when we practice self care. Effective self care brings us into the present moment so that we can feel, sense, and connect with what is happening within and around us in a deeper way. Even if only for a moment, self care is connecting: to ourselves, to our sense of place in community, to our sense of place in nature, and to the "more than human world" of plants, creatures, earth, wind, fire, water, sunlight, and beyond.

If you're looking for ideas, here are some simple yet effective and connecting daily self care practices:
  • Be mindful and engage your senses when you're eating, drinking, walking, showering, brushing your teeth. Really savor your morning coffee, notice how nice the hot water feels in the shower, smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste as you brush your teeth. Experience your everyday routines in new ways simply by paying attention.
  • Express gratitude, verbally and/or by writing it down. The more you are present in your day (such as the examples above), the more you'll find to be grateful for.
  • Eat your lunch away from your desk and phone--gaze out a window or read an enjoyable novel or simply daydream while you eat.
  • Wash your face, brush your teeth, brush your hair, take a shower. Ideally we all do these every day and then do additional self care, but in COVID times and especially with a little one at home, I know I'm not the only one who misses some of these each day. Prioritizing them can make a huge difference in how you feel about yourself as you go about your day.
  • Write down your thoughts, to-dos, dreams, and fears. I learned many years ago the power and magic of writing things down when they're in my head. From jotting down to-do list items or a grocery list, to free-writing about my dreams and worries, writing can help us process things, see them clearly, tell the universe what we want to create, and clear our mental space so we can be present. For things you want to return to and sort later, put them somewhere safe (email yourself, write them on a post-it on your desk that you won't lose, keep a notebook you revisit weekly or more). For fears or frustrations that you want to get out of your head and process out of your system, write it all down and then tear it up and recycle it--or save it to revisit a year or two from now if it's something significant that you think you'll want to reflect back on. Morning pages are a wonderful tool for all of this.
  • Drink water. If you struggle with this, try using a large reusable water bottle with a built-in straw, or put glasses of water in different rooms in your house that you frequent often, or set a reminder on your phone or calendar.
  • Take vitamins: I've started setting out my vitamins on top of my planner each night so that I'll remember to take them in the morning after breakfast when I look at my planner. Put them somewhere you already look each day, preferably at the same time. Weaving new routines into existing routines helps build habits!
  • Step outside for 5 minutes to breathe, feel the temperature of the air, and notice what animal, insect, or human life you can see or hear. If you have more than 5 minutes, go for a walk or bike/drive to a nearby park or trail with the intention of really paying attention to what the outside world has to offer your senses. You can do this while walking/biking/hiking/running for exercise, too, but also take a few minutes to slow down and pay attention while you're out there.
  • Exercise: even just a short walk or some stretching in your living room is so good for your body and mind. I try to walk Liam in his stroller around our little neighborhood as many days a week as possible. I always return home refreshed, rejuvenated, and Liam seems happier after our walks, too.
  • Start a creative project, perhaps with no intention of sharing it with anyone else. Take the pressure off--your art does not need to be perfect, even if you do share it. (I need this reminder as much as anyone, especially while writing a blog post!)
  • Leave your phone in the other room, or download an app that helps you limit your time on social media, or spend the last 30 minutes of each day doing something other than staring at a screen of any kind.
  • Read a novel or inspiring nonfiction book before bed, or during lunch, or whenever you notice yourself scrolling mindlessly on your phone. In addition to reading your favorite kinds of books, challenge yourself to read books by authors who are different from you or different from the authors you tend to read. A quick Google search will yield lists of books by authors who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ, from other countries, from a different part of your country, politically different, etc.

Why self care now? 
It's taken me nearly 10 months of parenting to truly get the necessity of intentional self care. I say intentional because prior to now, I did practice self care when I found myself with extra time to do so, or when someone reminded me to. But for most of my adult life--except for a few specific periods of time when I had a regular writing practice--I haven't prioritized my self care. Most of the time, I wasn't adding it to my calendar or thinking each evening about how I would show up for myself the next day. It wasn't integrated into my routine. Self care was an afterthought, after all of my other responsibilities.

