The Perfectly Imperfect Project has generated a lot thought and discussion around the idea of self care and what that really means. The first thing I have to say about self-care is that I have learned it is about balance. Self care is a dynamic process, never the same on any given day.
I crave predictability and control and I have a tendency to try to impose these factors into all areas of my life. I also am plagued with an unrelenting desire for perfection. The little four-year in me thinks that if I am perfect than I can prove that I am good enough. Unfortunately these motivations drive many of my behaviors.
While there are so many tools of self-care that I have practiced or continue to practice I have a found three to be my foundation.
The first big tool of self-care that I found was writing daily Morning Pages. These worked magic in my life, for the first time I was able to name what I was feeling. I of course latch on tight. I never would miss a day come hell or high water. I would write those damn pages getting up at 4:30 am, writing by flash light under the covers when on vacation and would never talk to anyone before I wrote my pages.
I did this for over 15 years before I finally began to relax and realize that I was not going to break if I did not write them. I attributed the of peace I experienced from writing the pages on the pages not on the changes in me. Morning Pages also fed my unhealthy mental pattern of perfection and seeking to prove that I was good enough.
I hate to admit it but I did the same thing with mediation practice. I started a Metta mediation practice for 5 minutes a day and soon worked my way up to 15 minutes. About a month after that I worked my way up to a daily 30 minute Vipassana practice. The changes I experienced in my life as a result of this simple practice of watching my breath with nonjudgemental awareness was transformative and has forever changed my life. Again, the perfection seeking rose up and took hold. I practiced every morning for three years before I was able to let go of the craving of doing it perfectly.
This meant, that I got up at 4:30 am everyday so that I had time for my “self-care” routine of Morning Pages, Vipassana practice and working out for 45 minutes on the elliptical or doing yoga. Mind you, I worked full-time putting in 50 to 60 hours a week, and my son M. was still in school and living at home. I was doing it all, being the perfect single mom with a successful career.
Here is the part that I ignored and others did not see, I was exhausted, I was stressed out and I did not have any real connections to the people in my life. I used the “self-care” routine to build a wall between myself and others. I used it as self-protection and I was lonely.
My “self-care” became yet another heavy thing for me to carry. I had to do it all or I was a failure. The year I turned 40 all of this shifted for me. I am not sure if it was all of the self-care seeds that had finally ripened and soften my heart or if it was the idea of starting a new decade, kind of like a fresh start. Or if it was the years of encountering the chronic “I am not good enough” feelings in Vipassana practice. I am thinking it was many factors combined.
I began not sitting every day or doing my morning pages every day. I did not break, in fact I found that my mediation practice deepened and I had more insight in my writing. I was connecting more with my son, I was slowing down, my inner chatter of “not good enough” got a little bit quieter.
I learned to not hold myself hostage with my “self-care” routine and instead live a full life and embrace my humanness. I learned that self-care is about balancing my ever shifting needs. Some days, I need more quiet and introspection; other days I need to connect with others more. Some days I simply need to sleep, sit and do nothing.
Self-care for me now is about paying attention to what my heart, mind and body need and taking the courageous steps to meet those needs even if it means not doing it perfectly. I aim to journal, mediate and do some form of exercise most days. These are still my foundations but I am not going to let “self-care” get int the way of me living a full life any more.