I have grappled for years with how to put my own values into words. It's something I still work at. It is a human instinct, I think, the need to put into words the things that are most important to us. One of my most important values was put into words during my yoga teacher training, sitting legs crossed on the studio floor as the morning sun began to creep through the windows, and it has stuck with me ever since.
We were talking about the yamas and niyamas (kind of like the do's and don'ts) of the eight-fold path, and we came across the topic of integrity. Someone in my group described integrity as "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking". It was so profound to me. It wasn't necessarily new, but it was so profound in the moment and the way I received it.
Everything clicked together in that phrase, but it has evolved over the years. More recently, I have started to recognize that integrity stretches far beyond just having compassion for others, as I thought it had. Or rather, maybe I was finding it contracting. The lesson is: I have to treat myself with that same kind of integrity and compassion. You know the golden rule: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"? Well, that's second nature for me - rarely a problem. What I've had to spend my energy working more on lately is "do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you". I put a lot of energy into outwardly sharing respect and compassion, expecting it will come back to me. I don't spend a lot of time investing those same things into myself.
Self-compassion is simply giving the same compassion to ourselves that we would give to others." Christopher Germer
Doing the right thing for me, so that I can do the right thing for others - this was the huge link missing from my process. For so many years, I have tried to please everyone, always finding a compromise, often spreading myself thin so I don't miss someone. Selflessness is an endearing quality, however, if not adequately balanced, it is exhausting and draining. It is quantitative more than qualitative, and I think I am living proof that it solely is unsustainable. I find myself stuck in a pattern of wishing I could feel like myself again - the soft-hearted, ultra curious, ambitious and compassionate me that gets lost in the drought of constantly fulfilling others' needs. The wellspring of energy that drives me runs dry more frequently and severely if I'm not giving it the time and resources to refill regularly.
When I get trapped in this non-replenishing cycle, my body suffers greatly from the stress, anxiety and compulsion to continually achieve and provide for others. This comes with major consequences, especially for women, who are typically engaged by society to be constant caregivers and full-time nurturers. The consequences come in all shapes and sizes, both mental and physical: overwhelming stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, sleep deprivation, lack of self-confidence, and serious interruptions in menstrual cycles are all prevalent. I've suffered from all of them at one time or another, and many of them still haunt me.
We all owe it to ourselves to have integrity in our self-care practices. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, we all need time to re-fuel so we can both serve ourselves and others. Sometimes this takes learning some hard lessons of time management, organizing priorities, when to say yes and when to say no, understanding what's healthy stress and what isn't, and who and what we want to surround ourselves with.
"Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel." Eleanor Brownn
The best truth I have faced in the last year is that my time is valuable. It's not just myself that I have to remind of that, I constantly have to draw new boundaries for others to understand. In our busy society, we all have lists a thousand items long of things we need to do, and often our own needs fall to the bottom of those lists. In order to get to them in due time (and so that we can successfully and happily achieve the rest), we need to prioritize them. This is where saying "no" helps. It doesn't have to be said with malice; "no thank you" will do! Be honest with those around you, and you will very quickly learn who is willing to return your honesty and who is not. It's okay to say "I am overtired and I really need a night to myself to unwind and rest. Can we reschedule our coffee date to next week? I will be much better company when I'm feeling 100%!" Feel confident that you are making the right choice for both of you in that gesture.
Adventure is one of the easiest ways that I fill my cup back up, and if you're reading this, you can probably relate! Some days I need to hike, reach distances or heights, or travel distances. Some days, I just need time to unwind in my hammock with a fresh cuppa, brewed at higher altitudes. Other days, all I crave is the sound of moving water. Getting outside does a lot of great things for us. Physical activity is good for our bodies, appreciating nature is great for our hearts, and I know I always sleep better after romping around in the fresh air.
Listening to what your mind, body and heart need is the first step. Achieving it is the next, and monitoring its effectiveness is the third. Is it enough? How frequently do you need it? Again, listen. Think of time as currency: spend it wisely, and never be afraid of investing in yourself with it. You cannot lose.
It's worth noting that the above photo is a self-portrait from a very special sort of yoga retreat that I've attended twice, years ago. My friend, Tim Cyr, still arranges them and they jump around the west coast depending on the season and his mood. They're called "Do Less" retreats and they focus on unwinding and appreciating the time we spend doing less, and thus giving back to ourselves through forms of restorative or yin yoga, meditation, reflexology and so much more. I could have spent the entire weekend just sitting in that window seat, staring into the forest and sipping my tea, but he has a wild and incredible arsenal of tools to help you slow down, and it's impossible not to take advantage! You can check out what workshops and retreats he's planning on his website!
Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.