“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” ― bell hooks
I have found this to be true: the better I care for myself the better I care for those I love. It’s a radical concept in light of the historical traditional view of motherhood. So many moms experience guilt when taking time for themselves. So many don’t know how to be kind to themselves. As a person who cares for the emotional and relational distress of others professionally, I have developed a heavy reliance on self-care practices out of necessity. But as a mom, it is soooo much more challenging.
In Momfulness, Denise Roy tells a lovely story of her 3-year-old daughter creating a cone hat out of a large piece of paper which she donned her “Alone Hat.” We all need space to be alone in order to be well. At the same time, we are the most well when in connection with those we love. It’s a delicate balance. For parents, contact with our little ones is inevitable, but true connection comes only through intention. The 3 weeks I intentionally and mindfully practiced enjoying my alone time at home as a part of Project Momfulness, I had the most unexpected result…I felt more connected.
Joy and Love
As I went about the normal aspects of my day, I tried to connect more deeply with myself when I was alone. Taking a stance of curiosity, I sought to discover my true motivation for doing some of the things I found myself doing. Oddly enough, I found the reason for my actions to be most often related to either joy or love. My “alone time” practice came during the weeks surround my children’s birthdays, so I had lots of alone time as I was transforming our children’s playroom into Pixie Hollow for my daughter’s 7-year-old fairy birthday party. My motivation? Joy and love. The giving of joy to my daughter who I love was part of it, but there is great joy in giving joy to others. The truth is I am most happy when I am creating. Any form of expressive creativity is self-care to me. Connecting with my true self is connecting with any form of creativity.
“In the heart or every caregiver is a knowing that we are all connected. As I do for you, I do for me.”
― Tia Walker, The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love
The True Self
My spiritual director recently challenged me to become more mindful of the false self and embrace my true self. In family therapy lingo we call this having either a “reflected sense of self” or a “solid sense of self.” In church this is the battle between flesh and spirit. So I’ve been praying lately to let go of the “false self” and be more at ease in my “true self”, or what Father Thomas Keating calls “our basic core of goodness.” The false self can be defined as being overly concerned with
- what we do
- what we have
- and what others think of us.
This is what Jesus was tempted with in the desert:
- what he could do was turn stone into bread
- what he could have as he stood on top of the mountain was all the power in the world
- and what others could think was he was brave and trusting enough to throw himself down off the temple since the angels would catch him.
Part of embracing the true self is sifting through the myths, perceptions and falsehoods accepted as truth. The problem is…it’s hard to do this when we are surrounded by those we love. As much as we wish it were not the case, the truth is we care more about others and what the others think than we do about ourselves and what we really think. Even Jesus had to get away to sort through these normal human desires.
“The greatest regret is being what others would want you to be rather than being yourself.”
― Shannon L. Alder
Being mindfully connected to my inner world is walking a path of self discovery and requires giving myself permission to really know myself…even if I don’t like what I find. Under Keating’s definition, true self is our basic goodness…it’s love, joy, kindness, and humility. The false self is what brings misery…comparing, desiring respect, feeling hurt or rejected, insecurity. The true self emerges when we feel the most alive or are the most at ease. Perhaps also when we are under the most pressure. In these moments, what we have, what we can do or what others think of us fades completely away…we are real, authentic and whole.
The most beautiful part is then taking that sense of newfound authenticity back into relationship. The result is deepened intimacy, greater connection and better relationships! There’s no need to pretend. The anxiety of revealing deeper thoughts and feelings diminishes because we see the beauty in who we were created to be. We see ourselves through the eyes of God and the grace of the cross. And if we are brave enough to stay present with ourselves when we are around those we love…then we grow. This is how practicing connecting with our true self creates TRUE connection with others.
Let it Go…
We see this concept illustrated in the wildly popular children’s film, Frozen, as Elsa continually fights against her true nature, hiding in shame, fear and isolation. When she begins to “let it go” and embrace the real Elsa, she finds herself in a different kind of solitude. She believes those she cares about are not safe around her as she really is. So she hides herself away as she wrestles with herself. Her goodness prevails and these parts of herself: the part “the cold never bothered” and the part of her that loved playing in the snow with her sister Anna come together and she discovers the path of true love.
ABCs of true self-care
There is a significant difference between solitude and self-care. While having time for myself to get a mani-pedi or a massage is great, it’s quite different from asking myself hard questions about my inner motivations and what really brings life. Here are three ABC concepts of self-care, or as I call it sometimes, soul-care, that raise the bar from just being alone to truly being with myself, so that I can then be my better self for those I love.
Bringing up images of hyper vigilant soldiers moving into a relaxed stance, these words have the power to transform us inside and out. At ease means we are in a time of peace, no need to be afraid or scared. When we tell ourselves to be at ease we ask our bodies to rest and relax. A standard phrase in a mindfulness practice is “May my body be at ease” and “may my mind be at ease.”
For Moms, finding time to nurture the body, mind and soul is like walking a tight rope 50 feet in the air while holding up 5 trays. The to-do list is never-ending, the clothes always need to be washed and mouths need to be fed. Sometimes it just feels like too much for one person to do. Balance is about doing all things in moderation, WITH effective boundaries and clear priorities. Too far to the right and self-care becomes self indulgence…too far to the left and self-care becomes either utter physical exhaustion or about self-condemnation and guilt. I struggle with balance. I like to do things 110% and while I’ve learned balancing all the things that are important is key to my wellness…it remains a daily struggle. (Project Momfulness is helping with this!)
Compassion is noticing the suffering of another and taking action to provide comfort or enact some type of change. Self-compassion is noting the suffering of oneself and taking action to provide comfort for one’s self. When we respond compassionately to ourselves we care enough to be kind instead of condemning. We moms like to judge ourselves internally…either for our failures or our successes that don’t seem good enough. Taking time to take care of ourselves physically is a step in the right direction. Learning to see ourselves differently is a kind of self-care that we can do when we are in the activity of our lives.
May embracing myself with kindness and curiosity help me discover aspects of myself to both confront and comfort. May connecting more deeply with my true self continue to bring me closer to those I love. May I have the courage to live as of my true self in the face of conflict, rejection, and fear. May the gift of joy and love experienced in motherhood bring renewed humility, grace and confidence. Amen.
“The ultimate barrier against love is the barrier of the constructed self.”
― Vironika Tugaleva, The Love Mindset
“Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self..We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves…Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness….We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality….(281) God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self. (41)”
― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
“I’m inspired by people who are their true selves and use that to do good.”
― Matthew J. Fox
“Change Yourself” doesn’t imply to be like everyone else, but to comply with everything that helps to be your true self.”
― Anuj Somany
“Many of us follow the commandment ‘Love One Another.’ When it relates to caregiving, we must love one another with boundaries. We must acknowledge that we are included in the ‘Love One Another.”
― Peggi Speers
True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril.”
― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
“We can’t turn our true selves off and on situationally and expect them to carry and sustain us. Rationing creativity results in bipolarism of the spirit. Our creativity is also our life force. When we turn it off and on like a spigot, we start to become less and less able to control the valve.”
― S. Kelley Harrell