How important is it that we put ourselves first?
Well, think about what the stewardess demands you do before the plane takes off: In the event of depressurization in the cabin, it is important to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs.
It is not an easy balance to strike, to figure just the exact amount of self-care versus the care of others we practice. But I find lately that I am more and more sensitive to when things get out of whack and I need to step up to the plate and put my own emotional needs front and center. It is more of a deep sonorous drum beat than the whisper it used to be, that demand from somewhere deep in my mind and body that I deal with myself. If I don’t listen to it, I will be useless to everyone.
Lately, I paint. Somehow, the easy pouring of liquid color onto a little palette paper, the dipping of the brush into the water, the pulling of the brush across the paper or found wood.
It soothes me, even if I do it in the morning for just 10 minutes, or at night, when the rest of the family watches a game or show on television. I try not to judge the finished product. Just the process of producing it gives me a great sense of calm. I bought a bunch of fluorescent acrylics recently, and the happy colors help me keep it light.
I also play piano. My fingers across the keys release something in my brain.
If I don’t think about it too much or try to control it, the flow of the music can just bring me along on a little special ride. I drum too, or even just make a beat on the table or the floor wherever I am. Finding external ways to match that constant underlying rhythm in my body is awesome.
I walk in the park with my dog, stopping to take in the colors of the trees, or the way the ducks and geese flutter fast across the ponds.
Fresh air and exercise do me good and while sometimes it can be nice to go with family or friends, it’s important too to be company for myself and tap into some of my own thoughts and feelings without comparison with others and without the need to clearly communicate what I’m pondering to anyone but me.
I meditate. Taking an online course on Mindfulness, which I am passing on to others in a weekly class, has helped me focus on being kinder to myself so that my ability and willingness to care for others increases. As I learn to become less judgmental of my thoughts, my body relaxes, my breathing becomes more regular and calm and my heart opens to the reality that other people are just the same as I am, that they need so much love and kindness, from themselves and others.
As I read all this over, I feel like kind of a jackass. Isn’t it so self-indulgent, to be working so hard on myself? Aren’t there a million things I could do for my kids, my husband, my family and friends, for my community and other communities instead of thinking so much about my own needs?
“Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others,” writes the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in “Teachings on Love.”
It is not an option, but more a biological imperative, he says, that we look and listen deeply to our bodies, our feelings, our perceptions, our thoughts, and our consciousness.
It is actually “the practice of preventative health care,” he says, to survey our own territory, to “look deeply into the nature of our feelings to find their roots, to see which feelings need to be transformed, and to nourish those feelings that bring about peace, joy, and well-being.”
In tune with myself, I am much more likely to be happily in tune with the others in my household, and with the world.