Often I hear self-care described in terms of what we can do. We can balance work with rest and play. We can care for ourselves through nutrition, exercise, socialising and getting support when things are difficult. Acting to manage life in this way is important, but I believe there are other aspects of self-care not considered so often, relating to our internal world. I’m going to talk about how my self-care includes my attitude to suffering and following a ‘spiritual’ path.
I find that my attitude towards pain and suffering makes a difference. Unchecked, I naturally move away from things which are painful. If I touch something hot enough to burn I instinctively draw back. However, I know that sometimes things are physically difficult or uncomfortable, yet I must accept that in order to achieve another goal. I might think of climbing a mountain; uncomfortable or painful at times, yet greatly rewarding when I reach the top, particularly because it was difficult. Psychologically I attempt a similar attitude. I choose to be with or confront painful emotional situations, or to suffer as a form of service, in order to allow something else to happen. For example, when someone is sad I might sit with them and feel sad myself, which helps that person be with their feelings and strengthens my relationship with them. I find that pain and suffering present opportunities, often by breaking down my old ways of being so that something new can emerge. My self-care becomes a focus on how I manage and process pain and suffering psychologically in order to become more than I was before. Rather than thinking ‘this is dreadful’ and desperately seeking release, I try to accept and learn from my pain.
Another important part of my self-care is following a ‘spiritual’ path that supports an ongoing transformation of my inner world. I practice through a combination of yoga, reflection, my work, and physical activity in nature such as gardening. I have labelled these activities ‘spiritual’ as they enable me to make meaningful connection between my embodied self and the world, and help me let go of conditioned attitudes, beliefs and behaviour which no longer serve me. Others I know follow a more formal spiritual path, or undertake service to others through community work, or explore through creative works or therapy. I think this is a highly personal area, and one where there is a path to follow rather than somewhere to get to. Following a spiritual path supports my ability to manage difficult times, gives me a sense of direction and purpose in the face of adversity, and helps me come back to myself rather than get lost in emotions or experience.
Self-care is something to practice even when we feel good. As well as taking care of yourself practically, consider how you nourish your inner world and how you allow pain to touch you so that you grow.