Start Your Year With Radical Self-Care
Let Your Light Shine Abundantly
The words "radical self-care" have been very popular lately. I believe that is because humans are becoming exasperated with society's penchant for being in a constant state of busyness every waking hour of the day. Our desire to "have it all" can keep us separated from spending enough time on the aspects of life that make us truly happy. Some of us find ourselves with smaller and smaller chunks of time in our days for satisfying our basic needs, and we are ready for a change.
The Ways We Deprive Ourselves
In order to accomplish everything on our to-do list, we sometimes allow societal pressures to take the wheels of our lives and crowd out all of the things that bring us meaning, such as family and friends. Our jobs require us to be available for a large chunk of the day and to engage in after-work social gatherings with our colleagues, too. Then there's the daily commute.
When are days are filled with doing what we think is expected of us, restful "down time" suffers. Preparing nutritious meals or engaging in activities that bring us a sense of renewal are put aside because we feel we lack the energy to do them. The weekends are used for catching up on sleep or completing errands. We rarely stay home to spend time with our kids, pets, or other beloved beings in our lives. Then we wonder why we catch the closest galloping virus that passes through the office. Stress and estrangement from ourselves take their toll on our immune systems, and our ability to enjoy the free time we are able to squeeze out of our days.
How We Can Take Back Our Lives
If the expectations of the outside world keep you separated from the core of who you are, you are free to change that right now. It will mean creating a list of priorities around how you want to spend your free time. It may mean that you create a weekly schedule that reflects a healthy work-life balance and includes activities that involve taking care of your need for renewal, and then keep those commitments with yourself. It will mean that you will have to say the word "no" more often than you're used to. Your reward for your loyalty to your own priorities will include increased energy and confidence.
There are a million unique ways that we humans find our connection to the peaceful core of who we are and remain there for a while. What are the ways in which you do it? How long can you stay in your "happy place" once you have found it? Or how long can you maintain a peaceful perspective on what is happening around you, despite the challenges you might be facing? The way you take care of yourself will determine the types of things you manifest in your life, so focusing on the things that will help you manifest love, health, peace and joy is something you can do for both yourself and those around you, and perhaps the entire world.
Forms of Self-Care
The following is a collection of ways in which people have been known to do when they have a spare moment. They are some of my favorites and they help me remain healthy, happy and productive. They are the touchstones that create lots of room for giving a generous helping of attention to my family, my friends, my co-housing neighbors and my work. They are suggestions for you to try or pass by, depending on where your passions lie.
For each type of self care, the ways in which they can benefit us will be laid out for you. Following those, I will share how I use them in my own life.
A Journal for Every Occasion
Benefits of Keeping a Journal
The habit of writing our thoughts in a journal offers many benefits. You can type them, but writing manually with a pencil or pen on paper is more likely to help you reap the benefits of the writing. It doesn't matter how neat your writing is, the act of writing itself benefits your brain. Here are a few of the benefits of keeping a journal:
1. A Form of Release: There's nothing like writing out our frustrations on paper. It makes us feel better immediately after we have written the last word. From that place we can often find solutions to situations that may have eluded us before. Releasing all of the emotions attached to a distressing situation makes us more relaxed and open to fresh insights.
2. Promotes Self-Knowledge: Writing out our thoughts about significant situations in our lives often raises the issues at play from the unconscious to the conscious realms of our awareness. We often begin to recognize patterns as we read over what we have written. This recognition is empowering. It can help us make healthy decisions when we are called to do so.
Writing often integrates the different aspects of a situation for us. As we write, we often observe the different parts of ourselves that work together to make us who we are and motivate what we do. We possess fresh knowledge about ourselves that we can use to move forward in ways that help us feel more whole. We will also figure out what our priorities are and how to manage our time so that we commit to only the aspects of our lives that feed our souls.
3. Creative Outlet: There is one thing that is common to all humans and that is our capacity as storytellers. Storytelling is an ancient form of communication, entertainment and education that has been around as long as our species has inhabited the earth. Some of us may love playing with words more than others, and writing out the stories that take shape in our minds is a terrific creative outlet that may also enhance our creative capacity in other areas, such as music, or even scientific discovery.
