I am so proud of my girlfriend who is presently traveling in Morocco, a 40th birthday gift to herself. She is with another girlfriend while her husband stays home and cares for their two children, one being Cowgirl's BFF #1 (Best Friend Forever.) Our families met while we were in China adopting our girls and ever since we mommies have been BFF's as well. Whenever I call her, I joke "did you see my bat signal?" This friend has been a source of incredible support, mothering insight, in addition to lots of laughter, wine and chocolate. She is probably the most generous and caring person I know (and I know a fair good number!) so I am extra thrilled that she is taking this time and celebrating herself with this trip.
Before she left, she wrote me this (as she is traveling, I hope it is okay to be sharing her words): I am a few days away from taking my big trip to Morocco and maybe I'm feeling a little guilty about leaving the family or maybe this is really a question to ponder for women like us who believe in taking care of ourselves. The question is. . . am I too selfish? Or, how do I know when I'm being too selfish?
She added that it was a female friend who could not understand the decision to travel without her family or take the time away from work and others who may need her. How do you reconcile taking time for yourself while the rest of the world thinks you should be there to take of them?
These questions got me thinking a lot about this practice of self care that I've been preaching. The more I ponder it, the clearer it becomes that caring for ourselves is how we show up for our lives awake, present and full. It seems to me if everyone tended to their own needs - by which I mean first love and honor themselves as worthy, sacred, whole - then we wouldn't need to take from another, we wouldn't be manipulating people and our planet to fill ourselves with meaning or importance. When we deny ourselves that which nourishes our spirit, our bodies, and our Joy-selves, then any action we take will have some Shadow aspect at play. I've seen and received the giving which has emotional strings attached. I know I have given out of a need to feel needed, accepted and loved and never has that exchange satisfied myself or the other person.
But if we care for ourselves and come to our relationships already full, we allow others the space and permission to do the same. And then we are contributing to an environment of love and trust because others will not perceive us as needing something from them. It is when we feel a lack within ourselves that we seek to gain or take something from another.
I know as a woman the greatest gift I can give my daughter is to model loving and caring for myself. It seems to me, women suffer more from this belief that to put their needs first is to be selfish. I just don't buy that. If I care for myself, then I have the energy and resources to be present for those who need me. But I also allow them to focus upon understanding their needs AND then being empowered to fill them. It seems to me it is about empowerment. If I constantly do and give to you, aren't I sending the message that you are not capable of taking care of yourself?
These were all my responses to my friend, written in a moment of well ... feeling pretty empowered. And then I watched this trailer and a monkey wrench of sorts landed in the middle of my neat and tidy theory.
Documentary Lost in Living go here for more info
I have found it easy to establish firm boundaries around self care when it comes to my physical being: staking claim to time for exercise, rest, nurturing my body and even my spirit in order to stay healthy and minimize stress and tension. But when it comes to my supporting my creative well-being I admit, I do waver.
I crave chunks of time to burrow into creative pursuits. Writing and painting are practices that benefit from sustained effort. (I can so relate to the analogy of feeling like a car that cannot move beyond second gear and yet craves to speed down the open highway!) I cannot feed those kinds of projects in 10 minute increments shuffled between homework, making dinner and bedtime. I come home from work and have to choose: tidy the house (rarely happens) or use the hour for my real work. For this is how I think about it: I have my day job but the work that nourishes me, the work that fulfills and excites and contributes to my inner growth is this work here - this essay, the canvases waiting for me to continue the conversation, the larger projects that require my undivided attention and which take me on a journey of discovery and self discovery.
And yet, I fail to vigorously defend the worth of these practices. I find my conviction lagging as I explain to the Husband why dinner was thrown together haphazardly in a last minute frenzy; I find myself swallowing bitterness and anger when after a full afternoon of being with Cowgirl, I am the one to go upstairs and do the bedtime reading even though the Husband said he would, because now is on an important phone call. I pass by my cluttered table of projects perpetually uncompleted.
I know what I do is also important, but when its importance appears to be measurable by oneself, it is hard to stand firm and steady. Yet this is what I know I must begin to do. For if anything fills me up, promotes my complete well-being and by extension the well-being of my family, it is this work of my heart and soul. It is tricky terrain. More so because I am taking steps to allocate more of my time for it while restructuring and redefining career goals in ways that probably won't make sense to others outside of myself, my husband and kindred friends. It requires stepping into what will probably be considered selfishness and most certainly irresponsible. Here I cling to Helen Keller's famous words: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.