So much of what we do through The Dragontree – both at our spas and with our products, courses, and articles – is meant to assist people to prioritize self-care. In an age when many people barely take a minute in a day for pure self-care, I’m happy to hear of any way in which someone is making space in their life for wellness. And also . . . if I could be a little nit-picky about it, I’d wish for even more Self in people’s self-care.
From talking about it with my patients, I’ve gathered that most people’s idea of self-care includes things like grooming, bathing, exercise, eating well, and perhaps reading a book in a cozy chair. These are all good and important, but it’s possible to do them without really getting to what the Self needs, and we can perform these activities without any conscious care. I’ve even known people whose die-hard approach to yoga was ultimately more stress-inducing than it was nourishing.
Care implies listening – quieting the mind and being open to understand what is needed. If someone handed you a crying child and said, “Care for this child,” you’d probably drop what you were doing – both physically and mentally – and ask something like, “What’s wrong?” Then you’d just listen. And perhaps you’d next ask, “What do you need?”
I don’t mean to imply that grooming can’t be self-care. But let’s think of self-care as comprising multiple layers. On the surface there are the things you do to maintain your appearance, your general health, your ability to function in society, and your composure – bathing, eating, sleeping, haircuts, etc. The next layer contains the deeper (or higher, if you prefer) measures of maintenance that enable you to manage your challenges and thrive. Perhaps this means taking time to forgive, to process your relationship challenges, work on your communication skills, clean up interpersonal conflicts, deactivate your buttons, define and pursue your (worldly) dreams, discipline your mind, etc. Most of this falls within the realm of “self-help.”
And then there’s an even deeper (or higher) layer of self-care that’s could be described as making space for your Essence. That is, letting your Self (AKA the Consciousness that you are, your Divine nature, Spirit, God, your Highest Self) be recognized and listening to it. (By the way, I make no promise that there are only three layers. There might be seventeen layers. My point is that self-care can address the form or the essence or both.)
Take a break from giving your attention to your mind, your emotions, your pain, your grievances, or any of the other content of your life. Instead, notice the container that holds it all. Or, as Adyashanti says, “Turn your attention upon itself.” Your attention – whose attention is that? Turn the focus of your attention around to notice the source of that attention.
The container that holds all the contents of life – all the thoughts, feelings, events, all the objects of your attention – that container itself, the Space, is You. Many spiritual teachers assert that it’s actually much more your true Essence than any of its contents. The contents are fleeting. The container – Consciousness itself – is eternal. The deepest self-care is the practice of trusting in it. Surrendering to it. Relinquishing everything to it. Even if only for the duration of a single breath.
A daily practice is likely to yield the greatest transformation, and you don’t really need to make time for it. You just need to make Space for it. Several times a day, give the whole of your awareness to a single breath (or a couple breaths). Once in a while you might ask yourself, how much of my awareness did I give to that breath? I just took a breath between that sentence and this one, and I’d say I gave 83% of my awareness to it. Notice that. Does it change over time?
Sometimes, try doing it without stopping whatever else you’re doing. Watch your breath while you are in conversation, while eating, while showering, while driving, and especially while doing the other forms of self-care. Although getting a pedicure might be a relatively superficial form of self-care, if you are completely present to it, it becomes true Self-care.
Little by little, your Essence will be a growing presence in your everyday life. You won’t get wrapped up as easily in drama. Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “My secret is . . . I don’t mind what happens.” This is the case when Essence, rather than ego, is in the driver’s seat.