What does taking care of yourself mean to you? When someone tells you “take care,” what does that mean? Eating a lot of things I like? Lying about watching never-ending reruns of my favorite TV show? Retail therapy running up the credit cards?
I want you to suspend your beliefs in this area for long enough to consider this from the ground up. Anyone who has actually committed to this program by daily practice, meditating daily (even 5 minutes a day), radiating compassion, and regular visualizations of the perfect ….. needs to get rewarded. How this happens is the subject of our question. Taking care of yourself. What does this mean?
Think of yourself as a baby. Every need had to be provided by others. Learning was coached. Rewards or punishments came from others. Runners, swimmers and ball players have coaches. Students have advisors, teachers and mentors. At this point in your life you can hire a coach, advisor or mentor. But what should that person do to reward you?
An answer to this question helps make your practice sustainable and your life happier. Many people have sadness or anger or feelings of lack when thinking back on childhood and adolescence. They feel they were not guided with the love and nurturing they needed. This is almost a universal experience. Looked at from the other side, parents and teachers and others want to do the best but are limited by their awareness, knowledge and experiences. So this dissatisfaction with how we are parented exists but blaming the inadequately prepared parents who feel the same hurt and dissatisfaction from their youth gets us nowhere.
As you meditate you come to know a part of yourself that is quiet, watchful, pure awareness. This center, your authentic nature, observes thoughts arising but is not the thinker. You may even start to discern that thoughts and feelings arise from different personality aspects. One part of you loves chocolate and wants to eat all the chocolate in the world. One part of you judges the other parts with moral statements, “You’re bad. You’re weak. It is bad for you to eat a whole mess of chocolate.” Meditation shows us how to mentally pick up each thought like a pretty stone found in the stream, look it over, and then let it go.
The different aspects of the personality laid bare in meditation shows you answers to these questions though. What does “taking care of yourself” mean? Why wasn’t I taken care of like I needed and wanted to be as a child? The answer is this. Your mind’s capability to have these different personality aspects allows you to discover a personality aspect of a coach or mentor. This inner coach can parent the rest of you in a loving way and learn to take care of yourself. You may have even done this for others but might not think of doing it for yourself.
When you start to think of things this way it may make it more obvious what taking care of yourself means.
Exercise: Find a quiet place to sit. Get in your chosen meditation posture. Focus on your breath. Count your breath and allow the mind to settle for several minutes. Now work through the following steps:
- Visualize yourself in workout clothes with a whistle and a ball cap. See your sneakers.
- Now see your athlete and think about all the things (fill in your name here) has done. Yes, you are the coach but you are looking at an athlete that is you as well. Look at the athlete as if he/she is another person.
- List the things that (fill in your name here) has done that are steps toward self awareness. List the things that (fill in your name here) has done on the yoga practice. List anything that has moved him/her closer to a goal, closer to equanimity, or closer to joy.
- Say congratulations! Great job! Tremendous work! Atta boy! Atta girl!
- Allow your mind to settle and focus on your breath for a while. When you are ready, come back to the room.
You can do this meditation regularly and that’s great! You can also use it to investigate what would be good rewards to give yourself on a daily basis that will help you feel taken care of, rewarded, loved, and generally parented. Examples:
- A pat on the back.
- A few kind words: “Great job.”
- A piece of chocolate.
- A visit with a good friend.
- A nap.
- A clean car, area, locker.
- A favorite food.
- A walk on the beach or somewhere different.
- A visit to the park or anywhere different.
- A yoga class or anything physical – endorphins.
- Healthy food.
- Enough rest.
- Clean clothes.
- Get that health problem looked at.
- Time in a quiet spot to write that book chapter (this one) you want to write.
- Time with your child, parent, spouse, friend.
- Read something that feeds your soul.
- Make your own list…
Write your list of rewards, coaching affirmations and care actions down on paper. Write 100 of them or more. Pretend you are rewarding another person who is an Olympic athlete. Once you have your list, start to do some every day. There are no restrictions. All the guidance comes from thinking of yourself as coach.
As you do this you can check and say: “Is this for (fill in your name here)’s long term good?” “Does this make (fill in your name here) want to move forward in a good way?” Will this make (fill in your name here) healthier and happier?
If you find yourself writing down I love chocolate cake so I will have a piece of chocolate cake today to celebrate this day this is probably a fine coaching reward. If you find yourself saying I love mocha-choka-frappacino latte drinks at six bucks a pop so I will drink three a day (or three an hour) so I will always feel good until my money is all gone and I am fat and my teeth fall out then this might not be a coaching statement for you.
The key is there are no rules. There is a practice. Do the meditation. Become the coach. Write the list. Do the things on the list for yourself. Do at least one reward a day. Do the coaching statements all the time. Journal the results from time to time. Recognize your great work. You are becoming your own parent. You are becoming the loving, compassionate parent you always wanted. Have fun! Lot’s of fun and joy!
This fun and joy is infectious. It will spread to the people around you. You will become a coach to others simply by displaying your attitude. You are raising your vibration! You are appreciating yourself. You are reinforcing all your good work. Go team!
One more thing. Don’t turn this into making a list of all the things you haven’t done and saying “You need to do these things and get going.” If you have only done one thing, then reward yourself for that and keep doing that one thing. Watch what happens.