self care, pt. 1

Self care prescription: solitude and company in solitude

It’s time for a serious chat – beyond well-intentioned resolutions to a topic many of us have neglected for far too long. Self-care. There are many symptoms that present to indicate we have been guilty of self-neglect. Nagging loneliness, confusion, depression, listlessness, lack of purpose. Bitterness, envy, rage, resignation. These are the emotional signs. The physical signs also begin to manifest as illness, lethargy and blobbiness. That’s the scientific term I just invented for feeling like a poop pile.

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Like most all women, we’ve been raised to be compliant and nurturing, sacrificing and pleasant. It’s almost impossible to hold on to needing to put ourselves first, trust our instincts and letting that wildish nature free. And when every free minute can most easily be filled up with social media scrolling, tv viewing and texting, it takes herculean effort to set aside time to listen to that quiet voice inside.

Last night I met with a group of women for a forest walk in a nature preserve, which included some introspective activities, discussion, meditation and story time, and then moon-watching. It was restorative to be surrounded not only by the natural world in it’s chilling and colorful one-ness, but also this group of women. We had all taken some time to reconnect despite the many demands in our lives insisting we stay home.

flat rock image Suzanne Cadwell

We sat in a circle to meditate and discuss Estes’ rendition of the tale of the girl with the red shoes that she published in her book, Women Who Run With Wolves. It’s a version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

If you’ve read the story, it seems quite dark. Fairy tales often tended to have dark and grave endings to help illustrate the seriousness of the point. The happy endings prevent us from learning the appropriate lesson. The tale’s interpretation that has meaning for me is that the little girl lost her feet, her freedom, because she gave in to poor, shiny substitutes to her own creative license. Her homemade red shoes had been taken from her, and also her freedom as she is given food, clean clothes, new shoes and other comforts. Shiny red shoes become her obsession. But the shoes dance away with her in them and she cannot stop dancing until her feet are chopped off.
Red Shoes
We accept comforts and addictions rather than what we really need. We use

food to feel satisfied

alcohol and screens to feel numb and pass the time

attention-seeking to feel worthy

work to feel important

serving others so we can feel needed

and these things become poor replacements that drive us dancing toward physical or spiritual death. We lose ownership of our own life, our ability to stop the dance of substitutions and get back to what is real.

The prescription for recovery is to spend time with ourselves, and to spend time in the company of those we can be ourselves with. My previous post about Care of the Soul discusses some of these ways to spend time with yourself, as suggested by Thomas Moore in his book Care of the Soul. My next post will discuss the more day-to-day ways we can monitor our “self” and take care of our “self.”

Care of the Soul

I recently finished reading what can be described as an instruction manual for the care of the soul. The author argues convincingly that we have focused for far too long on the physical and scientific aspects of caring for ourselves and have neglected our souls. From doctors and prescriptions to productivity gurus and psychologists, all of these experts have essentially short-changed us by focusing on problems and solutions and not spending time discussing the deeper meaning to those things that ail us and our cultures.

When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.

Living our daily life is an art whose aim is not to avoid suffering but simply to live that life itself. Focusing on accomplishing as much as possible, making as much money as possible, minimizing our discomfort and achieving great heights of power do not bring that sense of satisfaction. We get that (we are told) by developing an understanding of ourselves, seeking spiritual succor through history, ritual, self acceptance and awareness.

We remain consistently captivated and distracted by those things that seem instantly comforting. But turning away and giving the soul it’s time and space may be what’s needed to stay seated within the base of our own power. When we distract ourselves, treat our soul’s cries with remedies rather than redemption, we lie to ourselves.

Thomas Moore continues,

One day I would like to make up my own DSM-111 with a list of “disorders” I have seen in my practice. For example, I would want to include the diagnosis “psychological modernism,” an uncritical acceptance of the values of the modern world. It includes blind faith in technology, inordinate attachment to material gadgets and conveniences, uncritical acceptance of the march of scientific progress, devotion to the electronic media, and a life-style dictated by advertising.

He shares in detail too long to explain here how to orchestrate our soul’s escape from the prison of postmodern life. I found the book inspiring with examples from myth and art on how to keep cultivating sacredness and depth.