(Excerpted from The Courageous Living Program):
Like, every life coach on the planet has written the “self-care is important” post.
I know. But if we aren’t involved in a practice that involves Self-Care, it’s pretty difficult to make larger goals happen. Not caring for the self is a form of not being present, and change doesn’t happen without getting present.
Self-care has to start gently–not with to-do lists of more “things to do,” but rather coming from a place that is beyond to-do lists and beyond the facade and beyond all the stuff that later gets used to beat ourselves up.
In the Courageous Living Program, I talk about the concept of BEing your journey, which means embracing everything that comes into the circle of your existence, rather than expend massive amounts of energy trying to control what it all looks like. From there, we gently ease into Slowing. Down.
How can you practice BEing your journey? Take time to do Just. One. Thing:
So often we tell ourselves that self-care must take the form of a fancy tropical vacation, or getting away from our jobs, or buying more “stuff.” In fact, it doesn’t. We can simply choose to Slow. Down.
I’m all about vacations; more power to you if you are able to take one. However, I think that there’s a much simpler—and less expensive!—form of self-care. It can be implemented into any schedule.
It’s part of the Drama Diet.
It is: Slow. Down.
Also good news? If you’re thinking, “I just don’t have time for a lot of self-care practices. I need one that I can focus on,” then great—I have it.
Slow. Down. In fact, I think that this is the one practice that anyone could do and perhaps they’d never even touch the rest, but their lives would benefit immensely just from this one.
Slowing down can look a lot of different ways. It can look like stopping and taking a breath on a street corner, observing the people walking by, and then being on your way. It can look like a formal meditation practice. It can look like laying on your back and watching clouds. It can look like making eye contact with everyone you meet. Don’t get caught in the trap that it has to be this big production. Instead, sink into just slowing…down…
Whatever way of slowing down you choose, integrating this into your self-care practice is so, so essential.
People often have enormous resistance to just Slowing Down. As Cheri Huber writes in her phenomenal book There Is Nothing Wrong With You,
“The reason acceptance isn’t more popular is that in acceptance, there is nothing to do. In acceptance, there is nothing ‘wrong’ that needs to be changed, fixed, worked on or otherwise improved. And the simple, astounding, mind-bogglingly amazing fact is that as soon as you accept yourself exactly as you are, all of those ‘character flaws’ begin to fall away because those ‘flaws’ exist only in non-acceptance, in self-hate.”
Notice that Huber never says (and I’m not saying) that acceptance is devoid of action. You can completely and totally accept your process and what it looks like and all of the delicious things that show up—the frustrations, the joys, the detours, the distractions, the goodness, the badness—you can be present to all of that. That’s noticing. Acceptance as I’m thinking of it is not giving up, nor is it what the “losers” are left with.
Acceptance is freedom because when we are okay with reality just being reality, we suffer less. It will take you as much time to accomplish your goals as it is going to take. Period. No more time, no less time. Can you (will you) accept that? Can you be okay with how long it will take? There will be as many challenges along the way as there will be challenges along the way. No more challenges, no fewer challenges. Can you accept that? Can you be okay with challenges coming up as you’re BEing your journey?
The way to get into acceptance when you notice you’re not accepting, or to avoid going into non-acceptance in the first place, is to adopt a practice of slowing down.
When you don’t slow down and get present to what is, in this moment right here—not the past moment or the worrying about the future moments—it gets very difficult to notice those inner critic voices and do something about them. When we’re preoccupied, rushing, fretting, moving too quickly, those inner critic voices run on autopilot and can wreak havoc on our moods—which wreaks havoc on our emotional states—which then makes us less motivated to change our lives.
So make it a regular, daily practice to somehow slow down—meditation, walking slowly, taking deep breaths are my first go-tos, but I think that taking time to just notice, listen closely, make a lot of eye contact, stare at the sky, etc., are all just as valid—and you’ll start to notice that it’s easier to “catch” those inner critic voices before they can run amuck. And if they do run amuck, going to “present” can help to calm them.
Stop right now, even. Get present to what is. What is right in front of you? How does the paper feel in your hands? What is to your right? To your left? What sounds do you hear? What smells do you smell?
The illusion is that taking a few moments to breathe every day is a waste of time when there are “so many other important things to do.”
In fact, taking a moment to breathe every day, to be present, is what gets things done.
These inner critic voices are going to win, and win, and win, and win until you slow down. Take a moment. Start getting more present throughout your day.
When I take even just five minutes to sit in a chair or my zafu (meditation cushion) and stare at a wall in silence, focusing on my breath, I am much better equipped to notice the inner critic voices that come up and then start working with them.
Sometimes people say, “I wanted to really be present today, but then the whole day went by and I wasn’t present for any of it! What do I do if I want to use a tool but my problem is forgetting?”
The problem isn’t forgetting. The problem is not creating space for something to be born. In these cases where “forgetting to be present” keeps coming up, instead of trying to be present to every moment, start taking a time-out each day where you simply don’t do anything but stare at a wall, a flickering candle, the sky, whatever, and breathe. Skip the usual meditation instruction to “think about nothing” and instead, go ahead and even attach the thought “Inhale” when you inhale and “Exhale” when you exhale. This time of seemingly “Doing nothing” is creating the space for more presence through you day.
Sitting quietly need not be called meditation. There need not be a zafu. There need not be incense or special music. You can make it what you wish to make it. For many people, walking through nature is their “meditation.”
Whatever path you choose, the instruction is simple: create space for yourself within each day to just slow down and get present to your breath or to the present moment. Start there, and watch how, with time, the rest starts to slowly take care of itself.
Optional Exercises: How will you create this exercise for yourself? What does Slowing…Down…look like for you? I believe that we can powerfully create this as a unique experience for each of us. What’s your form of Slowing Down, or what form do you wish to adopt?