If we treat self care as another box to tick, it runs the risk of turning into a disgruntling chore or robotic task, rather than the original intention of caring for yourself.
Self care can easily pivot into self discipline or a type of self-flagellation such as exfoliating the top layer of winter skin off with the latest couriered self care product we receive in the mail or pushing ourselves to pound the suburban pavement to run the 5 k radius. When in actual fact, we are so exhausted that all we really want to do is flop ourselves down in the backyard's long grass, that hasn’t yet been mowed. In reality, we may be exhausted due to homeschooling, monotony and so many virtual meetings in bedrooms or closets, that we haven’t even noticed.
When our body screams “STOP” and the mind yells “NO, YOU SHOULD JUST….”, the mind is likely to win. Our mind is the captain of our ship: the strategic command centre that demands obedience without question. It dictates everything we need to accomplish and all the reasons we need to do more and better. Maybe it tells you “you’re not smart enough” or “you’re not fit enough” or “you’re not as good as them”. It can be like a broken record or like watching Instagram on high speed.
This is why self-reflection is such a necessary survival skill to save us from the overwhelming and unrelenting day of time pressured work, combined with homeschooling, to do lists, overfilling inboxes and our unmade bed that has been zoomed to all our esteemed colleagues. It helps us see clearly enough to prioritise and make wise choices.
Self-reflection can indeed create long term positive change. Self-reflection has a different and intelligent game plan. It looks inwards and into the internal office of our mind. It questions all of our usual reflexive thinking, behaviour and habits. It seeks our blind spot and shines a light on the shadow self, hiding in the corner unhappy, eating chocolate and drinking alcohol.
It begins with finding a seat and sitting with ourselves. Just this and no more. Observing our body, thoughts and feelings. As French mathematician Pascal says - “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Self-reflection brings forth wisdom, awareness, introspection and the magic ingredient - curiosity. It is a form of self-enquiry. It is a skill that is expected in medicine, nursing and the caring arts.
We were born awake, curious, excited to learn, smell, feel and touch. To fall down and get up again. It is innate. As babies, we embraced the art of rest and the joy of curiosity. This is the antidote to burnout.
We didn’t strive for perfection. We played. Joy was simple and messy. Self-care was being nourished by food and water, splashing in a bath until clean, sleeping without distractions or alarms set too early. Self-care was knowing when our innate needs were not being met - food, water, toileting, warmth and contact - and letting ourselves and others know without guilt and resentment.
Can you give yourself the permission to simply pause? Can you take a cognitive leap and lie in your backyard's long grass and breathe in the rich scent of green? Can you look up at the butterflies and feel the sun on your shoulders, until the weight of burden begins to dissolve.
Ask yourself this one question – “How am I?”. Listen and wait. Wait for nothing and be open to anything. Rest some more. Breathe. Observe your thoughts. Announce your feelings. Witness all the physical sensations that remind you of being human. The pleasant and the uncomfortable.
Ask yourself again “How am I? How am I physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually?" Take the time to reflect from the wellspring of wisdom deep inside you. Challenge the habitual thoughts. Dive deeper into your pool of stillness and silence for one more long deep exhalation.
Then ask yourself, “what is it I need physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for myself right now? What is it I truly need?”. And wait. Breathe. Softly navigating the terrain of your heart. Finding the path to your heart’s inner garden.
Give yourself the simple gift of self-reflection to find the self care you truly need.