Healthy self-care means being grounded in a strong, personal foundation. This takes a regular discipline of meditation, stretching, and/or exercise. Use your body to heal your soul.
Last week’s issue of LifeTrek Provisions, “Be Gentle,” prompted some discussion by its implication that we can, in certain senses, do no wrong. Even bad choices contribute to our growth, I observed, and to the growth of others. That’s why I called for a spirit of gentleness with ourselves and with others, since things have a way of working out even when we make stupid decisions or take poor actions.
Some readers found that notion to be dangerous, arguing that it trivialized evil and discounted the end product of our actions. Others found it to be comforting, since they had long had a tendency to second-guess everything and to be hard on themselves as well as others.
I plan on saving my response to the ethical and theological question (If good can come from evil, does that make evil good?) for another issue LifeTrek Provisions. In this issue, I want to bring us back to the focus of the series, namely healthy self-care. How do we know if we’re practicing healthy self-care? One sure sign is that we are grounded in a strong, personal foundation. Such grounding enables us to weather the storms of life with serenity and courage; it also, I might add, enables us to do less evil and to make better decisions.
What is a strong, personal foundation? It is nothing less than the source of life itself. That foundation is there, inside and outside of each and every one of us, but it often buried by the pressures and anxieties of the moment. Fortunately, like archaeologists uncovering the ruins of an ancient city, we too can sweep away the debris that hide and often overwhelm the foundation of a rich and full life.
I would suggest three useful tools for this most important of digs: meditation, stretching, and exercise. They can be used in tandem or individually to uncover and connect ourselves with the ancient of days. A strong, personal foundation is impossible to find and to build upon without the use of at least one of these tools • or of some tool that has the power to shift our awareness away from the urgent and to the important.
Meditation. Meditation is often shrouded in mystery, as though it is the sole purview of monks and other religious professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation is little more than being silent. A silent mind is a powerful mind because of its focus. It is incredibly difficult to be silent for even a few moments. The mind quickly rushes to fill the void. Slow, rhythmic breathing can help quiet the mind. True meditation is, in fact, generally impossible without disciplined breathwork. When your mind wanders off, remember to be gentle with yourself. Refocus on your breathing until the noise and chatter cease.
Stretching. Stretching is another way to sweep away the debris that hides the foundation of life. A series of slow, static stretches can refresh the body and make the spirit whole. Stretching should never hurt. Simply strike a pose until you feel the stretch; then lean into it just a bit more and hold for 30 seconds. With all the urgent things that need doing, stretching can seem like a total waste of time. But it’s not. The essence of Yoga is stretching plus meditation; the ancient yogis recognized that stretching, like breathing, can trigger a powerful focused awareness of self, others, and God.
Exercise. In the Western world, aerobic exercise is often the preferred path to enlightenment. Running on a treadmill in front of a television is not what I have in mind. Getting out in nature on a regular basis, whether it be walking, running, cycling, or swimming, is more like it. Such activity can sweep out the cobwebs and freshen up the day. The rhythm of exercise can quiet the mind just as effectively the breathwork of meditation or the bodywork of stretching. It may take a mile or two, but if you keep going there will come a moment of transcendent awareness.
I know coaches who refuse to work with people who are either unwilling or unable to commit themselves to a regular (as in most every day) discipline of meditation, stretching, or exercise. They’ve learned that without such a discipline people are unable to be grounded in the things that matter and are, therefore, unable to make progress in the journey of life.
What about you? Are you using one of these tools to uncover and build upon the strong, personal foundation that exists in your life? If not, you may want to try them out to see which one or ones work best for you. It’s never too late to get a life.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC