WHAT DOES SELF-CARE MEAN TO YOU?
There is much unconscious cruelty in our society that passes as self-care. In a consumer-obsessed culture, of course self-care also involves consumption of something (place the current trend, juicing, exercise, fasting, or spiritual practice here). Does this mean we should not partake in such practices? Of course not, it is just that we need to do things consciously with respect to what our bodyminds need and can tolerate. Unexamined, there is the danger of doing more harm than good, both physically as well as psychologically. Our neurotic impulses can dive into such practices in order to feel even more in control and block out even further the faint voice of our inner compass.
In order to care for ourselves, we first have to know ourselves. Only then can we tend to our needs from an informed place. But many of us can, in fact, be strangers to ourselves. We can be firmly divorced from who we are or what we need. This is not out of malice, but rather of ignorance. This not knowing can lead to all of the outside searching we tend to do. Many of us are so in our heads and so disconnected from our bodies that we do things without understanding their effect on our physical wellbeing. We can confuse self-punishment, unhealthy discipline, control, and acquisition with self-care.
We always have to remember that there is no “one size fits all” with any practice. There is a need to practice discernment while working with any modality - be it physical, mental, or spiritual. This can be a difficult task if we have not learned to connect internally with ourselves. And that connection is becoming increasingly more difficult with our constant consumption of social media.
Here is an example for you: in the last several months, I have come across patients with digestive distress. They all have been joining in on the “celery juice craze”, which has spread like wildfire because of… drum roll… social media. They’ve been drinking 16 ounces of this miracle cure, first thing in the morning. And they all believed their symptoms, including indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea, were a “healing crisis” (another catch-all nonsense phrase). Yes, there is such a thing as a healing crisis. There is also a common thing just called crisis, where the mind’s idea of what is good does not jive with the body’s biology. (At such junctures, it is always a safe bet to stop what we are doing, step back, and reassess our path.)
Sit with this for a second before you send me an insane email. How can a uniform amount of juice be the same for a 200-pound man and a 115-pound woman? In a warm climate, like California, where the body can tolerate raw juice better, as opposed to in some of the coldest temperatures in history in New York? For a 20-something-year-old with a strong digestion compared to a 57-year-old with a waning digestive system? For a person who eats cleanly and has a strong liver and kidneys capable of detoxing vs. someone with a compromised immune system without that ability? Or someone who has regular bowel movements (aiding cleansing) vs. someone who is chronically constipated? To top it off, some of these people were unaware whether their juice was organic or not. Just the concentrated pesticide load of daily non-organic juice consumption can put a compromised person’s body off-kilter.
Does this mean that we should not drink green juices or keep our diet clean? Of course not, detox is crucial in a hypertoxic world. We are indeed what we eat. Self-care is about doing things with awareness, which involves an internal dialogue. We need to know our bodies well enough to understand if we are caring for or punishing ourselves under the guise of self-care. I will not even delve into the body dysmorphia so many of us suffer from in a body-obsessed culture. The self-inflicted cruelty around our learned hatred of our bodies would fill volumes. Which is part of the reason we are so obsessed with detoxing our bodies (even though it is an important practice). How often are we detoxing our minds and emotional hearts as a regimen of self-care?
No radical diet, cleanse, damaging our bodies with extreme practices, or dispersing of our life force in a myriad of ways will bring us peace. No matter how cleansed, thin, toned, or successful; the inner starving voice will howl. How can it not - when the hunger is not for matter but for essence? Does this mean that we do not cleanse our bodies or minds? Or inhabit these bodies through physical exercise? Of course not. These practices can be and are useful. They all have their place and use. It is the intent with which they are wielded that needs honest and conscious examination.
Self-care is going to look different for all of us. A single person with navel gazing time, a single parent with no time to scratch their head, or a couple in a turbulent relationship will have different needs or abilities for self-care. But one thing will be common: a need to befriend themselves. True self-care is about being in a relationship with ourselves. We can not buy it, apply it, eat it, wear it, or fuck it - although it might involve one or all of those things. Do remember that most radical practices are the hallmark of addictive behavior. The middle road is not as sexy nor scratches the itch of addiction like severe practices, but it is always a safer bet in the long run. Of course, often we need to burn on the radical path to learn otherwise.
Here is an idea for self-care: sit quietly with yourself for a couple of minutes, daily. Just check in with what you’re feeling. It can be a check of your emotional or physical state. You do not need to meditate or manipulate yourself. This is just a quick fact-finding mission. Start an actual relationship with yourself that does not involve checking out or attention to the outside. Ask yourself what you need to feel cared for. It will not be easy and it will take time. Unless you have been doing such a practice, it will take patience to befriend yourself. Do not underestimate what strangers we have become from ourselves. Learning to be vulnerable with and within ourselves is good medicine. It is through revelation and acceptance that we heal. True self-care means first communing with self, to reconnect with what we have been hoodwinked to forget.