The summer is always an invitation to do something that balances and relaxes us. Yet surprisingly, we can pass by many possibilities for that…why is this?
In Buddhism, the idea of “self-care” seems a little bit funny, because many practitioners become very aware of how much of what we do could be seen as “selfish.” And so they try to go the other way, limiting whatever seems to enhance the ego. While this makes sense logically, it often doesn’t seem to work out in practice, producing a rather bruised and unhappy ego! I’ve really come to believe that self-care is an important prerequisite for being able to be there for others and their needs. I notice again and again that I’m not able to act out of my full capacity when I’m tired and overworked, just because of an idea I have that I should keep going.
What we can do
How can we help ourselves not get overwhelmed and burnt out? Though I plan my days and weeks with breaks, open times, and diverse activities scheduled in, things change. It happens that I don’t stick to my schedule, but skip breaks and fill up spaces that were meant to stay open. This sometimes leads me to get tight and stressed. Yet a similar thing can happen where I’m happily offering nearly all of my time to good activities that energize me and help others.
What is the difference?
The difference between burnout and remaining energized is our conscious choice and agreement. As long as we feel at the mercy of others’ needs and difficult conditions, we will feel some amount of resistance and resentment. But if there is enough of what we choose, like, and need in our days, we can compromise with a world that is not always pleasant. If we feel we are in a state of making choices and compromises, this is an entirely different feeling than when we are in a state of feeling out of control and overwhelmed. And this is where self-care comes in. The more we listen to and care for our needs, the more we can be there for whatever else is requested from us.
As long as I feel some agreement with what happens to me, I can adapt to accommodate it. Then, if there is a conflict initially, it dissipates. But if I feel adversity or even rejection about what happens to me and I can’t allow myself to investigate those reactions and find a new compromise, then there remains negative energy in me. It’s like a tension inside and if too many of those build up, I will definitely feel dragged down. But in themselves, these tensions are not bad. We can respect these spontaneous inner warring factions, though we might not like that we have them, and we can see what important messages they have for us. Looking at our thoughts and emotions in that situation, we can understand why they are there and consciously come to a decision about how to help ourselves.
Our own needs
Often we plan our days all the way through without leaving any space because we just want to get things done. This often does not allow us to integrate our needs with the demands that come to us. We might get everything done on our to-do list, but while doing that we get exhausted, tired, stressed, possibly even forgetful. The more knowledge and awareness we have of our own needs, the more we can integrate them. We might arrive home 30 minutes later, but we didn’t exhaust our resources; rather we filled them up with a little break or a slower pace or a nice visit along the way.
If we don’t allow awareness of our own needs because it feels like they will never end, or we believe we just can’t satisfy them anyway, then we’ll have trouble integrating at least part of them. Though it might not be possible to get what we really need, we can adjust how we do what we do. Especially, we can adjust what we allow ourselves and increase what we would actually enjoy.
For example, if my priority is to work slowly and one step at a time, there are not many jobs or times in my own life where I can fully do that. I may not get paid to slowly and carefully maintain a gorgeous Zen garden, but in my life there are definitely little breaks for the enjoyment of a few breaths, some sips of my favorite tea, or a moment enjoying the green of the trees outside the window. And these moments I find absolutely balancing, with or without a Zen garden. These tiny moments can be any where and any time, and can include the music in the background, the food we prepare for our lunch break, the colors that suddenly appear around us…
The more we know our needs and their signs and allow ourselves to notice them, the easier we can adjust our choices along the way. Maybe we don’t need a coffee when we feel tired, but a little walk or a different task in between, or maybe we need a nap, or just a different thought. We build up a relationship with our inner being by allowing for awareness in these more subtle areas. The more I trust myself to notice these signs and do those adjustments, the more resilient and cared for I feel.
This is a very important point. It’s like when a child feels accepted, understood, and respected by teachers, parents and friends. See how that child can develop naturally! Many of us might not have had that experience, but we can learn to give it to ourselves now. We can learn to notice what we long for and maybe just notice our judgement about that as well. Then we can see how we could care for that even if our abilities and the circumstances are maybe limited. If we gain the trust in ourselves to do so, we begin to deal with so much less inner resistances and conflicts.
So, what now is self-care? For me self-care is self-awareness, self-trust, knowing what we need and in which ways we can give ourselves a bit of that. Caring about ourselves like a loving, wise and realistic mother and father is giving self-care, and as we learn to trust it we become like an innocent child who is safe and grounded, and so able to develop naturally. This doesn’t mean we get exactly what we need, but we will find with time the wise compromises that are the right choices available in the moment.
I will write more about this topic, but for now I wish that you might allow yourself to notice, trust, and care for what you really need, with curiosity, love, with accepting and creative responses.
Enjoy your week!