This past Friday, I had a lovely morning. It had been a hectic week prior, between work, adjusting to the start of school, and other Life Stuff in high gear. On Friday morning, I still had a to do list a mile long, and several hours set aside to accomplish it all. After I dropped my children off to school, I started trying to mentally arrange the pieces of my day, a five hundred piece jigsaw puzzle that somehow had to come together between 8:30 am and 2:30 pm.
I could feel the agitation from the week in my body as I drove away. Tight shoulders, permanently furrowed brow, achy lower back, all the usual signals. My phone rested in my lap, the calendar screen lit with bullet points and different colors. I kept surreptitiously glancing down at the screen while stopped in a long line of cars waiting at the traffic light, feeling increasingly stressed.
I decided in that moment that not a thing was going to get done that day, other than taking care of myself. Doing what I needed. Doing what felt good.
So I took a detour and headed to the beach. I wanted to be in nature. I got a long run in along the sand and high on the cliffs above the water. I felt the pent up energy releasing, step by step. I walked when I felt tired and I ran when I felt energetic, and I periodically stopped and admired the stunning early morning views. At points, I felt a sense of walking along the edge of the world, and a vibration in my body of being a part of something so much greater than myself and my endless flow of busy-ness.
I sat on a bench and meditated for five short minutes, still feeling the raspiness of my breath and the thudding of my heart in my chest after my run. As I sat in stillness, I noticed a sweet, gentle breeze I hadn’t noticed before, and appreciated for a moment how the wind coming off of the ocean felt so different than the wind whipping in and around the buildings of Chicago, where I grew up. I noticed the delicate interplay of the cool wind against my cheek, and at the same time, the sun warming me from above. When I opened my eyes, everything felt just a touch more vivid, a touch more brilliant.
After that, I had a lovely phone conversation, and then headed to a local favorite restaurant. I had a cappuccino and some breakfast, and I wrote in my journal and read a book and just savored my food and coffee. I texted a few friends and returned some emails, before heading to have lunch with a dear friend. Not one thing from the list was done that day.
As I sit now on Saturday evening, reflecting on these details, it feels like Friday morning was centuries ago. Already so much has happened between then and now, and I still had my usual moments of impatience with my children and feeling overwhelmed by life. But I write this post as a public service announcement that the world didn’t fall apart because I took a few hours on a Friday morning for myself. My patients were just fine. My children were in school as they should have been. And apparently whatever was on that list wasn’t too critical, because I am still alive too.
I am not saying we should shirk our responsibilities 24/7 and ignore the context of our lives and what they demand of us. Obviously mornings like these are not always possible. But perhaps they are more possible than we lead ourselves to believe.
Self care isn’t just about getting eight hours of sleep and eating kale. In fact, self care is just as much drinking a cappuccino and having a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast if that is what your body happens to need in that moment. Profound self care is about tuning in, and listening–really listening hard–to what it is your body needs and wants. Not what we think our bodies should need, but what we truly need. What that looks like for you and what that looks like for me will be different, and that is perfectly okay.
Often profound self care is often about doing what feels good in the moment, just because it feels good. End of story. No justification required, especially if no humans or small animals are permanently scarred in the process. Sometimes that means a sudden detour towards the beach on a Friday morning. Sometimes that means taking a fifteen minute nap on your lunch break. Sometimes that means working on a Sunday afternoon because you had a surge of productive energy.
All of which also means that profound self care can be scary. Can we trust ourselves to come to each moment with a sense of inquiry as to how we feel? Can we release control? Will we just let ourselves go? Who will take care of the to-do list if we don’t? What if everything doesn’t get done?
Maybe all of those worst case scenarios would come true, but somehow I doubt it. Our body has the wisdom to know when we need rest and when we need work, when we need solitude and when we need company, when we need activity and when we need stillness, when we need green juice and when we need a doughnut. We have just forgotten how to listen…or perhaps forgotten that we deserve to have needs and meet them.
But if we can remember again, we will be better for it. As will those around us.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in thinking about what profound self care looks like for you. How connected or disconnected do you feel from your body’s needs and wants? How easy or challenging does it feel to meet your needs, without guilt?
With gratitude, Monisha