There is a line in Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones that is especially meaningful to me: “I write because I kept my mouth shut all my life…." It is meaningful because there have been many times, too many times, too many situations in which I stayed silent when really I needed to speak up. To speak up for my needs, my safety, my desires, my boundaries, my feelings. To stand up for myself.
It's vital to know what heals us. After all, how can we compassionately care for ourselves if we don't know what calms, cures and refreshes us? The fun part is that we get to find out and experiment and essentially taste test. We get to test out different techniques, tools and habits.
I bet you know what heals your kids. I bet you know their favorite songs, their favorite books, their favorite toys, their favorite kind of soup. I bet you know exactly what they need when they're feeling sick or sad or anxious. And I bet you give it to them. Without hesitation. Without judging them for needing rest, compassion, a hug, or to cry.
Are you treating yourself like an afterthought? Like a footnote in your own story? Maybe you've been ignoring your needs. Maybe you haven't even taken the time to identify them. Maybe you've been putting everyone else first.
You yearn to be the perfect package. Thick, shiny hair. Thin, muscular frame. Razor-sharp cheekbones. Calm. Confident. Smart. A person who makes everything look effortless; who rarely gets frustrated or flustered; who has productive days every day.
Often we forget that our lives are made up of choices. Our own choices. Instead, we assume that certain things are simply non-negotiable, and we follow suit. We count our calories, watch our portions and work out at the crack of dawn because we assume that's the only way to be healthy. We drink because we assume that's the only way to celebrate and be fun. We buy a big house...
There are many things in life that we assume are mandatory, non-negotiable. We convince ourselves that we absolutely must do them. We convince ourselves that there's no other option but to say yes. Maybe we make these assumptions because we see everyone around us participating in these activities or adopting these perspectives. But we forget that we can choose to include or exclude these actions and approaches in our lives.
So many of us praise and yearn for internal change. We try to be smarter, braver, kinder. We try to be more patient and more forgiving. We try to be more assertive and maybe more adventurous. We try to cultivate our creativity and cope well with our emotions. We try to advance our careers and become better listeners. We try to learn from our missteps and mistakes.
Recently, in this article, I shared a list of 10 questions we can ask ourselves every night. Checking in with ourselves is a powerful way to practice self-care. After all, how can we care for ourselves if we don't know what we need? If we don't know what hurts, scares, motivates, and soothes us? If we don't know our dreams? If we don't know where we stand? If we don't pay attention?