Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Putting yourself first

Photo credit: spaceodissey/ Flickr Creative Commons
I think in our culture, we often believe that putting ourselves first is selfish, egotistical, wrong. This in spite of a lot of big talk about "looking out for number one." (Talk which is usually problematic in other ways, but I don't want to go there right now.) We give so little respect and value to our own needs, our own lives. We put the needs of our loved ones before our own, and we put the needs of our jobs: the needs of our superiors, our subordinates, our peers and our clients before our own. Maybe we realize that this is not working, and we try to put aside a portion of each day for self-care, or we try to assert our right to say no.

I've been thinking about this a lot because I've been on a journey, the last two years, of learning to say yes to myself. Like so many things, it's a little easier said than done. The how and when to put your own needs first is difficult. It's not that you want to ignore the needs of others. It's just that you need to be well and balanced yourself in order to truly give and support the others around you. Too few of us in this culture are well and balanced these days, in my opinion. I know this because when I meet someone who is, that person stands out.

I wanted to pass on a teaching from one of my teachers, Susan Marcus. (Susan has so much wisdom to share, and I'm excited to see her own studio, Studio Peace, coming into being. Check it out.) Last week in class, it seemed like everyone was hurting in one way or another. Susan took the opportunity to talk about how injury reminds us that we need to respect and care for our bodies. Then she said, "I often think that if everyone took care of themselves the way women do when they're pregnant, how much healthier we'd all be. Just think about what would happen if we all took as much responsibility for our own lives in our bodies as we do when we have another life within us."

I'm at the age where a large percentage of my friends are either pregnant or have just had a baby, so I've seen it happen. Women get pregnant, and they stop drinking so much coffee. They stop drinking alcohol and/or smoking. They start eating their fruits and vegetables, they take their supplements, and they start drinking enough water. They work less overtime and they're dedicated to making time for their yoga class.

Why are we willing to make profound life changes to protect the life of our child, but we are not willing to make the same changes to protect the body - the one and only body - we were given in this life? Why are we not willing to make those same changes for ourselves, when they improve our happiness and our sense of well-being? I'm saying "we" here because I'm just as guilty as the next person. Stop drinking coffee?

So I've been playing with this idea a little bit. There's this spark of divinity in this body. This body is all it has. How can I care for it? It makes it a little easier not to make excuses, a little easier to step onto my mat every day and eat my veggies and drink water and meditate. The life within me. The light within me. Ahimsa applies to me, too.

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