As the holiday season gains momentum, I see many conflicting messages about how to spend those two precious resources, time and money. We are urged to reach out to help those in need by volunteering our time and donating our money. At the same time, advertisements temp us to spend these resources on ourselves, telling us that we deserve to indulge. We often confuse self-care with selfishness, and self-neglect with selflessness. At times we may feel that we don’t have enough resources to spread around. It may seem that we have to choose between helping others and helping ourselves. Ultimately, however, self-care is selfless, and vice versa. If we spend our money and time wisely, we can maintain our own well-being and still have some left to help others. The familiar warning we hear every time we fly on an airplane helps to illustrate this idea. The flight attendant reminds us to place the oxygen mask over our own nose and mouth first, before helping a child or companion fasten their mask. Some people take this idea and emphasize the fact that you put yourself first. They use this excuse to be selfish under the guise of “self-care.” But they are missing the second half of the statement. After taking care of yourself, you then proceed to help someone else. You don’t stop at the act of self-care; you extend this care to those around you. Others may think they know better and ignore the first part, trying to help others first and put themselves last. But once the time comes to take care of themselves, they are too drained and exhausted to do so. Eventually this wears them down and in the end they don’t have the energy or resources to help themselves or anyone else. In addition, many people don’t even know how to truly care for themselves, instead seeking instant gratification through things like food, liquor, shopping, sex, or gossip. These pursuits may be fine when done mindfully, in moderation, and as a form of entertainment; not when they are the only way for you to feel better. I have personally tried all of the above, and trust me, it doesn’t end well. You’re left bloated, hung over, broke, alone, disliked, and with all the same problems you had before. My friend and fellow yoga teacher once said, “Vegging out is not relaxing.” True restoration and relaxation come when we tune in to our bodies, minds, and spirits. Mediation for you may involve walking in nature, writing in a journal, creating music and other art, or of course practicing yoga. We can mediate in many different ways, the common thread is that we take the time to slow down and look within. Only then can we truly set priorities that will serve to nourish us and also leave us with a reserve of energy to share with others.
November 30, 2013