Friday, November 30, 2012

putting ourselves first (standing up to my biggest fear)


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.

I'd like to believe that any positive change for our world, any possibility of healing for the planet will have to begin with each one of us. Our homes, our families, ourselves finding fulfillment within rather than from without.  As my dear friend and Shero Jane would say, I'm pulling on my big girl undies and stepping up to the task.  This is a conversation needing to take place. I'm not sure if it is just with myself, with my husband or with the entire bloody world?


  1. The conflicting signals of being a women...
    needs and wants that whisper in with a cultural voice that demands ..
    Still trying to get my feet into those undies so I can pull them up! ~laughing~

  2. I have been starting to feel as if I put on those undies years, maybe decades ago, and pulled them right up over my head. I see and feel this giant shift we are undergoing as women, as a world, and it's exciting because I can not imagine continuing on the way I have been. The crack is widening, isn't it?

    P.S. If that "important telephone call" came at that time in my house, my son would just end up going to be later. :-}

  3. this is such an important conversation, and this is the fourth conversation I've had about it today (and it's barely past noon!). Clearly so many of us are feeling this. I think we feel it all the time, but it is powerful that this keeps coming up for me today. Time to listen and pay attention to what the Universe is telling me right now. An old mentor talked about practicing generosity of spirit in our relationships - not getting defensive or snippy, not taking things personally, practicing acceptance and compassion, allowing space. It was a helpful thing to think about - not just in my personal relationships, but in professional ones as well. Maybe this person is being kind of a jerk right now because she's had a really hard day and what she needs is support and kindness and understanding. and maybe by not taking the bait, and being generous with that kindness I can make a difference. It's sort of a nice idea. But here was the conflicting bit for me - where's the line between generosity of spirit and being a doormat who takes everybody's crap. I must not equate advocating for myself with being selfish/whiny/needy/argumentative/stubborn (etc). I agree wholeheartedly that we must fulfill our own needs (from within) before we can genuinely (and generously) care for others. it's not selfish, it's survival. and it's a daunting task filled with conflicting needs and conflicting emotions. as always, you say it beautifully, and make me think and reflect.

  4. P.S. I loved the movie trailer. I supported "I'm Fine, Thanks" via kickstarter (have you seen that one?) and I have many days where I just want to let go of the tent.

  5. Wow, Lisa, what great timing! I am in London on my way home from morocco and it has been the most amazing trip! I have no regrets at all and very little guilt (except for buying the Moroccan carpet that exceeded my spending budget). I'm not sure how long this will last, but I am going home the most patient, present, loving mother and wife! I've had so much time to reflect, think, have adult conversations, and read. My soul is nourished and my spirit is replenished. I feel like the luckiest person alive- for this experience and for the people I am going home to. And, as much as I loved Morocco, I am reminded again to be grateful for the life I live- a life with freedom, love, a good job, and choices. After reading your email before I left, I wanted to forward it to every woman I care about. You always know the right words and I am so grateful for your friendship and support. Can't wait to share pictures and stories!

  6. Thank you for posting about this. This is something that I feel very strongly about (even if I am still pulled in both directions) and have been talking with other women about all year. It can seem so much "easier" to just take care of everyone else but really it is so much more difficult as you lose energy and zest for life (personally for me.) This is going in my file about self-care. Thanks so much.

  7. I loved your post! I am tired of women having guilt as our middle name because society expects us to always be self sacrificing. It is not healthy and it is not what I want my children to see! Bravo! Loved your post!

    Thanks for sharing your blog with me....I look forward to more!

  8. Thank you for saying this out loud. I can never hear it too many times.

  9. I agree... there's just never enough of this discussion. It seems like there's just a hair's breadth between caring for others and caring for yourself. I've tried to consider those one and the same instead of either/or... tried to find ways to meet my needs while meeting the needs of my children... and I have to admit that some days it just feels like holding the tent in the wind (to refer to the video) is just too hard. Thank you Lisa, for talking about this... sometimes it's tough to start a conversation when there's really no end. (((Thank you)))

  10. this is a conversation i have with myself on Infinite Loop.

    i am absolutely polarized on this issue...but there has to be some middle-ground.

    loved that movie trailer..omg...i want to see the whole thing!


    1. and this is a totally lame-ass comment that doesn't even touch the depths to which this post sent me. oh, sister...