Coming Out: Self Care and Slowing Down

A few months ago I picked up a little book that caught my fancy: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Daily Rituals

Aside from just being a fun, voyeuristic look at the practical schedules of brilliant artists from Toulouse Lautrec to Franz Kafka, Agatha Christie to George Balanchine, this book points to a single truth:

The most productive artists scheduled an astonishing amount of down time. Sure, Lautrec and others filled that down-time with all types of debauchery, but most of them scheduled that time for activities that were quietly and rather wholesomely self-indulgent: Two-hour walks. Midday naps. Reading . . . lots of reading. Silence. Passive music listening. It made me wonder if they were onto something.

For most mothers, when we hear the term “self-care” we smirk. (As if I had the time! As if I had the money! As if that were even allowed!) And more often than not, we feel a blend of shame and guilt when we finally do something nice for ourselves. The simple act of lying down with a book and a cup of tea in the middle of the day can feel like an act of treason, punishable by death.

And yet… when I’ve taken what I now call my micro-vacations, I come back from that 20 minutes with renewed energy and a much better sense of perspective. I began to wonder, privately, I might add – how I might begin to take better care of myself. Weekly spa appointments weren’t possible, and checking myself into Miraval a few times a year wasn’t feasible either.

Subversive Self-Care

In researching what smart gals out there were saying about self-care, here’s what I learned:

  • Circle of Peeps. Recently, someone was really hurting me with casually placed cruel remarks, and as I was venting to a friend, she said, “Why are you giving your power away to this woman? Is she even in the inner circle?” How often I replay and worry over slights or comments that come from people who are NOT on the short list of people I love (and who love me) most. So I got off the phone, and drew my circles. Me at the center, then my husband, then my kids, then my parents, then my best friends, then my close friends/coworkers, then the women who I feel a wonderful connection with but don’t know very well yet, and then “everyone else.” It turned out that the people who cause me the MOST grief weren’t even close to the inner circles. That realization alone gave me a whole new way of evaluating how I spend my time.
  • Physical Self Care. I have always put exercise—even just slowly walking my dog — in the “nice to have” category. These are the first things to fall off my to-do list. But when I looked through this lens of self-care I saw that a good 45-minute walk to the park with Ellis meant I couldn’t be on Facebook – there simply wasn’t enough time for both. I realized I had been settling for social media instead of really living life: feeling the sun on my skin, hearing my dog’s grateful steady panting as we walked in the direction of his dreams (he’s got a low bar--our local park is his Miraval). This small act, for reasons unknown to me, is incredibly grounding and peaceful. When my mind is grounded and at peace, I think more clearly. I’m not as reactive to every inbound email. I make better choices. Now, I begin every day by doing something physical, not just because I know I should, but because it makes me so much more productive later on. Who knew a slow walk, with a hot cup of coffee and a 90lb golden retriever could improve your financial bottom line? Turns out, it REALLY does.
  • Drive-By Indulgence. I stole this one right from an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on her radio show. In response to a caller who was feeling guilty over her love of chocolate, Dr. Northrup said, listen, if you need chocolate to be happy, make it an indulgence ritual. Really taste it. Live inside of your taste buds for those few minutes. Breathe. Smell it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What are the layers of flavors? You’ll feel like you’ve been to Maui by the time that chocolate is done. The same goes for a glass of wine. If you pour it, really let yourself enjoy it. I found this advice so utterly wonderful that now on my daily to-do list I have a special section called “Indulgence.” Today, this is what is on my list: 1) Meditate; 2) Walk the dog; 3) Listen to a book on the way to San Francisco; My full to-do list probably has 12 things on it. But those three are at the top, and at most they eat up 45 minutes of the work day. I easily lose that much time in mindlessly cruising the Interwebs. By allowing myself these drive-by indulgences, I’m less likely to rebel against and bail on the other items on the to-do list.

So, now that I’m out of the closet and publicly owning my Self-Care routine, I can say, it’s the best I’ve felt in years. I’m better focused, I’m kinder to my kids and my husband, and I feel a strong sense of actually living my life, instead of constantly feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Ladies, I think he was onto something.