Self-care is a buzzy buzz word, but I’ve read some insightful commentaries that suggest it’s an extremely unhelpful term when you’re indigenous, because there is no self-care without community. Your wellness is so directly linked to the health of your community. I don’t think this is a uniquely indigenous experience… I just think indigenous communities are more in tune with this fundamental truth. Dr Gabor Mate speaks quite beautifully about it. Speaking at a virtual summit this year on Trauma, Dr Mate shared this rather radical thought: relationships shape our biology. Everything we interact with helps shape our physiology. And in turn, we each impact the physiology of others. For us to be alert in this world means connecting to feelings, to get back into our bodies, connect with ourselves – and then we can impact the wellness and wholeness of the community around us. We also have to understand that we are striving to do this in a system, that is really set up to make us powerless, not matter how awake and enlightened we are – so when and where we have the capacity, we need to be dismantling and rebuilding the system, improving it, making it kinder and more responsive.
So, self-compassion seems to me to be a fundamental building block for all manner of wellness – from evening out the edges of a rough time, to advocating for structural change, to helping attune the nervous systems of your loved ones by being grounded in kindness.
In chapter 5 of the Tolerance for Uncertainty workbook, Dr Sachiko Nagasawa writes that “Taking care of yourself is essential in this moment of great global instability.” We need to practice activating the body’s “soothe system”, to calm our response to threat or drive. The kindness of others can stimulate the soothe system – (and so here is a huge shout-out to those who have ninja’d friends or neighbours or the kids in their building complex with secret santa parcels and little gestures of kindness… that is huge medicine, not just for the recipient, but also for the random person who reads about it on facebook and thinks, it’s going to be okay, the world is still full of love and goodness.)
Dr Kristin Neff is the guru of self-compassion – read her book or listen to her TED talk to learn more about this science… or, sign up for Susan Reifer’s meditation classes for 2021 through the Whistler Public Library (they’re free! and virtual!), because the practice of meditation is actually a very practical example of meeting yourself in kindness, as Dr Neff says, “learning to be a good friend to ourselves when we need it most.”
How do you do that? You just notice. Kindly. Curiously. Without judging.
As the poet John O’Donohoe wrote so beautifully in his poem, For One Who is Exhausted, A Blessing:
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself…
You can click back on past posts:
1. understanding emotional distress
to learn about these concepts, or download the workbook for yourself here: https://www.baypsychology.ca/workshops)