One day last week (we will call it “one day” for the sake of conversation) I was feeling unproductive, weary and heavy, and while I continued to press through the day, it was with the near constant question/mantra “Why am I so tired?” I wandered from task to task, unable to muster much energy or enthusiasm all the way into the early evening- when I was simply waiting for it to be late enough that I could call it bedtime.
The amount of energy I put into the self-interrogation about my tiredness, combined with the effort of pushing against what was with full resistance could likely have been better directed. What if, instead of fighting the tired, questioning the tired, resisting the tired, I had turned toward the tired and declared “I am done for today,” and rested? Well, that would require quite a revolution. And sometimes, a revolution at the most basic level is what is needed.
The more people I talk with, the more I think that we are all tired. I have heard it again and again from students, friends, fellow teachers. Most of us have, in one way or another, spent more than a year now living in survival mode. Even those of us fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads and food on the table have been living with a degree of fear and uncertainty previously unknown. Much has been lost, and we have hardly begun to process the grief stemming from those losses. For so long we were cut off from friends, family, simple pleasures. As a result, our lives shrank in size. And so we now find ourselves in that smaller life, with new opportunities each day to stretch our wings and expand those boundaries- often retreating back after each new venture to figure out what feels right. We have no idea what we are doing. Herein we also find opportunities to review and reflect upon what is important, what, who and with whom we want to be in the next iteration of our being-ness. These are big considerations, deserving our best attention.
And so the question– as we with our American Privilege and abundantly and ill-thought-out hoarded vaccine supplies are so lucky to ask– is how do I bridge the gap from pre-pandemic life into the what is next? How can we mindfully hold the parts of us that are simultaneously tired, excited, sad and anxious as we move forward? How do we ride the disorienting wave of expansion and contraction in the coming weeks and months as we process, plan and choose from day to day?
I have been working for a good long while on the idea of radical self care and I think this is the answer. Radical, not as in extreme, but radical, as Oxford Languages says as, “relating to the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” Yes. A sweeping and all-encompassing care for the whole of self at the most basic level. That’s the kind of self care that I believe will be required to rebuild our personal foundations that we can create a new and better collective foundation than we had before. I’ve boiled it down to five fundamental elements; this is about as simple as it gets.
Food. For me, every previously known and practiced idea about healthy eating went the way of the open window during quarantine. As so many comforts and familiar coping mechanisms were stripped away, I declared somewhat early on that food was our last remaining pleasure and I was going to take the idea of comfort food to a new level. I was successful. Very.
About two months ago, my body scheduled an emergency meeting with me and I agreed to call off the sugar and carb brigade. It was time to reclaim food as medicine, as sustenance, as a foundational part of caring for self. I was reminded that taking control of what I was eating was actually far more empowering than indulging in the liberty to eat whatever, whenever, all the time. Mindful eating as an act of radical self care. If you’ve also fallen off the rails of attending to what you put in your body, it’s something to consider. Is your food helping you heal?
Rest. When weary, rest. When tired, sleep. This seems so simple, but as I review last week’s behavior, I clearly haven’t quite gotten this lesson in hand. I’m trying to attend to both with spacious, compassionate attention. I’ve found that a bedtime hour appropriate for a small child is what feels right at the moment, so I’m going with it. And I’m trying to be both mindful and responsive to the internal “I’m so tired” with some inquiry about what would be helpful, rather than the usual interrogation techniques. This feels better. How is your energy level, and are you meeting yourself where you are?
Nature. One of the sweetest parts of 2020 was when the world went quiet. When on the news we saw videos of wild creatures returning to places they’d long since abandoned; photos of big cities with clear, clean skies above; and reports that even the earth’s seismic activity had hushed to a low rumble. In the middle of our dystopian existence was a most magical utopia. We were offered this little dream of possibility. It’s what I mourn from last year as much as anything else. And also, it is as important as ever to return to the Mother and remember our belonging, that we might all make better choices for our shared home. Every chance you get, breathe in the fresh air and put your feet on the earth. Walk under the trees and swim in her waters. As much or more healing happens there as anywhere. What’s your commitment to being in the nature?
Good company. For better and/or worse, we’ve been parted from the people with whom we regularly circulated pre-2020. In some cases, these have been painful separations. In others, we’ve been given the best ever hall pass to step out of unhealthy relationships. Now that you can be with people again, with whom do you want to be? As one of our teachers shared in a recent staff meeting, “I want to know who I am and also whose I am.” Yes. So much yes. You get to decide now what that circle looks like. It’s a critical moment to make good choices for your wellbeing as our friendships are a big part of our foundation. To whom do you belong? Who do you want to call into your circle as you reclaim your Self?
Practice. When we were in the thick of lockdown, much like my diet, my practice went a bit sideways. I was still on my mat and cushion, but again, like the food I was eating, it was all about what I wanted and what felt good. I felt entitled to it. The yoga room was for all the things I liked and none of the things I didn’t like, since that wasn’t an option out in the rest of life.
While something was decidedly better than nothing, early this year I got back on the program of disciplined practice. The yoga is also medicine and should be designed around your current state: what you need, not necessarily what you want. As expected, this is the single most powerful shift I’ve made toward a more balanced, centered way of being. Practice is fundamental to how we survive the unknown. It is how we return home. It is how we get back to what is essential about who we are meant to be and how we are meant to serve in the world. What practice would guide you back to your best self?
So that’s it. Radical self care. The most basic, fundamental and yet all-encompassing choices we can make to support ourselves in this challenging time. Consider where you are, what you need, and choose well. Your healthy, thriving future you is counting on it. Our collective better future is counting on it, too.