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Self-Care: The Radical Inside Journey

May you live every day of your life.

~~ Jonathan Swift

Blessings to all my precious people!!

We are in the time of distraction and celebration as we wind down the year of 2023.  The feeling of “too much to do, not enough time” competes with our family, work and social commitments, and the constant juggling of priorities can leave us depleted. How can we replenish ourselves and restore balance?  And what would that look like? 

Self-care is a familiar phrase in everyday conversations and across social media. We have all been imprinted with this messaging in some way, shape or form, but what does it really mean?  Self-care is touted as “the way” to manage and mitigate the stress moments of everyday life and achieve a level of optimum health.  It has become synonymous with the “treat yourself” attitude and wellness influencers who offer up luxurious remedies that can be replenished with a recurring monthly subscription.

But when did the idea of caring for the Self become the blatantly over-marketed ‘self-care’ industry promising bliss and rejuvenation in exchange for time and dollars?

What does it really mean to feel worthy, precious and powerful?  When was the last time you had an inkling that this was what you wanted?  Perhaps you started to recognize that feeling worthy, precious and powerful was missing from your life?

“You can’t meditate your way out of a 40 hour workweek with no childcare.”

This is my favorite quote of the week by Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, a clinical assistant professor at George Washington University School of Medicine, and the founder and CEO of Gemma, a physician-led women’s mental health community centering impact and equity.  Her new book, Real Self Care:  A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness offers up a practical guide for re-imagining the care of the Self, versus the “self-care” hype that is touted by wellness gurus and TikTok influencers.  Dr. Lakshmin’s book is filled with encouragement, compassion and an actionable framework for anyone to implement.  

During an interview with Dr. Aviva Romm, Dr. Lakshmin talked about self-care: “Self-care as a term actually has two sorts of lineages. One is actually in psychiatry. Originally psychiatrists in the 1950s started using the term self-care for the food and clothing and exercise decisions that patients could talk about in a locked psych unit. So much of their life in that unit was controlled, but they could decide what they wanted to eat, what they wanted to wear. And the psychiatrist referred to that as self-care, which I thought was interesting.  But the other lineage is from the work of black queer thinkers, Audre Lorde, ‘self-care is self-preservation’, bell hooks, and their work brought self-care into the zeitgeist, and it was very much a political movement and about how people on the outside, black people, queer people, anybody who was lower caste could protect themselves from a social structure and a system that was working against them and attacking them, really.”

Once the historical context of “self-care” is understood, the implication of what caring for the Self, for your Self looks like, becomes more personal, more tender, more precious.  The four principles Dr. Lakshmin describes for real self-care are, in her words, simple to say, but hard to enact, and they can distilled down to these points:

  1. Boundaries:  do less things
  2. Compassion:  be nicer to yourself
  3. Values:  do the things that actually really matter to you
  4. Power:  figure out if you should be receiving or if you should be giving back 

So many women feel their struggles with their physical and mental well-being are a personal problem but it is more often the harmful systems that dominate our culture that keep women from true well-being, which harms all of us, not just women. This looks like everything from the wellness industry convincing us to buy crystals and essential oils to solve our problems, to policies and workplace dynamics that keep women from getting equitable support, medical gaslighting, and so much more.

Women typically have been socialized to be accommodating, to caretake and manage the emotions of everyone else first and while many women acknowledge this, not all are familiar with the historical implications of the culture that shaped this dynamic.  Elizabeth Lesser, the co-founder of Omega Institute located in Rhinebeck, NY, and a beloved spiritual writer and leading feminist thinker, wrote about the stories we tell and how the stories become culture in her book: Cassandra Speaks:  When Women Are the Storytellers, The Human Story Changes. The book highlights the stories we still blindly cling to, and the ones that cling to us: the origin tales, the guiding myths, the religious parables, the literature and films and fairy tales passed down through the centuries about women and men, power and war, sex and love, and the values we live by.  Stories written mostly by men with lessons and laws for all of humanity. We have outgrown so many of them, and still they endure.

These stories are part of the fabric of society and as we untangle their threads and rework the tapestry, Dr. Lakshmin reminds us that self-care is ultimately about community, so the personal and the collective are always connected.  Making time for community and relationships, and creating and understanding boundaries is the first principle because everything depends on the choices we make from this starting point.

The boundary is the pause – it allows you to take a breath and consider how you feel, and respond rather than react to situations.  The boundary establishes space for you to consider and manage your life, your time, your energy.  This pause can be created simply by dropping into the body, taking a deep breath, and allowing the brain to reset itself.  The pause is a skill to build upon, practiced time and again, and we can carry this skill along with us for the rest of our lives.

Compassion is all about kindness to self.  Gloria Steinem said, “For women, I often think the Golden Rule should be reversed: We must learn to treat ourselves as well as we treat others.”  Remember this on a daily basis and promote loving kindness to your own amazing self.

Values reflect our fundamental beliefs that guide and motivate us in our lives.  Values reflect how we align ourselves within our family, community and world.  What is most important to us?  How do we make choices that support our coherence with our values?

Power is about choosing how to insert ourselves into the world we inhabit – how we contribute to situations and communities by speaking up, standing up, or settling down.  How can we take our innate gifts, talents and lived experiences to create change that is sustainable?

Real self-care is an internal, self-reflective process that involves making difficult decisions in line with our values, and when we practice it, we shift our relationships, our workplaces, and even our broken systems.  The inner work we focus on can create ripple effects that lead to collective change.  There is never just one answer. It is never just medication, or just exercise, or just nutrition. It is all of it  and more – combined – because we, as humans, are a complex, miraculous ecosystem, with all of our systems interconnected and interdependent.  

Return home to your Self this season.  Give your Self the gift of attention, intention, reflection and renewal.  You are worthy, precious and powerful.  Share your gifts with the world!!!  And if you are curious about how to create a foundation and map out a blueprint for this radical inside journey of self-care, book a discovery call today and we can talk about the possibilities!!

“I do loving things for me, stroke my own shoulder, put myself down for a short nap, and the insight follows: that I am a wild precious woman, a human merely being, as E.E. Cummings put it, deserving of respect, tenderness, protection, delight, and solidarity.”

~~ Anne Lamott


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