About a month ago, I started to reconnect with parts of myself that had been hidden beneath the whirlwind of learning, growth, exhaustion, and profound joy that came with having a baby. By around 9 months old, Liam was able to play independently for long stretches of time, and I discovered that I could read in the rocking chair while he crawled around and played. Liam's development in this way opened up the possibility of spending more time doing things I wanted to. 

I started writing. I revisited the Renewal of Creative Path process developed by the 8 Shields Institute that I first did in college and re-discovered some core themes of connection that I'm inviting into my life this year. I started making the connection between parenting and my love of teaching and the importance of nature connection, especially for children. Ideas have been flowing about how my Green Gal blog and related social media accounts could serve as a creative outlet for myself while connecting with other parents and/or changemakers. 

And then a few weeks ago, Green Guy's work schedule shifted significantly and we headed to the Bay Area so he could go into the office, upending the lovely routine we were in and leaving a lot less time for me to be creative. After the first week of watching Liam mostly on my own, even with help from safely masked family members, it became so clear to me that something needed to change. 

I was overwhelmed. I felt depleted at the end of the day. It didn't feel good.

In response, I adjusted my work commitments temporarily, thanks to my flexible and understanding clients. But more importantly as a long-term shift, I started prioritizing self care in an intentional way--not leaving it until the end of the day or the weekend, but scheduling time for it during Liam's first nap of each day. 

Spending that first nap doing what I want to do has made a huge difference. I feel more relaxed, present, and happier. When I'm doing something and Liam crawls over and reaches up a hand as if to say "let's play, Mama!" or wants some milk or needs a diaper change, I am able to put aside my book or laundry or whatever I'm doing and be fully with him. My well was replenished earlier in the day and I have plenty to share. It also helps that Liam is a playful, sweet, and smart kid who is a joy to play with and watch! Just being present (a simple form of self care!) and watching him explore his world can often ground me and help put things into perspective if I feel myself getting overwhelmed. 

This doesn't mean I don't get ever get irritated or frustrated or overwhelmed (like when Liam throws his spoon for the third time in a row or tries to flip over on the changing table), but the intensity of those feelings is significantly less when I've taken care of myself that day. I'm able to take a breath, ground myself in all that I'm grateful for, and face whatever challenge has come up with more patience.

Some of the books we read this past week. See a post about this on Instagram.

Self care is not one size fits all
I recognize that many, many parents--especially those who are now full-time parents and full-time employees in a pandemic--cannot devote their child's naptime to self care like I've been doing lately. That doesn't mean they can't prioritize self care, but it certainly looks different if you're working full time and raising children and keeping the house clean and doing all the things. 

I'm incredibly grateful for the privilege I have that allows me to work part-time and stay home full-time with Liam, which is challenging at times but offers me enough breathing room to prioritize my self care relatively easily. I am in awe of the full-time work-from-home parents whose children are doing remote schooling. They need self care more than any of us--but I know many are not in a place right now to even feel like they have time to think about self care. (Note: New York Times Parenting just published a series called "This is a Primal Scream" related to the crisis of parenting in the pandemic that is disproportionately affecting moms and people of color.)

We are all in different stages and seasons of our lives, so self care naturally looks different for everyone--and it looks different at different times in our own lives. What we have in common in this society, though, is that most of us aren't prioritizing our self care often enough. 

I invite you to consider when and how you can bring more self care practices into your life. The earlier in the day, the better. Start with something small, like savoring your morning coffee, and notice where else you have capacity to be more present, more connected, and more intentional with how you spend your time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! This started out as an Instagram Story update that I wanted to elaborate on in an Instagram post. It quickly grew beyond that scope and kept evolving. There's even more I could say, but isn't that how it always is when we write about topics that are relevant and interesting to us? 

Take care, 
Green Gal

Resources & Gratitude
Thank you so much to everyone who has affirmed the importance of self care for me over the years. Below are some resources related to the topics covered in this post if you'd like to dive deeper or hear from others:
Human Nature & Connecting with Purpose
Inspiration & Creativity