While self-care is traditionally viewed as an inner journey – a way to achieve our own mind, body and emotional balance, author and meditation teacher Shelly Tygielski’s new memoir Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World shows that self-care can also be a powerful tool for spurring transformative collective action. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
Life is a sequence of high points and low points. Rarely, if ever, is our path from one point to another a straight line. Rather, when we track the rhythm of our life, it’s a sequence of zigzags or peaks and valleys. Reminiscent of a heartbeat monitor, this pattern indicates that we are very much alive. On that monitor, and in life, we aren’t seeking a flat line. We strive to be grateful for the peaks, graceful in the valleys, and content on the plateaus. Sustainable self-care follows this same cadence.
What does a sustainable self-care regimen look like? It doesn’t look like a list of New Year’s resolutions. Most of those never get kept. Just because I wrote down a list of things that I knew should be the cornerstone of my “self-care plan” didn’t mean I suddenly enacted everything without fail from then on. I failed miserably, in fact. Following through was incredibly difficult. There were days I didn’t seek support or get exercise; days when I ate and drank things I knew would increase my inflammation. I didn’t always create healthy boundaries with others. Oftentimes I took on more than I should have. My lingering guilt over being a single mom and my need to please people in order to amplify my self-worth didn’t vanish. Eventually, though, by not beating myself up for these infractions and by giving myself permission to begin anew each day — coupled with putting in place the most critical component of all, a community of care — I was able to develop a self-care rhythm.
Through this trial and error, I learned that, to be sustainable, a self-care plan needs to be gentle enough to work. It has to be incremental and composed of a lot of little things. Self-care might start as a set of promises we make to ourselves, but to enact them, we need to find a rhythm we can live with. Like a musical rhythm, a self-care rhythm is a regular, repeated pattern of actions that helps maintain the song of our life. That is, this rhythm is integrated into and supports whatever we are already doing on a daily basis. It’s not a disruption. Rather, it enhances our life. There are actually four self-care rhythms we can focus on: daily, weekly, seasonally, and annually.
Getting into a new self-care groove wasn’t easy at first. Like most people, I have a hard time creating and maintaining a balance between work, social life, family, and other obligations. Every evening and on the weekends, I would take my work home with me, whether it was task-related work (such as paperwork or answering emails) or emotional work (bearing the burdens of my community or clients). Of course, I couldn’t entirely stop bringing work home at times (who can?), but I needed to establish a more formal separation between work and my personal space.
One of the ways that helped me create a better work-life balance was to identify the mudrooms in my life, so to speak. Just like a home’s entryway, I developed formal transition rituals or practices that allowed me to shift from my public self to my personal self. Over time, these micropractices became healthy habits that contributed to my overall self-care. For example, on my commute home, I practiced mindful driving in silence instead of taking phone calls or listening to talk radio. As soon as I got home from work, I took a walk around the block — with the dog and without my phone! After arriving somewhere, I sat in my parked car for a few moments and took the time to do a quick breathing exercise, then set an intention before rushing into the house or into my son’s preschool. These seemingly small things allowed me to let go of the stressors from work and to show up more fully present in the other areas of my life. Like a mudroom, they helped me wash off the proverbial mud from my shoes, so I could move into the next activity without tracking emotional dirt from my previous activity. These became integral parts of my daily self-care practice.
To achieve a weekly rhythm, I wanted to balance my activities between four different areas that I identified: work, family and relationships, “me time,” and my cultural traditions. Every week, I tried to be conscious about making sure that each of these areas was getting enough of my time and that they were balanced in ways that provided me energy and nourishment. Then, I looked at longer stretches of time and considered each season and each year and asked: Was I providing for all my needs on a regular, ongoing basis? This took careful scrutiny and constant adjustment. Not every day, week, season, or year is the same, and I never found a perfect balance or formula that worked all the time.
Shelly Tygielski is the author of Sit Down to Rise Up and founder of the global grassroots mutual aid organization Pandemic of Love. Her work has been featured by over 100 media outlets, including CNN Heroes, The Kelly Clarkson Show, CBS This Morning, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Visit her online at http://www.shellytygielski.com.
Excerpted from the book from Sit Down to Rise Up. Copyright ©2021 by Shelly Tygielski. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.