Recently, I’ve found myself listening to teachings, and partaking in conversations, that seem to use the terms self esteem, self care, self love – a lot.
And if you’ve read much of my work, you’ll know these are concepts that I think are the keys to the kingdom when it comes to finding relief from pain, easing of fear and anxiety and a life you love living. So I love listening to ideas around these topics.
And I’m happy to say, more and more, women are moving away from the idea that self care or self love are purely matters of getting facials and buying ourselves new shoes. In fact, these things can represent the antithesis of self esteem – an avoidance of the real issues and an embracing of selfishness or (as Glennon Doyle Melton terms it) a hitting of the “easy button” as a panacea for feeling uncomfortable feelings.
So I thought it a pertinent time to talk about what I think a good self attitude is – how do we truly enact self care, self love and embody self esteem, or as I’m starting to refer to it, “Body, mind, spirit-esteem”.
Understanding the whole self
The first step to any talk of the Self is to understand what the Self really is. This, of course, could be a discussion worthy of post-graduate philosophy study, and this blog is certainly not that! But many women don’t stop to think about what elements constitute their whole self, and without that, self care or self love can only ever be expressions of the Self we focus on or believe to be who we are. And if we are in need of increased self care and self love, there’s a good chance we don’t have a healthy, whole view of the Self to begin with!
Many spiritual and religious traditions recognise the core elements of the Self as being the physical body, the thinking mind and the spirit that animates the body, gives personality to the mind and is that which departs the body when we die. I think its also worth a subtle delineation between thoughts and feelings, though both take place in the mind and affect the body. This collection of parts of the self is often referenced in the “body, mind, spirit” phrase.
When we think of self care, unless we are caring for all three parts of ourselves, being kind to the body, the spirit, the thinking and the feeling elements, we are not really engaging in an wholistic self care.
This is why a massage can feel like deep self care but it can also seem almost completely ineffectual – it depends on how you’re caring for the the whole of who you are.
Self care of the body
This is, perhaps, the easiest and hardest self care challenge. The massage mentioned above can be a great act of self care, if it’s what your body really needs and enjoys. It’s also something that most of us do as a special treat, or as a desperate action for relief because the body is in high levels of acute pain.
True self care for the body begins far earlier than this point of engaging emergency relief from pain or our rare self treat. What does your body long for, right here, right now? Most of us go through our days paying no conscious attention to how our body is feeling, until it has to start screaming with hunger pangs, a busting bladder or a point of acute pain from a stubbed two or a paper cut. But our body is always sending us information about how it feels, what it needs and warning signs that we should be paying attention to. So if you’re only ever making it to the bathroom when you’re absolutely busting to go, there’s a good chance you’re not doing too well with the physical self care.
Body check-ins, throughout the day, can be a great first step in caring for your body. Learning to feel the early signs of stiffness, tension, discomfort etc allow us to care for ourselves before it gets desperate, and that creates a much greater sense of calm in the body. Just like a baby in need of something, it begins with a small whimper and builds up to a scream if the need isn’t met. A sensible parent listens to the whimper and starts begins working out what the baby needs, hopefully avoid the screaming altogether, because this is better for the baby and for mom and dad!! It’s a similar idea with self care. Listening to the body’s whimper and attending to it will avoid a body scream, and that’s better for our sense of inner calm and the body’s experience of pain.
Self care of the mind
Caring for your mind is probably a new concept for many. In the christian tradition there is a concept called “renewing the mind” which I have always loved. It carries with it a sense that we can wash out the old thoughts and patterns, and refresh our minds with new, more helpful, joyful, loving and uplifting ones.
Self care of the mind begins with understanding that the amygdala, a small part of the brain that is there to detect and warn us of potential danger, is always on alert to keep us safe. It sends messages to the brain to deliver the hormones that allow us to defend ourselves against danger (the sympathetic nervous system activation), and this is known to us more commonly as the stress response.
When we let our thoughts run where they will, our innate survival tendencies usually kick in and love to think over and over about fearful things. Worry is a favourite pass time of the uncared for mind. So true self care of the mind must begin with pushing even a small amount of peacefulness into this constant stream of scared, negative, judgemental or worrisome thinking.
Meditation is, of course, a great way to do this, but often requires a good deal of practice before it’s successful in really quieting the mind. I highly recommend you do this, and all of my clients are tasked with developing a meditation practice. The benefits of this can not be understated.
However, there are also other things that can be useful, while you’re building your meditation muscle.
Gratitude is a great one. Forcing yourself to really think about, and feel, gratitude for the things in your life calms the sympathetic nervous system. Scientifically, we know that the mind can not feel fear and gratitude at the same time. So begin right now, by finding five things and truly thinking, and feeling, grateful for them. Tricky?? What about this blog, this device on which you’re reading this blog, the money you had that allowed you to buy this device, the last meal you ate, the clothing you’re wearing, the home in which you sit, or the car, or the bus or the park or wherever you are. When you start to think through all the things, from the smallest up, that are good, well, pleasant, helpful or relief-giving in your life, it’s not hard to find many more than five, in a few seconds.
