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Sister Doreen’s Reflections

“Life is like the breath: we must be able to live in an easy rhythm between give and take. If we cannot learn to live and breathe in this rhythm, we will place ourselves in great danger.” (David Steindl-Rast)

One of the most frequently heard concerns, after this two and a half years of a pandemic, has been the talk about and the importance of self-care.  The pandemic or COVID-tide has been compounded by the unrest, fear and uncertainty caused by the war in the Ukraine, the deep divisions and anger of the freedom protests, the effects of climate change crisis, the non-stop news, the turmoil and suffering and tensions in so many places in the world. People are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  We have lost the importance of taking care of ourselves and of discovering the meaning of re-creation in our own lives. We are all feeling the need of some T.L.C. (tender loving care!).

All of this experience is superimposed on the already relentless busyness of modern life.  We have lost the rhythm between work and rest.  We have found ourselves caught up in the belief that action and accomplishment are better than just being, just doing nothing.  Because of our desire to succeed, to meet the ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way.

  • We miss the compass points that would show us where to go
  • We bypass the nourishment that would give us support
  • We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom
  • We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight

When we neglect the pastoral care of the self, we in fact find ourselves entering into an obstacle to genuine relief. Thomas Merton in his book ‘Seeds of Contemplation” said that when we neglect care of self we instead succumb to violence. He went on to say “More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes their work for peace.  It destroys the faithfulness of their own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”  When we neglect the pastoral care of the self what happens is:

  • We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits
  • We make war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid and need our company
  • We make war on our spirits, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us
  • We make war on our communities, because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous
  • We make war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings and give thanks.

I found myself thinking about both self-care and self-comfort in my own life, and how different these are. So often it is easier to move into the self-comfort area, doing ‘something’ (a good Netflix documentary, baseball game, a walk along the beach, an O Henry bar …) that makes me feel good short term but doesn’t really refresh me. it’s a kind of blissful avoidance, a zoning out.  There is a place for self-comfort, but it is not self-care.  It is self-care that is needed in order to lift us up into that place of victory, that place of true tender loving care that we need.

I know that self-care is a conscious choice to engage in practices that are truly restorative to mind, body, and spirit; things that provide genuine rejuvenation.  It is self-care that will lower stress levels, give me back energy, focus, productivity and emotional reserves.  It is really about including everything that is related to staying physically healthy – hygiene, nutrition, medical care when needed, tending what is needed to manage stressors in life, and taking care of my own health and well-being. It is about doing anything I can to take care of my self physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, focusing on tuning in to my needs and meeting those needs, about feeling nourished.

For me it means checking in with myself regularly and asking myself how I am doing.  Its about looking at the rhythm of healthy eating, getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, taking time enjoy nature, creating space for silence and reflection, prayer and meditation, making meaningful connections with others, and developing creative and artistic hobbies.  Talking with a soul friend and making sure I have enough space to support emotional processing and thoughtful reflection, mindful of trying to live in the present moment – these are needed to complement what I am doing by helping me know how I am doing. Checking in also gives me a chance to do a refresh on my self-care routine – something that I know is needed from time to time as life and age change.  As our needs change, our self-care should be changing too.  Self-care and how we craft that into a rule of life for ourselves go together.

Self-care and developing a rule of life – devising a trellis as Margaret Guenther calls a rule of life – a support, that will enable us as we try to get through our days mindfully and fruitfully. Taking a hard look at ourselves, at our self-care with questions that Margaret Guenther poses can be helpful:

  • What is the shape of my life right now?
  • What does my stewardship of time, energy, substance and creativity look like?
  • What have I been missing?
  • What are my areas of disproportion?
  • Am I oppressed or despite outer circumstances do I live in inner freedom?

Just a final thought:  self-care isn’t just about me!  I am not the only person in my life that matters!  I know that a healthier, more refreshed me is in a better position to support, strengthen, encourage and care for the people around me.

Self-care is a choice that we make to proactively take care of our well-being. We need to remove the stigma that being kind to and taking care of ourselves is self-indulgent or selfish. It is essential to the equation that we belong to each other and need each other!