4. A Legacy: An extension of the storytelling aspect of writing is the intention to leave behind information about your unique life history to future generations. Your descendants will be grateful to know more about you as a flesh-and-blood individual, and will thus feel more connected to you.
Some people keep journals to document their progress in certain areas of their lives, such as work, healthy eating, and personal discoveries that have led to insights. Some of them have become legacies to particular areas of study. If you are an inventor, keeping a journal may be very important to your work, but you may already know that.
5. Develop a Fresh Perspective: Keeping a journal of 5 things that you are grateful for and/or have brought you joy can change the way you see your life. Appreciation for the good we already have is a good start to changing our lives for the better if we feel we've fallen into a hole. It may be a good place to start for any of you who have never kept a journal.
My Own Journal Collection
When I am happy, I love to write out descriptions and draw pictures of the elements or events in my life that bring me to my "happy place." These are the types of journals I keep:
1. Journal of Enchanting Moments: Focuses on descriptions of my encounters with nature that I want to remember because I have found peace and joy in them. I am very much a Druid at heart.
2. Creativity Journal: Contains highlights of moments in each day that have brought me joy, such as time spent with family and friends, and doing what I love. I usually draw little pictures representing the weather (e.g. sun, clouds with rain, clouds with snow, etc.) and an activity that I did, such as a sailboat on a day that I've gone sailing. I also glue objects such as fallen leaves, feathers or small scraps of paper with love notes from my daughter. This journal often doubles as my "gratitude journal."
3. Dream Journal: Features dreams that I remember and can describe in a way that I can make meaning from. Occasionally I will research dream symbols when an element in my dream can mean more than one thing to me. Sometimes I leaf through it to find a sliver of wisdom when I am feeling lost. I also like to see how often I have dreams that I can remember long enough to write down (which includes my writing down the date). As an aspiring Shaman, I see dreams as communication from the spiritual world and I pay close attention to the ones that choose me.
4. Plain ol' Notebook: I use a plain old notebook for all of my rants. My writing in this book contains my "brain dumps" for the sake of release. They are the stray, sloppy thoughts that tumble out of me as I set my pencil to paper. When this writing is no longer useful to me, I can let it go more easily because it is contained within a ordinary, "no frills" cover.
Eating Healthy Food Keeps Us Feeling and Looking Our Best
Eating Well and Dressing Up
Eating healthy food and wearing clothes that complement our physical features work together to boost our energy, give us confidence, and encourage us to give to the world the gifts we have to offer.
Foods that contains the nutrients that make the human body feel good and give us energy to do what we love most are the foods we are meant to eat. Examples are organic vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. They can be combined to create salads, smoothies, stir fries, soups and casseroles. All of those options can be prepared ahead of time and packed in containers to bring to work. This saves both money and time that might be otherwise spent waiting in lines.
Good Food Makes Me Feel Good
Food that does not have any nutritional value may taste good at first, but ultimately makes me feel terrible and I regret ever touching it. Since I am diabetic, I must learn to resist these foods and reach for the ones that make me feel good. Those are the ones my family also loves.
Eating with Others Increases our Lifespan
I have come across articles based on a variety of studies that have found a correlation between sharing meals with others and living a longer life. This is because those who share meals enjoy greater depth and meaning in their relationships. Families and groups of friends or neighbors who share meals together experience more joy and greater immunity as a result of positive interactions over healthy food and drink. They are not lonely because they are surrounded by people who care about them.
We all look good in certain types of clothing. Over time, we learn what styles boost our confidence. When I shop, I only buy clothes in color combinations I love and feel confident wearing. They make me feel like myself, and I recognize myself in the mirror when I am wearing them.
Presenting ourselves well to the world is like taking the time to wrap a present with tasteful paper and accessories. It accents our best features and increases our credibility.
In addition to clothing, I sometimes paint my nails in colors that are bold, such as sparkly deep indigo or sea blue. It adds to the fun and gives my hands some extra loving attention. My daughter is often eager to paint my fingernails for me, so I let her. We enjoy quality time together when she does.
Play and Costumes
I love telling stories and engaging in theatrical play. Whenever I have the chance to dress up in clothing that reflects the colorful personality of my inner child, I do.
