The subject of ‘self-care’ is a complex one
Heather Hyde, my friend, colleague and sometimes student has generously offered her thoughts on the subject of self-care for Yoga Suits Her. I especially appreciate the way she has opened up the whole topic for us and questioning why we women are not better at self-care and how we might improve our skills. Heather currently teaches on the south coast of NSW.
Women often express the need for self-care and encourage their friends to ‘take care’ – or to ‘look after themselves’. The prevailing feeling is that women are intrinsically nurturers, geared more to the needs of others, always putting themselves last. This concept may be in our DNA or in our conditioning. Nevertheless, from both observation and experience, it seems to be a driving force in most women’s lives. So how, other than continually expressing the wish that our friends, family, clients find a way to preserve their energy and sanity through caring for themselves, can we facilitate a new paradigm where self-care actually happens?
For me this question parallels another current philosophical dilemma: how do we learn to be compassionate to ourselves and to others? In the case of both self-care and compassion, it helps to have seen these qualities modelled in one’s environment from a young age. After all, children need strong role models and learn by example. Are we born non compassionate? If you watch babies and small children it would seem not. Although there is a point in their development where they become aware of themselves as ‘separate’ and assert their individuality by doing things like hitting another child or aggressively pulling a toy from them. Then there is the ‘survival of the fittest’ and all the other self-serving influencers in the development of a human being. Quite often what we feel on the inside, and what needs to be projected on the outside, do not match. Our need to fit in, to belong in our society and the values of that society may conflict with our sense of who we are and how we really feel.
If intuition is based in the heart – and compassion and self-care originate from the heart – our ‘mind based’ world may be the main factor in us failing to develop these two qualities of compassion and self-care in our life. I think they are parallel concepts that depend on our own hearts remaining open and true. For that to happen we need other open hearts around us to reflect our shared heartfelt qualities. Yet, to survive in our world, we are taught to be ‘hard hearted’, goal oriented, and to deny or move away from our own ability to ‘flow’ with our own bodies and other bodies or our natural environment.
For this reason it is difficult to reconcile what we know and feel in our own hearts with the demands of our society to ‘progress’, ‘achieve’, ‘produce’ to ‘fit in’ with an increasingly hierarchical and materialistic, mind-driven model that fails to preserve our natural environment, as it simultaneously denies our heart-based human needs and values. It is ironic that as women we are conditioned from an early age to serve the needs of others thereby putting ourselves at the bottom of the dominant capitalist hierarchical paradigm we find ourselves in. Hence, we are literally disenfranchising ourselves and leaving ourselves unable to be valued and therefore paid equally in a society that tells us we need more and more money to literally survive.
We are encouraged to take up work as full-time mothers, domestic workers, nurses, teachers, child minders or similar nurture based careers. Yet these very positions are notoriously underpaid thereby reinforcing our ‘lesser’ status in our culture. Through these life paths, however, we also have the distinct possibility of maintaining our natural ability to feel compassion for others and care for others, thereby remaining engaged with our own hearts. So women by default have often managed to maintain a high Emotional Intelligence which means they are more likely to have the skills needed to not only help others but learn to help themselves and ultimately ensure the survival of Mother Earth. Our lesser status has kept us humble and more easily able to access our heart knowledge or intuition, thereby giving us a massive advantage at a time when these very qualities are needed if we are to actually survive. All we have to do, is to go against the conditioning that tells us to value others over ourselves, and to use the heart-based skills we have ( caring for others ) by using them on our selves first. Otherwise we are continually in ‘burn out’ mode. It would also help if women came together more often in a non competitive way to share ‘Shakti’ and reflect their heart based skills back and forth. Compassion appears to imply feeling empathetic towards others, yet any Buddhist will tell you the process of growing compassion must always begin with forgiving oneself, feeling compassionate for ones’ own perceived failings and learning to deeply love oneself. Surely this is also the basis of self care.
Boundary setting leads to possibilities for self-care
How can we possibly effectively continue to provide care to others without having firstly granted that right to ourselves? From my experience I have found that since I was not literally taught how to love or care for myself, (and I was not exposed to anyone else able to do this ) I had to begin caring for others, become burnt out, experience a lot of pain and suffering and have no one around to care for me to the point I had to either die or begin to take care of myself and find a way to love myself. This process involved a tremendous amount of what seemed like meanness and boundary setting, but ended up creating a tremendous amount of space in my love.
Space is the place where love can flourish and grow. And so it did for myself and more deeply for others, once it became unconditional. Oddly boundaries brought about infinite possibilities, and as a result, infinite space and love! I nevertheless remain a work in progress, as I always have my monkey mind to keep in check, my eager ego and my own bottomless supply of conditioning, samskaras, and inherited trauma to play with!