Sustainability and Self Care – 7 Ways to Listen to Yourself
Sustainability is not only the act of living an eco friendly lifestyle. It is also the ability to be sustainable inside ourselves so we can enter into our work in the world without burning out.
As women, I feel this is especially pertinent right now. Our society is so fast paced and there is so much pressure to look a certain way, to appear calm, collected, confident, beautiful. In other words to have our shit together. We must always be achieving, externally producing and exhibiting our success.
There is very little emphasis placed on examining our feelings, our needs and our internal landscape. There is very little space for us to be messy and to allow ourselves to safely fall apart.
So when the question of Self Care arises, the response is often – how?
I know that was my response when I burned out and knew I couldn’t continue to go on the way I had been.
A year ago I was paralyzed by anxiety. It felt as though the whole of my life experiences were concentrated at the center of my body like a tangled knot. The more I tried to pick apart the knot, the tighter it got until I couldn’t try anymore and just collapsed in exhaustion.
That collapse was the hardest moment because I had no choice but to accept my anxiety. I accepted that I needed to give it space to just be instead of trying to do everything in my power to “fix it” and avoid it. I just sank into the intensity and messiness of feeling it. In that moment I felt like it was going to consume me and that I would die.
But then something beautiful and miraculous happened. In fully letting my anxiety be the buzzing, humming chaos of pain that it was, I was pulled through the experience to the other side. In one moment it was the death of all the ways of being that no longer served me, but also in the same instance a rebirth.
The scariest part about that time was the feeling that I didn’t know what I needed to do to feel safe inside myself. I didn’t know how to get my needs met on any level. In other words I didn’t trust myself.
What I realized was that I wasn’t listening to myself. How could I possibly know what my needs were if I wasn’t even listening to begin with?
This past year has been the process of me learning how to listen to myself. Not in the way that other people think I should. Not how society thinks I should, but in a way that allows me to access my deepest inner voice – my intuition. My soul.
I want to share with you seven ways that have helped me come back to myself. Maybe they will resonate with you, too!
Step 1 – Listen to your body
Our bodies are so wise. And they carry so much for us! All of our experiences in some way are somatically stored in different parts of the body.
We are not taught to listen to them. We are taught to ignore them, to push ourselves, and slap pain pills, sleeping pills, caffeine and sugar on top of all the symptoms so we can keep pushing.
I did this for many years. Especially in New York when I was working a full time nannying job and trying to figure out how to be a professional opera singer. I pushed myself and pushed myself and never for a moment stopped to think that maybe I felt awful because my body was trying to tell me something.
When I was twenty, I had a terrible rock climbing accident that shattered my left wrist and broke my back. I have fully recovered, but I was in denial for a long time about how much that experienced damaged my body.
That trauma lay dormant, causing much of my anxiety and depression and I never took the time to ask my body what was wrong!
As I have started to listen, much of the trauma has passed through. Connecting to my breath has been so much help in this. So has mindful movement, such as 5Rhythms, ecstatic dance and yoga.
What are some ways you know that help you get into your body?
Often as we fully get into our bodies, those traumas that we have suppressed start to arise. That is a good and natural thing! But it can also be terrifying and painful.
Step 2 – Foster internal gentleness
When those traumas start to arise, the immediate response is often to block it out, not to feel it. When we do allow ourselves to feel it, it can be scary and overwhelming. At first, I felt my trauma so intensely I almost couldn’t cope with it. I had to learn how to cultivate internal gentleness so that I knew I was safe during those times of intense feeling.
This is the practice of Self Love. I think this is the hardest part of all.
For a long time I felt that I wasn’t worthy of my own love, that I didn’t deserve gentleness inside myself. To be honest, there was a part of myself that found me despicable, repulsive almost. I am almost ashamed to admit it. But it’s true.
What I realized is that response to myself was my Shadow coming to the surface. During the course of our lives when we are met with rejection, we often also reject parts of ourselves. The goal of Self Love is to call those parts of us into consciousness and instead of continuing to reject them, to envelop them in love.
Easier said than done.
But I tried. I just gave it my best shot. And eventually I started to develop something beyond my pain that could hold me in those moments. Like an internal Mother figure of total compassion and wisdom. I am learning how to access her in those moments when my inner child is totally terrified and in pain.
Letting myself cry fully and completely without judgement helps so much. Our tears can be like a cleansing rain if we let them.
This is me showing up for myself. This is me not abandoning myself, and what has happened is that I’ve started to trust myself.
For further resources check out Inner Bonding by Dr. Margaret Paul – it helped me so much!
In what ways are you being asked to foster internal gentleness and Self Love in your life right now?
Step 3 – Ask for Support
Cultivating the ability to give yourself support is crucial, but so is asking for support from others. This can also be hard. I know for myself that it is scary as hell to be vulnerable to others in moments of pain and anxiety.
I was terrified that the intensity I was experiencing would scare others away. Maybe it did scare some people away. But the right people stayed. In that I am so grateful to my husband! He has come through for me in such a profoundly deep way. His ability to sit with me when I am sad and scared has proved to me time and again why he is the man that I want to spend the rest of my life with.
It is unfair, however, to expect my romantic partner to be the sole confidant in this pain and difficulty. I was in therapy for a long time as well.