Walking Labyrinths as a Form of Walking Meditation
Many people have benefited from spending time meditating every day. There are different types of meditation, and your personality may determine the one(s) that appeal to you most. The following list is probably not complete, but it'll get you started.
There are a variety of yoga traditions, but each of them encourage you to breathe deeply and focus on how your body is feeling. Each tradition uses a certain set of poses that tone the body and restore balance. By the end of the 20-something minutes of a yoga session, most people feel both relaxed and energized, ready to start their day in a positive frame of mind.
This type of meditation involves sitting with your hands on your thighs, in your lap, or in a prescribed position (a "mudra"). Its roots lie in Buddhism. Some people meditate for 20 minutes at a time, but if you are not used to meditating you can begin with 5 minutes.
Mindfulness meditation is usually done sitting in a chair or on the floor, with your back straight. Your hands rest in your lap with fingers touching. You can close your eyes or choose a spot on the floor to focus on so you don't fall asleep. Pay attention to your breathing. Let your thoughts flow as if they are guests passing through your mind. Let them come and go. Notice them but don't dwell on them.
The longer you spend in mindfulness meditation, the longer you'll be able to quiet your mind and enjoy some moments of clarity. It can be done at the beginning or end of the day, or both. Each time has its benefits. We are relaxed and open to new ideas, and more likely to collaborate with others, whether at work or play. If done at night, our quality of sleep is likely to improve.
Centering prayer is much like mindfulness meditation, but it may be done while kneeling. In centering prayer, which has its roots in early Christian traditions, the seeker focuses on a psalm, a chant (a lot like a "mantra"), or a mystery related to the life of Jesus or Mary (i.e. the Rosary). A candle can be lit and music can be played to set a soft tone to your meditation environment. Short periods of 15 to 30 minutes are common.
Walking meditation comes from both Buddhism and Taoism. The movement of the walking is the featured aspect of this meditation. It is active and may be easier to focus on the rhythm of the body's movement and breathing than while sitting. Waling meditation is enhanced by walking in nature. Sometimes people recite prayers as part of the meditation, such as the Buddhist "Loving~Kindness Prayer."
Labyrinths are a form of walking meditation and have been around for over 5000 years. Many cultures have built and used them for different reasons. In the middle ages, they began to appear in churches as a means for purification before the Mass of the Resurrection. Many churches have had labyrinths installed permanently on their property, even if not inside the sanctuary. There is only one path into the center and one path that leads out, unlike mazes that have dead-ends and do not depend on the left side of our brain to navigate. A labyrinth relaxes the mind and allows the right side of our brain to be part of the experience.
A Moving Meditaton
Walking a labyrinth is a moving meditation. It involves deepening the connection between our body, mind and spirit. It promotes mindfulness, slows our pace, encourages us to breathe deeply, and reduces stress. The path encourages us to release all of the toxic energy that has followed us there as we walk toward the center. By the time we arrive, we are ready to appreciate the gifts that the space has to give us, especially if the path is close to nature. People have often received life-changing insights at the center of a labyrinth. Walking with the support of a friend, minister, or a trained labyrinth walk facilitator may be a helpful source of companionship.
How do you walk a labyrinth?
There is no wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Just put one foot in front of the other and begin walking. There is usually a designated entrance that is clearly marked.
Some people walk labyrinths alone and others walk labyrinths in groups. A theme or intention is usually set for group walks, though you may come with a special intention of your own for a walk on the path. Community is often formed when walks are offered regularly at a special time and place, and those are often led by a facilitator. I am a trained and certified Labyrinth Walk Facilitator and I walk a labyrinth every day, whether it be the wooded labyrinth pictured above, or the tabletop finger labyrinth below it. Labyrinths are a special type of meditation and are a vital part of my spiritual practice.
Snuggles With My Hamster
Caring for Pets = Caring for Ourselves
There are times when only a pet knows what we need. They cuddle with us when they sense we need their closeness. They run around and engage in their unique antics when they know we need a good laugh. The spirit of their presence is calming company that soothes an aching heart. Yet, our hearts ache when we lose them.
Does the Type of Pet Matter?
