Today I’m writing about self-care, in honour of the release of Michelle Ward & Jessica Swift’s new book, The Declaration of You
Let me make this declaration upfront: I’m extremely wary of ‘self-improvement’, as a goal or a genre. I’m always a little horrified when anyone suggests my book, Zen Under Fire, falls into the category of self-improvement. It’s a memoir, a story of impotence and despair and the path I found from there back to service, through faith and action. It’s not about self-improvement.
But it is about self-care. At least in part. It’s partly a story of what happens when we try to serve others without taking care of ourselves, and the toll that can end up taking on our health, our work and our relationships.
It seems so obvious as to be trite – each of us is responsible for taking care of our own basic needs. But it seems to bear repeating, over and over again. I certainly need to be reminded of it, regularly.
In life, unlike on a plane, it is not always as simple as putting on your own oxygen mask first.
There will be times when the needs of your community require that you sacrifice something of your own comfort, perhaps even your own well-being; times of crisis, emergencies that call on all of us to assess honestly what we are willing to give up, and how far we are ready to go to serve and protect the people we love.
In so many ways, this willingness to put ourselves out for others, because we know that the benefit to them – or to our collective – will outweigh the inconvenience to us, lies at the heart of what it means to be part of a community.
Our impulse to build community through these small (and sometimes not so small) acts of sacrifice is both the glue that connects us to each other and, sometimes, the greatest challenge to our ability to take good care of ourselves.
Because we want to connect, because we are wired for connection, we agree to do more than we can really afford to do – we commit more time, more energy, more resources than we really have to spare. The scales tip out of balance very quickly, too, when the willingness to make sacrifice, to build trust and connection, is not reciprocal.
My personal path is a hunt for the sweet spot – the place where I take care of myself, know my limits and set up some boundaries that keep me from overstretching myself repeatedly, but without switching off my impulse to serve, to help and to create community and connection through personal sacrifice for the good of the whole.
Because – just as there will be times when the overall health of our community calls on us to give a little more than is comfortable – there will be times in our lives, inevitably, when we can’t take care of our own needs and will have to rely on others to help us.
So our long-term well being as individuals relies on the health of our community.
And although the health of any community obviously relies on the health of it’s individual members, there will be times when we are each called on to go a little further, give a little more than is comfortable and stretch a little beyond what feels possible, to ensure that community – without which we cannot survive and certainly cannot achieve any meaningful social change in the world – is preserved.
What does this mean for self-care?
Firstly it means self-care relies on connection, on community. And true community relies on our willingness to make sacrifices – safe, sustainable sacrifices – for each other. Healthy community also relies on our willingness to pay attention to our own health, and to take responsibility for the conditions required to stay well ourselves.
True self-care calls for a sweet, subtle balance between self and other – between the individual and the collective – and for the willingness to experiment with extending beyond our reflexive, habitual boundaries in each direction.
No man or woman is an island. So how does your connection to others, your commitment to community, play a part in your self-care?
The Declaration of You is being published by North Light Craft Books this summer, with readers getting all the permission they’ve craved to step passionately into their lives, discover how they and their gifts are unique and uncover what they are meant to do! This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour, which I’m thrilled to participate in alongside over 100 other creative bloggers. Learn more — and join us! – by clicking here.