I also developed an extremely close friendship with another woman who is going through something similar. Her comfort just by listening to me has been incredibly healing! So has the act of being there for her, creating the symbiosis of giving back. This is the kind of sisterhood I am actively cultivating in my life.
And I am also extremely lucky to have supportive parents who have been there for me during the most tumultuous of times.
It is in our solitude that the mind can play tricks on us. When we start to share our experience with others we realize we are not alone in this! We are all human, and all share the messiness of trying to navigate the intensity of being a feeling being.
Who are two or three people you can rely on to be there for you without judgement?
Step 4 – Boundaries
Boundaries are essential because it is literally Self Care in action. For a long time I had no boundaries and was a total push over. In my relationships I fell into the caretaker role where I put my own needs aside because it was easier than admitting I didn’t know how to take care of myself.
In my professional life I let people take advantage of me because I gave my whole heart to everything and didn’t have the ability to say no.
In order to develop boundaries, I had to feel that I deserved to have them. I had to realize that I am allowed to take up space in the world. I deserve to rest when I need to rest. I deserve to say no to that party or that concert if I want to. I deserve to take space from my husband when I want to be alone.
What happened was that I started standing up for myself. I started saying no. I started listening to my internal rhythms. I started to get back my sense of self.
I think much of my anxiety was due to lack of boundaries because no matter where I was I felt vulnerable. Developing solid boundaries helps me to feel secure in myself, and therefore secure in the world and around others. I am able to define what is my experience and what belongs to others.
(To read more on this topic check out my post My Life as an Empath).
In my relationship, solid boundaries have allowed my husband and I to each individually get our needs met separately from each other so that when we are together we can cherish it and truly be present with one another.
Boundaries rule! Seriously.
In what ways are you feeling called to develop boundaries in your life?
Step 5 – Set aside time for abstract thought
This has started to happen only in the last couple of months. I realized that much of my anxiety was due to the fact that I never allowed myself to slow down and just be. I was constantly doing, and if I was just being, I was beating myself up about not doing.
So I started setting aside an evening every week where I take a bath. I light candles, I put in Epsom salts and essential oils, I have my computer and my journal beside the tub, and I just relax in the hot water.
Sometimes I watch a movie or show. Often I just listen to music and let the thoughts ebb and flow. So many creative ideas and downloads have come through!
This time feels selfishly delicious. It is time utterly to myself where I don’t have to talk to anyone or feel pressured to do or be anything.
What does setting aside time for abstract thought look like to you?
Step 6 – Be creative for yourself
There is so much pressure to share everything we create, to prove how successful and talented we are, especially on Instagram and other social media outlets. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but at the same time it is so important that our creativity be in alignment with our souls.
That’s why creating solely for myself has become so important. It has allowed me to stop thinking about the way it looks on the outside, how other people will perceive it, or even how marketable it is, and has allowed me to drop into the messages sent to me by my soul. Getting in touch with those messages allows us to embody our deepest authenticity and is the essence of our medicine for the world.
I was caught up for so many years in what the world expected of me that I never gave myself the time or space to create just for myself. This process of learning to trust myself has carved out so much space inside to truly get in touch with what I want to create and then to feel good when I sit down to create it.
Right now I am writing a book. No one has seen it. It is coming from such a deep place inside me that I just want to give it room to develop how it wants to. The process of writing this book just for myself is making me feel more in touch with myself than ever. It feels like magic!
What is it that you want to create just for yourself?
Step 7 – Create harmony inside you and around you
This is maybe a little abstract because it looks different for everyone. For me it looks like having a clean living space that I perceive to be beautiful. When my space is clean and beautiful, I feel inherently less chaotic inside. It helps me to be in my body and to let my body become a loving container for my soul.
I created a writing and meditation cave in the supposed walk in closet of our one bedroom apartment. It’s tiny, but it’s mine. I put all my favorite things in it, and made it beautiful to myself. Whenever I go into that space, I can feel my own energy enveloping me. It reminds me of who I am and helps me to access loving kindness in myself.
In turn, I try to foster harmony in my relationship. Not to say conflict doesn’t happen, but the difference is when I take responsibility for myself, and my husband takes responsibility for himself, we never put our crap on each other, and the conflict is just another opportunity to grow together.
When there is harmony and gentleness surrounding me, I feel much more able to be present with my anxiety when it arises. I feel supported by myself and my space.
How can you create harmony in your life, either in your living space, your relationships, or in other areas?
Self Love and Self Care isn’t always easy. In fact it’s extremely difficult! But I believe it is vastly important in creating a life of true alignment and sustainability.
I believe it is also the first step in being able to start practicing a zero waste lifestyle because it is much easier to address our global impact once we are centered and grounded in our own lives.
Actively practicing Self Care and learning how to embrace Self Love has been instrumental in recovering from my anxiety. Not only that but it is allowing me the ability to get clear on how I want to enter into my work in the world in an authentic way. We all have medicine to share with the world, but first we must let that medicine work on ourselves.
How are you currently practicing Self Care? What is empowering you? What are you struggling with? I am here for you and would love to hear! Either share in the comments below or write me an email if it feels too personal to share publicly. firstname.lastname@example.org