The real challenge in a gratitude practice come when you work up to being grateful for the bad things that have happened to you – but that’s another blog post for another time.
Another practice is to spend time focusing your thoughts on times in your life you’ve experienced a pure love, joy, peace or happiness. Think of the happiest time of your life. Take five or ten minutes to just sit, here and now, eyes closed, remembering back to that moment. Feel, deeply into your body, how you felt at that moment. Feel the weather of that time, the clothing you were wearing, what you were holding or sitting on or the touch of other people, animals or things. Feel the positive emotions strongly. What a sweet relief to the mind to have a short break of such loveliness. Make it a practice to sit in such memories, enjoy them and feel them, again and again. And then be grateful for them.
Finally, the last tip I will give for self care of the mind is to be aware of what you feed it. I’m increasingly convinced that the “diet” that we feed our minds plays a huge role in our overall happiness and well being. What kinds of things are you watching on tv? Do you watch positive and uplifting things, or are the programs you choose ones that are full of violence, anger, drama, revenge, fear, horror, despair, bitterness, envy, jealousy and so on. Are they promoting a world that is positive and affirming or one that is superficial, selfish and requires that someone “lose” (whether it’s those who aren’t pretty enough, aren’t talented enough, aren’t fashion conscious enough, aren’t smart enough or aren’t educated enough). And yes, it can be hard to find TV that isn’t these negative things! Think about the effect this has on you, on your thinking, on how you think about yourself and others. Does it increase your happiness, caring, positivity, security and love? If not, think seriously about a diet of such programs. Ponder the sunset from a peaceful vantage point, read some poetry or spend more time with people you love, without the input of such programs.
Self care of the Spirit
Our spirit is, perhaps, the most important element of the self care trilogy. This is because it represents the core of who we are and, if we can master caring for it, the mind and body stuff will fall in to place more easily. However, I address it last because it also requires the biggest shift in thinking and attitude, in life style and belief.
Your Spirit is the deep part of you that constitutes your essential self – it’s your personality but it’s more than that. It’s your longing and your calling and the part of you that connects to the larger Spiritual force of love in the world. Caring for your Spirit is both a complete delight and, quite often, very scary.
Your Spirit longs for expression and it cares little for the confines of social convention. It’s the part of you that would much rather play lego’s with your kid than go off and sit an your office desk for eight hours doing work. It’s the part that just wants to draw, paint, play music, dance, sing, cook, write, sew, garden – whatever your preferred creative pursuit – rather than working at whatever you believe you “should” be doing instead.
As a client of mine, a large part of the process of finding healing, meaning and peace is to learn to listen to your Spirit and do what it wants, rather than what you’re choosing to do instead. For the purpose of this blog post, your challenge in self care for your Spirit is simply to become aware of what it’s longing to do, acknowledge that this is what it wants to do and promise it that you’ll give it some time to do that in your day, or at least in your week. I tend to do this first thing in the morning – sit for just a minute and become conscious of your Spirit. It usually feels a little childlike, fun, exciting. Just find it within you and ask what it would love to do today, if it could do anything. When you get an answer (right now, my Spirit wants to write this blog – I love writing – but also, somewhat strangely, it wants to go an explore in the garden for curious bits of nature), acknowledge to your Spirit that you’ve heard it (“Ahh, you’re enjoying writing this blog, and you want to find curious things in the garden. Wow, that’s weird but cool, and I can feel that it would feel good. I can see why you want to do it”). Finally, if it’s at all possible, promise your Spirit you’ll do that thing, at least for a little while, sometime soon. If it’s not possible (I recall many years ago I had read an article about Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and I really wanted to go and play there….not really possible!) then, just as a good and kind parent would, find an alternative that might satisfy your Spirit (for me, it meant just spending time imagining what it would be like to play there, at Neverland Ranch, imagining enjoying it).
You’ll be surprised how much joy you’ll get from doing the things your Spirit longs to do, however crazy or silly they may seem. Caring for your Spirit, by allowing it to have expression in the world and a say over how you spend your time, is essential to true happiness, health and a satisfying life. The more you do this, the more you’ll want to do it. And consider this your fair warning – if you start to do this, you could very quickly find your whole life changing, because you’re following your Spirit more and more and things just get better and better for you.
Body Mind Spirit Care
I’m excited to know how you go with this wholistic self care approach. Tell me how you care for your whole self? What really works for you? What have you tried and found surprisingly helpful? What has changed for you since adopting this approach? Leave me a comment and let me share your joy and happiness too!!