Ashley burst into tears within a few moments of sitting down in my office. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I have a loving husband and two precious children. I work out a lot and I eat well–at least most of the time. I have really great girlfriends although I never get enough time with them. I just don’t know who I am any more…and I don’t know where I lost myself.”
It didn’t take long for Ashley and I to uncover the source of her despair. Like so many of us, the noisiness of all the external demands of life had drowned out the needs of Ashley’s inner voice. She was taking quite good care of herself on the outside but simultaneously ignoring her emotional vulnerability, her desire for quiet alone time, and her connection to her soul.
One of the most important lessons I have had to learn (often the hard way)–and continue to teach the many parents who come for counseling–is how important it is to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others. I often use the metaphor of a garden because even the most beautiful garden, if left unattended, will eventually wither and die.
Just as plants need water, healthy soil and regular weeding, so do budding humans need care and attention in order to thrive. Perhaps this seems obvious (as truth often does), but most of us get so caught up in taking care of the kids, the house, the job and all the other responsibilities of daily life that we simply forget ourselves or run out of time to listen to the crying of our soul’s deep inner longings.
“Scarcity of self value cannot be remedied by money, recognition, affection, attention or influence.” ~Gary Zukav
Most of us know by now–and are constantly reminded by self-help literature and blogs–that we need to tend to our physical bodies in order to remain strong, healthy and happy. We know that we should get regular exercise, eat well, and sleep eight hours a night. Many people are unable to accomplish this due to the incessant demands of work and family, but physical self-care is at least on our radar.
But this is only half of what it takes to feel happy. The rest is an inside job. If we do not truly love ourselves and make time to listen to the small quiet voice within, we can look good on the outside but feel empty, depressed or at worst, remain full of self-loathing. What can we do to water our deepest roots?
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~Jean Shinoda Bolen
Tip #1: Slow down long enough to savor sweet moments rather than rushing to the next thing to do.
Find a time each day when you can create a ritual of listening within. Think of a time when you are alone if only for five or ten minutes. This is going to be your daily check-in time. Create a sanctuary in your home or backyard or nearby park where you can find quiet or listen to the sounds of nature. Ask yourself in these quiet moments, what nourishes my soul?
Take a few deep breaths and allow the daily residue of tension to flow out of your body as you breathe into your belly. Are you hungry or full? Do you need to stretch out some muscles? Thank your body for helping you get through your busy day. Ask yourself, what does my body need to feel more alive?
Tip #3: Notice what you are feeling and allow your feelings to emerge without judging them.
Often, when we get in touch with ourselves after being out of touch, we feel “worse” before we begin to feel better. This is because we have spent so much time attuned to the outer world that our feelings have often built up inside and are ready to be released. Allow yourself to cry if you need to. Lean into your feelings rather than shoving them away. Ask yourself, what are my feelings telling me about what I need to feel more peaceful?
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Tip #4: Take a moment each day to acknowledge your accomplishments and appreciate yourself for all that you are and all that you are trying to be.
When you hear the self-critical voice that reprimands you for everything you are NOT doing, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, and that no one ever gets it all done. Although it is much easier to feel good about yourself when your outside world is in order, our ultimate goal is not to be a human doing but a kind and loving human being. Notice and appreciate yourself for any small steps in the right direction.
Make this learning process something that you enjoy rather than a chore. Ask yourself questions to get to know what is going on deep inside you. Allow the answers to your questions to emerge over time. You might find answers in dreams, embedded in a book that you are reading, through prayer or meditation, or through signs you see in nature. Cherish the answers even when they scare you. Be patient when the answers don’t come right away. Keep track of who you are becoming.
What does your garden look like now? What do you want it to look like a year from now or five years from now? What colors do you cherish? What birds and animals come to your sanctuary? What changes do the seasons bring? Is it sculptured and tidy or wild and overgrown?
Begin today to build this garden in your imagination. This is your safe haven, your place of quiet, your deep inner world. There is no other garden like it in the whole world. Nothing in the outer world has the capacity to affect it. It is always there even when you get to busy to visit. It will always be there…waiting.