Radical Self Care

Jun 24, 2009 by

By Lisa Campion

I am sitting at the Kripalu Café, eating a chocolate chip cookie (homemade) and taking in the gorgeous view of the mountains and lake here in Lenox, MA.  It’s lovely and peaceful here and I am engaged in this crazy pastime known as R&R. Here at Kripalu, that stands for relaxation and rejuvenation, which however you slice it is a pretty great concept.

For those of you not in the know, Kripalu is a yoga based retreat center that runs all kind of programs and also has a retreat program called R&R.  It’s in an old Jesuit monastery nestled into the hills of the Berkshires and is really in a divine spot.

For me getting rested is all about sleeping a lot and taking yoga a couple times a day. I am also dancing, napping and getting in the whirlpool. I just had a Thai massage to iron the kinks out. Thai yoga is sort of like having yoga done to you. You lay there like a slug and the practitioner stretches you out, massages you, bends you into pretzel shapes and basically takes all the kinks out. It’s heavenly.

I find myself here trying (and succeeding!) in stemming off a rising tide of BURN OUT. I had it bad. I was fried crispy like toast. But it took a burn out induced meltdown to remind myself that it’s actually ok for me to take a break. Jeeze, you would think that I know better, I talk to people all the time about taking better care of themselves, but somehow I didn’t think that applied to me, until I became almost non-functional.

My husband, (God bless him!) took one look at me puddled on the couch and whimpering and said, “That is it, you are totally burned out, and you need a couple of days at Kripalu!”  And off I went.

How did it come to this?   How did I, who should know better, let myself get so burned out?  And how did the concept of taking care of yourself become RADICAL?

When I lived in Germany, we had six weeks of vacation as a standard. Everyone there does.  Now that is the way to live. You get a week at Christmas, a week at Easter and the whole month of August off. Yeah, baby. And everyone does it!  No one hoards vacation time thinking that they will lose their jobs if they actually take all their time off.

And that was one of the things I really liked about living in Europe, the Europeans know that they need to LIVE and their work supports their life. But we Americans seem to live at the different pace. I look around and all I see are people working at a breakneck speed, trying to accomplish so much that they have no time to just BE. Our work is our life and actual LIFE is something snatched here in there in rare moments amid the chaos.

I read a news story the other day that said even peasants in the middle ages had more time off then average American worker. When you count up all those religious holidays it is just about four weeks off a year. Most of us are lucky to get two weeks, and most of the time that is spent at doctor’s offices, the car mechanics or home with sick kids.

I find this truly horrifying.

And I really feel quite sad that I found myself struggling with the idea that it is ok to take a break, to take time to take care of myself.  I have no problem thinking OTHER people should do this, but the idea that I can really is- well, radical.  It was hard for me to let go, to give myself permission to stop.

Even though I have a life chock full of obligations, (Four kids, a household full of stuff that needs doing and three businesses…) I still struggle with feeling like it was actually ok for me to take a break and recharge.  I felt guilty. I felt unworthy. I have this to-do list that never gets any smaller. My kids actually need me more now that they are in the teen and tween years (who knew?) and my businesses are all expanding exponentially.

The tricky thing for me was remembering that since I put so much energy out to other people then I need to fill the tank back up regularly.   When I am full of juice then my small corner of the universe can keep on keeping on.

Well, duh.  This is something that I tell other people to do all the time, but wasn’t sure it exactly applied to me too. I am strong, I can keep going!  Until I collapse anyways!  We even teach this in the school. Us caretaker types really love giving to other people. I wouldn’t set up my life in any other way. It makes me happy and fills me with joy to give and be loving. It actually recharges me and fills my souls.

When I give to myself first, that is.

Sometimes I am not on my list at all. And then I give and give and give and feel empty. Usually at that point I give some more, cuz that definitely helps. And then I feel angry. Resentful. And bitter.  I end up getting mad at those I love for taking so much out of me.  But it’s my responsibility as a giver and caretaker to give to myself first. And when I do that, my wellspring stays full and I end up in this lovely energizing feedback loop where in giving and loving, I am also filled.

We don’t expect our cars to run with no gas in the tank. That is simple physics, right? We know our cars need gas and regular maintenance to run well, so we suck it up and spend the time and the money necessary to protect our investment (since cars are expensive) and voila, they run well when we do that! We don’t expect them to run on fumes.

How come that doesn’t apply to us too?  We need the same treatment and it’s  sad that most people take WAY better care of their cars then they do themselves.  The cost is everywhere around us when we look at the health and stress related problems crunching us and overwhelming our medical system. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and insomnia plague us. Most often, we just chug another pill and put the nose back to the grindstone.

I don’t know about you but I am all done with that program. I figured out that I need to plan regular weeks off throughout the year.  I need to keep my tank full. How many physical and mental problems could be solved in the world if everyone had the time, money and other resources to take care of our most basics needs?  What a radical concept.

What fills your tank?

