TMMW 5: Self-Care Is Not Optional

What is Active Self Care and How Can I Get Some?

You know this, but I’ll say it anyway: The default setting on the machine of western civilization is “neurotic.”

We’re over-medicated (thanks in part to medical studies funded by drug companies), overworked (thanks to our cultural fabric being steeped in some weird post-industrial quasi-puritan philosophical koolaid), and over-entertained (2.5 hours daily social media spend, 3 hours daily quality-time-with-television).

Don’t take this as mere grumpy diatribe. I’m including myself in the overworked part. I’m obsessed with growing and going deeper, although this is not always in my best interest. The default setting on SLW is “I’m working.” I struggle with the dialectic between “I’m overwhelmed” and “I’m following my bliss.” In between the two is a delicious flow state where I’m operating just beyond my edge.

What has often trapped me is when I externalize my value center, looking to something outside myself — a relationship, an achievement, some measure of worth — to convince me that life is worth living.

Man versus world

Such outward striving can lead to results, yet can also be isolating, even self-alienating, when it is misunderstood to be a life purpose.

My observation (and experience) have shown me that a person’s true calling or purpose tends to be like peeling an onion. A person’s purpose is absolutely worth striving for provided that it’s understood to be a mere phase of the game. This is not idle hippy talk, nor merely academic or conceptual, but a fact which can be viscerally experienced and known. Pursue your purpose until you attain it, dance with it, and it no longer compels you because it has been fulfilled, and you discover — perhaps only momentarily — that your purpose has a purpose, drawing you towards something else, something which brings you closer to the self.

Although the pursuit of purpose is supremely important for many, it does not go without saying that it makes you a healthy person. Everyone needs self-care, especially those who are strongly driven.

OK, OK. You know what the problem is. So what am I trying to sell you here?

My aim this week is to elevate the value of self-care and shed some light on how it can best be embraced.

What’s the difference between active and passive self-care?

Most of what we regard as self care falls into the category of what I’m calling “passive” self-care.

Passive self care consists of things that soothe or nurture or promote healing and tranquility: taking a spa day, or shutting off your phone and going for a leisurely bike ride to decompress. These are wonderful things, but they don’t generally appeal to the person who feels full when they are pursuing something. To them, passive self-care appears to be a distraction. Hence the value of active self-care.

Active self care, on the other hand, consists of those things that are perhaps like hobbies — they probably aren’t a vocation — or if they are, they’re done in a way that feeds the self. They’re optional in the same way that a bubble bath might be. No one will stand in your way if you opt out of pottery class, but what makes the pottery class special is that it might lead to something greater: an opening, some inspired change within the self. The magic of active self care comes from the fact that when we are leaning into something, more can happen.

I recently read this line from The Gods are Wise by Samuel Sagan:

For a split second, I found myself in a different world where sunlight shines from the inside of things.

Active self care invites that.

Active self care you can take as analogous to the actions of one who has self esteem, and so the actions that follow foster that basic foundational self worth: actions which bring us into better contact with ourselves.

Active self care extends from our daily living in the form of the necessary habits for a full life. “Full” not because jumbo-sized but because it’s actually embodied and felt.

For me, self-care requires that I do things like journal not only to check in with how I feel but also to externalize all the various stuff that fills my mind and emotions. It allows me to de-clutter inside.

Whether it’s meditation, yoga, Taoist sexual practices, or singing lessons, every person is going to have their own spectrum and combination of what self-care looks like for them.

I’m an advocate of freewriting for pretty much anyone. For most, for those of us who dream, who use language, who seek to consciously navigate life, it’s necessary to periodically objectify our inner landscape — our thoughts, current state, where we want to go, what drives us, what we’re occupied with, our doubts, to surface things that otherwise will not ever take shape because not because they are unimportant but because they haven’t been put into writing.

True self-care should be seen as non-negotiable. The blocks of time spent in self-care of this kind are simply not available to be claimed by outside factors.

The fact that we would refer to this as “me time” suggests that everything that isn’t me time is somehow “other time”. Of course it’s necessary to attend to the facts of life. The neurosis is that we have made these facts of life our entire lives, and as a result no longer really attend to ourselves with any real depth.

When demands start to fill your schedule, something always gives. If it’s self-care that gets tossed by the wayside, there’s a price to be paid.

The key skill to stay good at is the ability to get back on the horse after falling off. No judgment, simply making a return to the self.