Self-care is a journey, not a destination
This past weekend my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We got married 16 years ago, thirty days after my healthy 60 year-old mother died suddenly from the flu. My father had died four years earlier at age 56 from a heart attack. I pushed through the weekend festivities and honeymoon, numb. I had to have my wedding dress let out a whole size because I had gained so much “stress weight” from elevated cortisol levels and no sleep. I barely remember the reception.
Over an anniversary celebration dinner with my husband Saturday night, I shared that if those circumstances were to repeat, I would do things very differently. I’m not sure what I would have changed, but I would have listened to my Wise Self (read more) and made some choices that better supported my emotional well-being. I have tremendous tenderness and compassion for the thirty-four year old Renee who was in so much pain she literally “abandoned” herself. I had not yet learned how it felt or what it would look like to stand in allegiance to yourself—regardless of the good opinion of others.
I define self-care as the art of attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment; this practice is not about adding something to your to-do list or becoming a better you. It’s ultimately about cultivating a kinder gentler way of being with yourself.
Last Friday I led a retreat in the Texas hill country. Later in the afternoon, forty of us gathered in a large circle and talked about our individual journeys around self-care. Some in the group were just starting on the path and asking, “What will motivate me to want to embrace self-care?” and others, like me, have been practicing this art for years and have tasted its many rewards.
For many waking up to this concept, the idea of “checking in” (How do I feel? What do I need?) was revolutionary. Others shared how as their self-care practice has deepened, they have had to call forth more courage, be ok with not pleasing others and get comfortable taking the road less traveled. Some marvel at how this practice keeps shifting as they move into the second half of life and how many opportunities it presents to practice deep self-compassion.
The practice of self-care (one of the four legs of the “balanced living model” I developed/teach to men and women at workshops) has been a life-changer for me. And it all started with curiosity:could there be another way to live that allows me to “serve big” yet is kinder, gentler and more sustainable?
Sixteen years ago, when I first began to cultivate awareness for how I talked to and treated myself, slowly bit by bit, my outer world began to come into alignment with my inner world. As a result, I felt happier—more of the time. After 16 years, do I still have more to learn about the art and science of self-care? Absolutely. But out of all the personal, professional and spiritual teachings and human potential “technologies” I have studied and practiced in the last 30 years—self-care has been more transformative for me than any other.