Radical Self-Care Step Eight – Balance

Finding the Balance or Managing the Feel-Good Meter

On one of my trips out of town, I was overcome with the feeling that helping others is what life’s all about. In big ways. In small ways. Offering to give a hand to a friend whom you know is struggling. Tipping the person who prepares your coffee. Helping a confused person find their way. Being friendly to strangers when you’re out running your errands. Being helpful whenever you can. Meeting a person’s eye and smiling. Or just holding their gaze for a moment so they know they have been seen. There are a thousand ways big and small to help other people.

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Thinking about things like gratitude practices, I wanted to promote the practice of kindness and helping others. Whether it’s doing something practical like helping someone get something done or doing something that lifts a person’s spirits, spreading helpfulness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can do.

Giving doesn’t only make the other person feel good but it makes your own heart feel good.

I went to Portland a few months ago for a writing retreat and every place I went I encountered helpful, friendly people who made me feel good to be alive and happy about humanity. I met many strangers who were extremely kind to me and helped me with directions, when I was walking through the city, because I’m terrible at finding my way in new places. I’m famous among my friends for getting lost or taking the wrong turn. They took the time to explain to me where things were, and how the city was laid out (numerically and alphabetically) so I could figure out how to find the address I was looking for.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

The women at the writing workshop shared their fears and vulnerabilities in words and tears and exquisite pieces of writing that made me feel less alone and not so different. I went to this writing retreat hoping to become a better writer but really, what it did was open my heart. I saw so many ways that people were doing what they could to help other people. The presenters gave us all books from writers they knew, whom they were supporting by sharing their books. They said they take a percentage of what they bring in from the workshop to help upcoming writers. A beautiful practice of Helping.

At the hostel-like Society Hotel, where I was staying, the staff were very friendly and chatty. They greeted me with smiles every time I entered the lobby/lounge/café area. They had a little take-out bar where they made healthy breakfasts and lunches and they remembered each day that I wanted yogurt with their homemade granola and a fresh orange for breakfast.

The people at the front desk were patient in explaining how to find places in town and how to navigate the neighborhood. And in order to get a good night’s sleep they gave me a quiet room on a top floor away from the street noise.

I was so overcome by the openness and friendliness of the people I was meeting in this city, where I arrived alone, discovering the fresh, artistic nature of Portland. My heart was blasted open.

On the flight home, as I reflected on my four-day excursion I thought about how delightful it was to go to a place where the people were so forthcoming and inviting. Life is all about helping each other and being good to one another, I decided.

But then I had another thought. Being an open, giving person is all very well, but we need to take care of ourselves, too. We need to have a balance between giving and receiving. When we talk about balance between giving and receiving, how much is too much?

One of the reasons we are here – or if I want to get all pompous about it – one of the meanings of life, is to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves. When people go too far to the extreme in either direction, devastating things can happen.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

When taking care of oneself obliterates everything else it turns to greed, which can become meanness or even war, at the extreme level. And giving too much of oneself, without taking time to recharge, can result in a state of severe depletion, or become an addiction to being needed at its worst.

Finding that balance between helping others and helping oneself is a tricky dance. Like any balancing act it is easy to tip to one side or the other. It feels so good to do something for someone else where you can immediately see that your action is making a difference. It also feels good to unplug, slow down, and indulge in some self-care. When tackling anything big, the best thing to do is take small bites. Go back and forth. Find the comfort zone between manageable acts of kindness and bite sized treats of self-care.

Advertisements

Radical Self-Care Step Two – Time

Our Most Precious Resource

Can I borrow some of your time? I’m a little short.

It doesn’t really work that way, does it? Whereas I have a savings account with money that I can accumulate until I’m ready to spend, time is always passing. It is constantly being spent, whether it’s on something I absolutely love, dealing with necessities, indulging in a bit of foolishness or even on things I don’t like.

How do you spend your time?

Young cute girl sleeping on pillow in fresh spring grassDo you save it up for juicy experiences of pleasure? Do you manage your life efficiently so that you have the most amount of time for the things you really love to do? Do you sit quietly, observing the slight breeze making the leaves dance in the trees, so you can feel its slow, gentle passage?

Or do you blow it frivolously, not even realizing where it went until you notice that suddenly you are all out of time.

This is something I am becoming acutely aware of. It’s like a secret treasure that has been there all along that I never even paid much attention to.

This became very obvious to me recently, when I was struggling to fit in all the things I wanted to do: all the projects I wanted to accomplish, the friends I wanted to keep up with and the realization that I had very little breathing space. There was so little unscheduled time. I rarely had days where there was no agenda, no appointments, no errands. In fact, I almost never have days like that.stream

I started thinking about that being an unmet need. And how luxurious it felt whenever I had a few hours just to myself, with nothing in particular I had to get done. How insanely delicious that was. And the way I would try to hang on to it, as the minutes slipped by, until it was over and I had to move on to the next thing. I would look into the future, wondering when the next block of uninterrupted privacy would emerge. And that’s when I started regarding my time as a very precious resource.

So now I set aside blocks of time where I take getaways by myself, with two or three days at a time that are just for me. Sometimes I stay in bed until noon, lost in a good book. It’s hard to even describe how heavenly that is!

Once I started going away I found myself becoming greedy, wanting to do this more and more often. I think I value this sacred time almost more than anything else.

I am more aware now of how valuable time is, and how easily it can get squandered before we even realize it’s gone.

This is really about honoring our relationship to ourselves. No one cares when you run out of time. Nobody feels it but you. No one can give it to you but your own careful planning.

And it costs us absolutely nothing. Except mindfulness.