Daily Reflections: Week 3
Week Three: Taking Better Care of Yourself
Self care involves an attitude of valuing yourself and relating to yourself with the same care and respect and affection that you probably direct towards others. It involves properly placing yourself at the centre of your own life.
Of course the human being cannot be divided into unrelated parts such as body, mind and spirit because we are one holy integrated whole but I need to explore things with you one aspect at a time so for convenience we will begin with the body.
Day One: Taking care of your Body
Many of us have an ambivalent relationship with our bodies to put it mildly. We are prone to be anxious or embarrassed or momentarily focused on feeding our appetites only to be bored or disgusted shortly afterward. Even when we quite like our bodies they then go and change and fail on us. And when it comes to caring we often put off tending to our own bodies in order to tend other people's needs.
Today we are going to ask our bodies who they say we are and what they need from us. So rather than talk about our bodies needs from an academic position let us pick up a pen and ask "Body of my own self who are you?" Journal for a few minutes, in dot points if you like or as free form poetry or prose. When you have finished writing or not being able to write for a few minutes come back.
Flora Slosson Wuellner wrote a lovely book called "Prayer and Our Bodies" and she asked herself this question and was amazed at what happened. 'Responses rose so swiftly and urgently into my conscious mind that I was almost overwhelmed. They came like answers that had been pent up for years.'
"I am your friend and closest partner. Sometimes I am your mother and your father. Sometimes I am your child. Always I am your lover and spouse."
"I am the truth-teller. I witness to you your unknown self."
"I am the faithful messenger and recorder of your memories, your powers, your hurts, your needs, your limits."
"I am the stored wisdom and hurts of the ages and generations before you."
"I am a gift-giver. Through me, you live and move in God's creation. Through me, you have your vital link with the rejoicing, groaning, travailing universe."
"I am your partner in stress and pain. I carry much of your suffering, so your spirit does not need to carry it all alone."
"I am the frontier you have barely explored and the eager companion who speaks to you every moment."
"I am the manifestation of the miracle which is you. I am the ground of your deep powers."
"I am the microcosm of the community that surrounds you. I am the microcosm of the universe in which you live."
"I am the visible means by which you relate and unite with others.
"I am one of the major ways by which God abides with you, speaks to you, touches you, unites with you."
"Far from separating you from your spiritual life, I open it to you."
"You can pray with me, for me, through me. I can pray also, in my way, when you cannot."
"I am always in embrace with you, though sometimes you ignore me or even hate and try to harm me."
"I will never leave you. I will be with you after death as your risen companion of clearer light and swifter energy in a different form. Only my outer appearance dies."
"Together, in passionate unity, we will become the fully alive human being."
Now that was Flora's response but it points us the passionate depths of the connection and the distance that has sometimes opened up within us. In the presence of this intimate loving partner do we not need to love and care for our self much better?
So let's get physical as the song said. What does your body need? More sleep, better food, more fun, to dance, sing, swim ... Not what should your body do but what is your body telling you it needs and wants?
What are you already doing for your body, with your body, as part of caring for your self? Do you sometimes put on favourite music and dance, do you take a hot cup of tea into the garden first thing in the morning and enjoy the hot liquid and the cool air, do you take your dog for a walk that is all about enjoying the experience and not worrying about how many steps you are taking?
What do you allow or organise others to do for your body? Do you have a friend or a professional to massage you, or to apply pressure to those points of your feet or elsewhere to release tension and toxins, do you have someone to cook for you and spoil you a little?
Now your body needs not only fun things like massage but practical things like doctors and dentists appointments, making getting those orthotics or new glasses a priority rather than bottom of the list. ( I was once so busy taking my husband to medical appointments so frequently that I didn't notice I hadn't been for myself until I ran out of all my scripts and the receptionist would not organise a repeat for me because I hadn't seen the doctor for so long!! I was totally shocked when I worked out how long it had been.)
And your body needs affection. For those of us in the church we have understandably become reticent to hug or be hugged by parishioners because of fear of scandal and hurt. But we still need affection and touch. Who are the safe and appropriate people in your life? When I was single and in ministry I had a couple of good friends with whom I could be very relaxed and physically comfortable and my acupuncturist not only stuck needles in me but massaged me every month. Not the same as a loving sexual relationship but it did help me stay a whole person with a physical body that was not completely ignored or denied.
This exercise is sure to have identified some areas of your self care that is lacking or difficult to fulfil at this point in your life. Do not be anxious. Just note what is missing and if possible put an asterix next to the two or three things you would most like to attend to and then act on the most desirable way of caring for your body that you can afford to and have the opportunity to. Which might be as simple as taking your cup of tea outside in the morning and saying your prayers in the garden in nice weather rather than in a darkened room. Or if you have a birthday or something coming up you might suggest that someone you trust pay for a massage for you. Or a trip to the hairdresser if that would make you feel cared for. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Do it now (or very soon!)
Day Two: Taking Care of your Mind
If taking care of our body is difficult taking care of our mind is even more so. Partly because we are not necessarily in agreement about what we mean by mind.
For our purposes let us talk about taking care of our minds in three ways over the next three days: Mindfulness, narrative, and enquiry or study. We will introduce these ideas over the next few days and then they will inform our work next week.
Mindfulness: There is a wealth of information about mindfulness some of which is quite complicated and others which is very simple. Sometimes those of us who pray regularly think that we do not need to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness as I understand it and try and incorporate into my life is one expression of praying without ceasing. My prayer life includes the formal prayers of the church, personal petitions or requests, prayers of intercession for others, and the more spontaneous conversation as though between friends and lovers. Mindfulness is part of how I consciously seek out the reassuring and centering touch of the creator . For example while preparing this course my husband, who has PTSD went into a deep and dark episode in response to a legalistic process around his work place trauma, which meant that I had to be on heightened watch and support. I felt I couldn't leave him for more than an hour at a time. Part of what I did for my self care was to go for a short walk every afternoon with his little dog and I would just notice every leaf and blade of grass - the way the afternoon light shone through it, the scent of the coastal wattle, the sigh or whisper of the wind in the she-oaks, the sound of approaching or disappearing cars, the birds. Simple paying attention to all that was in the here and now. and it helped reduce the hyper-vigilant anxiety of watching him and his every reaction. My breathing slowed, i'm sure my blood pressure dropped, and my pleasure in life and hopefulness increased. And even in the worst times of his rage and despair I kept coming back to really simple tasks of mindfulness such as the task to note three physical things ...