Self-care is essential to be fully present for others.
Last month, I was able to spend some time traveling up north to one of my favorite places: the coast of Maine. Ah, cooler temps, ocean breezes, and gorgeous rocky coasts.
I visited several coastal towns with postcard-perfect harbors complete with sailboats, fishermen, and folks who, like myself, renew their souls just by being at the water. (I won’t even tell you how much lobster and other seafood I ate!)
This is one of the ways I take care of myself. Travel tops my list of items in my Big Bag O’ Tools, and I’m always very grateful when I can head out: to explore, discover, mingle, converse, observe and ponder.
This brings up one of my favorite self-care images—it’s a reminder, really—which is a physiology lesson taught to medical students during their early training: The first task of the heart is to pump blood to itself.
When I give talks to care providers, mental health professionals, families and volunteers, I discuss something I call “healthy selfishness.” The concept usually raises the eyebrows of those who hear it for the first time, so conditioned are we to think of anything associated with the word “selfish” as negative.
Yet, healthy selfishness has become a concept that has grown tremendously in importance, not only for those who are caring for others (elderly parents, children with disabilities, friends and partners with illness) but also as a widely promoted philosophy for healthy living.
Healthy selfishness is really just a term for good self-care. Sounds simple enough, but rarely are we taught the value of this. That not only is it OK, but it’s important.
Much like the heart, if we are to be of any use to ourselves and others, we must first make sure we are able to be present to what’s going on within. We must be able to listen, really hear and be fully here in the moment. Being present and available to yourself means that your mind and body are quietly focused and paying attention.
This is precisely how self-care works, and it is accomplished in many ways: in solitude through meditation; through the development of both inner peace and ease with outer surroundings; and through love for others. It is the manifestation of working on yourself, getting to understand what makes you tick, and having a rich relationship with the person that is you. (Therapy is very well suited to this process.) It may sound a bit corny, but that’s the recipe. It is what allows you, ultimately, to love freely and live fully.
Ask yourself this: What do you have to do that’s more important than committing to your growth, your self-care and self-awareness, which then allows you to be a more caring and fully present person with others? To live, love, grow, be present and provideand not burn out in the process!
If you can commit to this kind of relationship with yourself, then you can commit more fully to all your other relationships, offering quality care and attention. You can be a good friend, a great lover, a wonderful son or daughter or parent. So you see, caring for yourself is caring for others.
The process includes learning to become honest and authentic with yourself, receptive to the discovery of your own truths, even when they sting a bit. I’m asked all the time about how to find a healthy relationship. This is how: Develop a healthy, caring, honest relationship with yourself first.
This is where it all begins. Remember the old saying, “Opposites attract?” Well, maybe in the short term. But where it matters, like attracts like.
One of the most succinct ways to put this comes from drag queen RuPaul: “Honey, if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anyone else?”
Maybe travel isn’t your thing. So what is? How can you find the balance you need to stay sane and present in the midst of a busy life? How can you nurture yourself, nurture that wonderful heart of yours, so you can be there for you, and for those you care about? It’s a valuable journey, don’t you think?
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Until next time, from Lily Tomlin: “I always said I wanted to be somebody. Now I realize I should have been more specific.”