It’s time to stop saying “especially now…”, move beyond superficial approaches to self-care, and get to the heart of what really matters.
I’m writing this on the first big snow day of the year in Colorado in the USA. It’s October, 2020.
My country is in the run-up to a hotly contested presidential election during what has been called a cold civil war. We are experiencing an uncontrolled and deadly pandemic, rampant disinformation and collective gaslighting, unrest and protest in response to police violence and racial injustice, and record-breaking wildfires and other symptoms of the climate crisis.
And these are just the highlights on my mind right now.
The internet is flourishing with memes that describe 2020 as the worst, most stressful, overwhelming, and apocalyptic year ever.
All year long, every email or announcement or message has seemed to be prefaced with some phrase like:
“In these uncertain times…”
“In these unprecedented times…”
“We need to _____ now more than ever.”
“We need to _____, especially now.”
There seems to be an unchallenged notion that 2020 is different, is the worst, and requires some greater level of action or reflection or self-care than has ever been required before. I have found myself also repeating the above phrases, and yet every time the words leave my mouth I can’t help but question them.
Is 2020 really any worse or any different?
In some ways, yes. For those of us billed as “millennials” in the U.S.A, and who enjoyed relative peace and privilege in our youth, there are indeed a lot of high-stress events happening that we have never experienced in our lifetimes. On the other hand, corruption, racism, and even pandemics are not new. I will certainly grant that modern technology and communications shape our world in an unprecedented way, and the climate crisis is an unprecedented existential threat. But at the same time, these bigger themes of uncertainty, change, suffering, illness, and death are timeless and have always been fundamental contemplations of humanity.
This morning as I sipped my coffee, I scanned my bookshelf for some source of guidance in these “turbulent times” and reached for a 2007 book titled Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Non-Violence in Religious Traditions. In its introduction, professor and theologian Daniel L. Smith-Christopher challenges this idea that “Everything is different now…”
“Different for whom? Can we be so narrow in our perspective, so self-centered, so ill-informed? This popular phrase, heard not only from the American media but just as prominently from American politicians, can be interpreted to imply that the times are “different” because now we are the ones who have suffered; I am the one who feels vulnerable. “Everything is different now” presents a questionable claim that some peoples ought to be, somehow, exempt from the innocent suffering of humanity throughout history.” (p.xviii)
“In our moments of suffering, it is part of our responsibility to know that we are not the only ones who suffer loss; we are not the only ones who are frightened or have been frightened. Perhaps a road that is far too little traveled is the road that leads to greater understanding of the fear and suffering of our fellow humans throughout the world. … Furthermore, persisting in our thinking that everything has changed suggests that old rules no longer apply, that old moral visions or ancient ethics of love and compassion are no longer valid.” (p. xx)
“Human suffering is as great as it has always been. … One of the most troubling aspects of the phrase “Everything is different now” is the implication that we are somehow released from the guidance and wisdom of the ages.” (p. xxi-xxii)
As we encounter human suffering in the present, modern moment, we must recognize it as not something unique and different, but something ancient and pervasive that we share with each other and with all humans before us.
So, what I want to offer today is not another article on the importance of self-care, or grounding, or how to limit doom scrolling, or tips on sleep, exercise, or how to talk to those relatives (though don’t get me wrong, these all have great benefits). I want to talk about returning to our core values. A self-care routine is only going to do so much if we don’t have a foundation of deeper underlying values, wisdom, and integrity on which to stand.
For me, this year has brought my core values into the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. What do I believe about my purpose here? What things are true and meaningful? How do I want to spend my time? With whom do I want to spend my time? These questions are not about what is important now in these uncertain times, but about what is important always. What are those fundamental pieces of wisdom that are solid enough for us to rest our minds and hearts and actions upon not just in 2020 but across time and place?
When the ground underneath of us feels shaky, perhaps the question to ask is not “how do I take care of myself?” but “what is important to me?”
Everyone has their own backgrounds, faiths, and cultures to draw from when reflecting on these questions.
Your answers will likely be different than mine.
If you’re feeling ungrounded, and this line of inquiry resonates with you, I invite you to use the following reflections to start to identify, articulate, and return to what really matters:
1) Embodied Reflection: First, notice how you are feeling right now, in your body and in your emotions. Take a few slow breaths, and notice sensations in your body, especially in our heart or gut. Notice, without story or judgment, how your body is responding to what you’ve just read. Sit for a few minutes, letting your attention rest on your breath, and allowing any and all feelings to just be there. Now ask yourself: “What is most important to me right now?” Take a few more breaths (or sit as long as you like) before you answer that question with thoughts. When you’re ready, take a pen and paper and allow yourself to write stream-of-consciousness for a few minutes. Keep noticing your sensations and emotions as you do. What do you find?
Having a hard time with this exercise? Click HERE for a free practice and worksheet for building awareness of body sensations.
2) Real Life Assessment: Often our values are already reflected in our lives. Take a look around your space, maybe your bedroom, living room, or anywhere else you spend a lot of time. What do you see there? Make a list of what things take up the most space. Do you notice a lot of books? Art supplies? Family photos? Open space for yoga or dance? Space devoted to your partner or kids or pets? Also notice which items bring you a sense of calm, joy, or purpose.
Now take a look at your schedule, maybe for this week. How do you spend most of your time? Make a list of what activities take up the most time (including things in your free time that might not be listed on a calendar). Are your days filled with particular people? Work? Hobbies? Also notice which items bring you a sense of calm, joy, or purpose.
What themes do you notice across these two lists? How does your current use of time and space reflect what is important to you? How might you orient more around those things that bring you a sense of calm, joy, and purpose?
3) Mentors and People of Wisdom: Since the challenges and questions we face today are not new, we have the benefit of turning towards the values and wisdom passed on by our teachers and mentors. Answer the following questions with journaling, movement, or art:
- Who do you look up to or respect? This could be a person in the present or past, a well known figure or a personal connection.
- What does that person teach or embody? What have you learned from them so far?
- What philosophies, religious traditions, sciences, faiths, or other systems of meaning do you respect, resonate with, practice, or feel drawn to?
- What does that belief system teach or embody? What have you learned from it so far?
Now take a pause here. Take a few breaths, and notice how you feel in your body and emotions in response to what you’ve written or reflected on. Pay special attention to sensations in your heart or gut. Notice if there’s any particular aspect of this that you feel especially drawn toward.
Next, Identify a next step for yourself: How might you connect more closely with one of the people or ideas that you came up with? This might take the form of a book, a phone call, or even a youtube search.
As a dance/movement therapist, I am passionate about using somatic practices to help my clients identify and align with their core values and authentic sense of self. If you would like support in this process, please reach out for a free consultation.