“Self-care, I think, is a way of going against business as usual. It’s a radical route. Learning to love ourselves is hard to do. It’s a fierce kind of self-love we need to work through.”
~ Lama Rod Owens, Radical Dharma – Talking Race, Love, and Liberation
I didn’t intentionally take time off during the holidays. I intended to be working part time – getting a couple of hours in front of my computer in the mornings, playing with my kids in the afternoons. Running a small business, it sometimes feels difficult to completely take time off – even on vacation, I can struggle with taking mental space from work and just rest. Often, I have trouble letting go of my internal to-do list. You might relate. You might not be running a business, but I would guess that you too, have times where it’s hard to turn off your thinking/planning/strategizing mind.
So there I was, my kids on winter break, and I just couldn’t get myself to work. I tried. I would open my computer, check my email, and find myself staring blankly at the screen. I would open my 2020 calendar to plan workshops for the studio, and my mind would drift off. I would look at the list of things I needed to get to my accountant, and yawn.
Finally, I stopped trying.
I closed my computer and didn’t open it for days. I took a media break too, and turned off the news. I took my social media apps off my phone. Once I settled into this (unintentional) break from productivity, it was like a big sigh of relief. I let go of the constant push to do more and finally, finally stopped.
So what happened when I stopped trying to be productive? I had sweet time with my family without being half-distracted. We watched movies, went ice skating, spent time with friends, had days of staying in our pajamas, lounged and played with our new kitten. Only a few times did I feel guilty that I wasn’t getting more done.
That is the thing that gets us, Isn’t it? Our cultural conditioning to be productive, our inherited (usually unconscious) belief that our value is a measure of what we have produced, what we have to show for ourselves. I have to be honest, as much as it looks like it’s easy for me to go on retreats, to pause the doings of the day and take time for meditation, not being productive can be very uncomfortable for me. Like most of us, productivity is hard wired in me, whether it is the protestant work-hard conditioning of my ancestors or simply the air we swim in in this culture, which tells us that who we are is not enough, that we must keep improving ourselves no matter what – our body, our bank account, our house, our image.
It’s why for the last several years, I have had my own personal protest against New Year’s Resolutions. We all know, of course, that most Resolutions come up empty by February, whether our expressed plan was to lose the 10 pounds we gained over the holidays, get to the gym more, cut back on alcohol, or the more enlightened-sounding version “take better care of myself.”
There is also the slippery slope of “self-care” as a resolution, which many of us get confused about. We think of self-care and we tell ourselves we need to go the spa more, get massages and a mani-pedi. None of which are inherently bad, and if those things have you feel truly nourished, go at it. Sometimes self-care looks a little different, a little simpler, and it doesn’t have to cost any money.
Self-care might look like stepping out of or taking a break from environments or conversations that don’t feel supportive to who we are. Self-care can look like going to therapy and facing some difficult things with courage . Self-care can look like choosing not to put something on your credit card because you are committed to your financial health. Self-care can look like not opening your laptop for a few days and taking social media apps off your phone. Self-care can look like doing the tricky work of letting go of your drive for constant productivity.
Self-care is not always sexy, but as Lama Rod Owens, Tibetan Buddhist teacher and activist says, it is radical. It is going against “business as usual.” It is a disruption of our cultural conditioning; it is a stand for the nourishing of the life of our spirit.
So, one intention (not resolution) I have this year is to practice radical self-care. For me and my results-oriented, achievement driven, culturally programmed self, that means taking time for rest, non-doing, and non-productivity. I’ll be honest, it’s a challenge for me, and I know I won’t always get it right.
Yesterday, in line with this intention, I took a half hour and did a lying down body scan meditation in the middle of my workday. It was uncomfortable to take that time, when my to-do list was looming and emails were left unanswered, but because it was uncomfortable, I knew it was all the more important. I suspect this idea of radical self-care will take some re-training, re-wiring of that goal-oriented programming. It does for me, anyway. It’s about learning to love ourselves as we are, with nothing to improve. As Lama Rod Owen calls it, a fierce kind of self-love.
It’s what we are intentionally doing more and more of at Source Yoga. A whole lot of nothing. Offering you more opportunities to slow down, to tune in toward the life of your spirit, to practice radical self-care, rest, and re-wiring ourselves and our cultural conditioning that says we need more. Our desire in 2020 is to give you more opportunities to breathe and be, and rest in “this is enough.”
I do hope you had moments of rest and non-productivity this holiday season, and I wish for you a year ahead filled with caring for yourself with grace and ease.
Source Yoga Studio Director