Years ago, I was profoundly impacted when I read "Care of the Soul: Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life" by author and psychotherapist, Thomas Moore. His book teaches Self-Care as the importance of nurturing the soul in all that you do; an uplifting guide to just being you, and embracing all that makes you unique.
When I dove into a career in Occupational Therapy, I learned to assess one's ability to complete Self-Care from a physical and cognitive perspective. This included looking at how one is able to perform their personal care, as well as how one moves around in the world while performing Self-Care (what we OTs call mobility). I learned to address all areas of Self-Care performance, from the way a person dresses, bathes, eats, to areas like ones ability to shop, care for others, take care the home, and even the ability to be a sexual human being. Occupational Therapists are experts in helping people live their highest potential and do all the things they need and want to do in caring for oneself.
Now, from the perspective of an OT turned Life Coach, Self-Care means all that I mentioned, and more. It's the physical care, as much as it is the emotional care, the spiritual care and the working through the Blocks and Obstacles to live in the values we hold closest to our hearts. It includes practicing self-love, discovering our unique gifts, and finding life purpose. Self-Care is living in our values within our relationships and in our work. As many areas of Self-Care can be objectively measured (as in our weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, or even in the independent level one makes a meal), emotional and spiritual health are often subjectively measured, but just as important in Self-Care, if not more.
In order to do "Self-Care" we must first "Self-Explore" as we cannot care for something we don't know.
We wouldn't buy a cactus and think we are suited to care for it without really understanding where it came from, the nourishment it needs, and the lighting it will need. The same is true for care of self. First we must know who we are, where we've been and then understand where we're going. We must also give ourselves the same level of forgiveness and love that we would give others. We must learn to be present with ourselves first, so that we may be well-versed and ready to be present with others in our relationships and in our work.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Elizabeth Gilbert's talk about her new book "City of Girls" at Harvard University. The New York Times Bestselling author of "Eat, Pray, Love"read an except from her new book. The novel is set in the 1940s and shows women who lived unconventional lives, with sexual openness, that was not considered consistent with women of those times, and is a story "written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection."
When Liz opened the floor for questions, she was asked about how she made it though some dark and difficult times in her own life. With great insight into her experience and having been though what she described as a depression, she narrowed down a very basic level of Self-Care. She describes beginning a process of self-love which included beginning the ritual of writing a love letter to herself every day, and described this practice as one she continues. Then, she said something that no-one I've ever heard has said, she said something like, if we think we can give love to others, but cannot love ourselves, then it's almost narcissistic in a way. What makes us so special that we are not deserving? (I haven't quoted her, as I'm paraphrasing here.) If we think others are deserving, and we are not, does that mean we think we are not like everyone else--that we are more special than everyone else? Interesting thinking. She described how her process of self-love, ironically, later led to a greater amount of love to give. This seems to be the foundation of Self-Care, and why, metaphorically, must place the oxygen mask on ourselves first. What does that even mean? It means to do the brave work of knowing yourself really well, accept yourself for who you are, practice Self-Care, and in the end, you'll have more to give.
Brené Brown, public speaker and author of "Call to Courage" tells us, "You only have two options-you do vulnerability knowingly, or vulnerability does you...People are taking their pain, and they 're working it out on other people. And when you don't acknowledge your vulnerability, you work your shit out on other people."
When we do the work of Self-Exploration, we encounter blocks and obstacles that may be holding us back. They might be internal blocks, like inner voices telling us we can't do something, or external blocks, like not knowing where to begin, or how to find out our options. Working though Blocks, is not only possible, but is part of Self-Care too, because Blocks hold us back from living our truest and happiest self.
In my recent workshop, Life Purpose and Finding Work You Love, I tested out something I learned in my Dare to Lead Training. I asked my participants to think of what are the life, or work values, they hold most dear, and then a time in their lives when they were living most in those values. I asked them to think of when they felt the most happy, but also, as they were living their truest selves. Once they each had this image, I them to think of another time when they were not living in their values, and what did that feel like? I asked: What did your body feel like then? Your sleep? Your breathing? Your attitude toward work? Think about what happens to our physical, emotional and spiritual health when we are not living in our values? Isn't being aware of of our value, and living in our values, also Self-Care?
Self-Care, is it the key to success in work and relationships? I think it might very well be. If we care for self: in mind, spirit, and body, then we show up with others representing only ourselves, fully present, having dealt with our own blocks and baggage, which then in turn, makes us more ready in all that we do.