I think we all have some basic self care needs that so many of us ignore. I wonder what would happen if we all took the time to love ourselves by taking care of our most basic needs?

The Body-

One of things that I have been doing here at Kripalu is eating great food. It’s mostly vegetarian, organic and most importantly, cooked and served by someone else! Eating here made me realize how often I actually eat like crap. Or I don’t eat at all.  It’s hard eating right!  It takes time and money and you have to plan things. But boy, my body really likes three square and very veggie filled meals a day.

Also I know I need a ton of exercise.  (Yoga, walking and dancing for me, thank you very much… Funny how “gentle yoga” still kicks my butt after all this time!) It’s a very awesome thing to roll out of bed (6:30am!) and walk down the hall to take an hour and a half yoga class. How much better would I feel if I could do that everyday?

And pampering. Hot tub, massage. Repeat.  I am also not sure how to fold this into my everyday life, except that I trade sessions with a great massage therapist and try to get at least one bodywork session a month.  I know I really start feeling resentful when I teach energy work all day long, but never get on the table myself.

And sleeping. I think the eight hours of sleep that most people need is the basic ingredient of taking care of yourself. I got pretty used to getting not very much sleep, sleeping badly and then trying to function by jacking myself up on caffeine and sugar.  Sooooo good for your adrenal glands!

The Mind-

Mostly what my mind needs to balance itself is a whole lot of nothing. Doing nothing is what I crave the most. And by that I mean, unscheduled time. With nothing to do. When I come here I always bring a whole bag of books that I don’t even look at. Mostly I just stare at the view of the mountains and the lake. My mind settles into calm. I stop thinking. I stop DOING. I am just being.  That soaks inside me like a salve. That is the one thing I need I need the most.

But I know other people need mental stimulation. One woman I talked to here said she gets bored stiff at her repetitive job. To relax she comes here and takes a class and learns something new or she feels like her brain is starting to die.

The Soul-

This place is great for the soul. You can meditate, do yoga, pray, sing chant and walk in nature. You can take a vow of silence and spend the whole time you are here in a monastic like experience.   Everyone has their own ways to fill their soul. Mine seems to be about having my own experience rather then creating an experience for someone else. So often, I am the leader, the teacher, the guide and as much as I love doing that, if I don’t balance it, then a small voice pipes up inside me and says “What about me?  When is it my turn?”

And the great thing is, when it IS my turn and I get all filled up and juicy again, then I have so much more to give. You can’t give from an empty well. A couple of days into my retreat I had the very pleasurable experience of remembering that I actually love my life. It didn’t seem like a burden to me anymore, but a glorious reflection of who I really am. When I was empty and drained it all just felt like a big, horrible, dragging weight.

Simplify your life

Often I think our addictions to materialism has a lot to do with our burn out. I read once a study that reported the happiest people on the planet were from a bunch of small islands in Fiji. They had nothing much, no TV’s or cars or 3000 sq feet homes with four bathrooms that need cleaning and an acre of lawn that needs mowing. Since they had very little STUFF, they had tons of time to have fun, play, sleep and love. They took care of important things like their relationships to each other. And they report themselves as being the happiest people on Earth.

What would your life be like if you had less stuff to take care of?  I think there is a strange catch 22 we fall into where we work hard to buy stuff that we think will make us happy, that doesn’t. Then we become slaves to our stuff and spend all our free time and extra money taking care of the lawn, the cars, and the boat and the other stuffy stuff that doesn’t really do anything for us but bleed us dry.

Try evaluating your stuff and see if your lifestyle supports you or drains you.  Do we really have to keep up with the Jones’s or could we drop our pretenses and de-stuffify ourselves and so find great peace, more money to spend on yummier things and more time to do nothing?

Bringing it into real life

Now that my retreat is almost over, I am thinking about the real question here. It’s all fine and dandy to roll out of bed at walk down the hall to take a yoga class five minutes later. It’s easy to take care of myself here, where I have nothing to do but indulge myself. On retreat there are no kids, no job, meals to prepare and clean up after. No responsibilities at all.

But how am I going to take these things I learned (again) and bring them into my life in a way that I can actually do day to day?  I am not sure I have an answer here.  My hunch is that it will be about carving out time for myself, a little bit everyday to take care of what I really need to do THAT day.  If I have a half and hour or better yet an hour, do I go for a walk? Do some yoga?  Take a tubby?  Or maybe a nap?

Maybe what I need to do is tune into myself on each day and figure out in the moment what I need to do and give that time to myself without judgment. Maybe I need to eat a box of Girl Scout cookies and read the next Stephanie Plumb novel.  Maybe I need brown rice and yoga.  Or perhaps lunch with a friend.  Or better yet some QT with my fabulous husband. But I think if I balanced it out over the course of a week I would probably end up more or less getting what I need and filling myself.

How do you take care of yourself?  Or not?  Write in a comment and let’s hear about it.

Now with my retreat almost over I am refreshed and renewed and in love with my life again.  Yippee!

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