When we think of cuddling with a pet, dogs and cats often come to mind. I know people whose favorite pets are rabbits and others who have enjoyed owning ferrets. Our family favorite is the hamster. They are sweet, smart and funny to watch. They are also soft to pet and cuddle.
Benefits of Having a Pet
4. Inter-species bonding
5. Greater Immunity
6. Help healing from trauma
The Gift of Time
When we spend time giving attention to our pets, we give ourselves time to be loved. As with all of our favorite pastimes, spending moments of peace with our pets restores our sense of balance ~ both physically and emotionally. Those same moments keep our pets feeling loved and help them live longer lives, too. We all thrive on the time and attention we give each other. When we give to others, we give to ourselves. It's a win-win in every way.
Playing My Flute at an Evening Jam
Playing a Musical Instrument
"Without music, life would be a mistake." ~ Friedrich Nietzche
Music is Life
This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. Music has seen me through some troubling times, and has brought me memorable moments of joy that have healed me from the darker times in my life. When I am playing my instruments I feel whole and hopeful.
Learning to play a musical instrument carries lifelong benefits for the musician who practices often, if not daily.
The Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument
All of the aspects of musicianship work together to feed our brains and keep them agile.
1. Self-Confidence that comes with learning to read music and play an instrument well.
2. Intelligence boosts from growing more neurons and the connections between them, called "synapses."
3. Health boosts from the flow of endorphins that come with doing something we enjoy.
4. Deeper bonds with others from making music in groups small and large.
Music is Integrative
The sound vibrations that are involved in making music with an instrument have always stirred the human heart, and they bring peace to lonely souls. Music therapy is an expressive path to healing that helps clients integrate their life experiences in ways that are deeply empowering. The music played by the therapist reflects the inner experience of the client and presents a means for the client to work out a new story for their lives. Part of my own music therapy involves attending live music concerts. As a musical form, the blues is often satisfying for me to hear and sing along with. It is often lively, even somewhat subversive, and brings out the feisty part of me. The progression of blues chords that make up a tune is simple and repetitive, and fresh song lyrics seem to tumble out of me when I play them.
The instruments that I play are flute, mandolin, guitar, piano and tin whistle/recorder. Piano was my first instrument, which I have been playing since I was 12 years old. I began playing guitar when I was a teen attending high school. Flute was the instrument I finally picked up and started playing as a graduate student living in California. The tin whistle snuck into my repertoire when I studied abroad in Ireland my senior year of college. It's not easy keeping up with practicing all of them all of the time, but I do make it a goal to play at least one of them for 15 minutes every day. Since my mandolin is closest at hand, it is the one that is played most often.
Music for a New Generation
Since my daughter was an infant I played lullabies for her every night at bedtime. She is a teen now, but still loves my playing for her as she drifts off to sleep. The music that I play for her has been the glue that has strengthened our close bond with each other, and I am grateful for the chance to share my love of music with her that way.
Ivy Mural Border around my Back Doorway
Painting as a form of self expression has similar benefits as music. The release of endorphins from engaging in a creative activity that we enjoy is the main benefit. It is one of the first ways we begin to express ourselves as children, since pictures are more easily accessible for communication than words.
If writing in a journal doesn't suit you, try painting as a way of relaxing from the cares of the world. Painting parties are popular today, so mixing this art form with socializing can serve two purposes at once. If you are an introvert, getting together with a few friends in a relaxed environment may work well. A friend at our UU church hosts abstract art classes as a form of "safe space" to create art in a supportive environment.
Then and Now
When I was young, watercolors were my favorite medium to paint with. Today it is acrylics, but not just that. I love to create mixed-media art that involves acrylics plus scraps of different materials with a variety of textures that together tell a story. Each piece speaks to me about what it wants to become. I listen and obey.
When I am not painting on canvas I am painting murals on the walls of my home, or I am painting tabletop finger labyrinths that function as art with a purpose. They are both decorative and serve as a meditative tool. I lead workshops for groups around creating them. I created the one pictured above for a friend who loves the color blue.
I leave you with my desire that you have the best year ever because you have spent time taking care of yourself. Namaste and Blessed be!
© 2018 Karen A Szklany