I am surrounded by people who run themselves ragged.
Sometimes, I am even one of them.
I and everyone else need the message that I’m writing about today.
One morning last week, as I was driving to school in the rain, I felt frenetically energetic. I was writing this message in my head. It is so important. It is life or death.
Be loving toward yourself.
There are so many reasons that this is important that I could go into a whole series of posts about it. But, here’s the main one:
You can neither serve others nor yourself unless you are able to be loving.
Let’s look at what it means to take care of something or someone. We use this term for work, we use it for friendship and romantic relationships, and we use it for the things on our to-do lists. But what does it really mean? What do we need in order to be able to take care of the things and the people in our lives?
We need care.
The existentialists that I’m reading in my coursework are concerned with the fundamental question: what does it mean to be human? In an article we read recently, human beings were contrasted with animals, rocks, and objects in that we are beings that are fundamentally concerned with what it means to be. We are constantly, whether intentionally or not, trying to make sense of our lives and the things that happen to us, and we are writing narratives in our heads about the meanings of these circumstances that we encounter.
If we aren’t doing that intentionally (and no one is, 100% of the time), we are doing it automatically: we take in what we see hear, smell, taste, and experience and we incorporate it into our vast and deeply-rooted perception of ourselves. This perception of ourselves shapes what we do, feel, believe, and think.
Therefore, as humans, we care about being human. Maybe not in the day-to-day, language-world that we live in, but in a deep “existential” sense. How we treat ourselves and how we interpret the world affect our way of being in everyday life: how we think and feel about ourselves MATTERS.
This philosophical idea means that we all naturally have the instinct to care, however far it is shoved down in the living out of our daily lives. Everything affects us, whether we wish it would or not. Every daily practice shapes the way we think, feel and write our own stories.
The primary person that we need to care for is ourselves. In caring for ourselves, we learn how to care. It’s difficult to care for ourselves when we’ve never learned how, or we’ve learned ways of being that actively work against this natural caring. It’s difficult when we never pause to think about our own needs.
Caring for ourselves, in practice, is self-care. Self-love.
I was watching an Instagram live last night by one of my favorite wellness coach inspirations who I don’t actually know in real life (the power of technology)*, and she said something really important. Someone had written her a hate message, saying that nobody could realistically be “healthy” like she is if they actually have a real, 9-5 job. Lauren’s response stuck with me, because it struck me as so actionable and so important. Her first point was this:
If you truly want to be healthy, you must learn to put your needs first.
Her concrete suggestion for this was what she called “take a beat.” When someone asks you if you want to do something, take a moment and think/feel to yourself, do I really want to do that?
When you come home after a long day, and all you want is a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate, take a moment and ask yourself, what am I really looking for right now? What do I really need?
Even if the answer is that you don’t know, it’s worth asking. One day, you might know.
In order to do this, you must become convinced that:
You are important.
You know what you need better than anyone else does.
I’m currently taking an ethics class, in which we’re discussing Levinas and his idea that being truly ethical is to serve others. In order to serve others, we must be ready and waiting to hear what they need and to respond to their call. Responding rests on our responsibility, or our ability to respond.
Now I’m thinking that the ability to respond relies on our ability to be loving.
We cannot be loving if we are preoccupied.
We cannot be loving if we are anxious.
We cannot be loving if we are mean to ourselves.
We cannot be loving if we do not recognize that there are people around us with needs, because we are so absorbed in our own unmet ones.
We cannot be loving if we are agreeing to things willy-nilly and are not saving time for ourselves.
If we are worried, preoccupied, victimized, and unloving toward ourselves, we can only be obligated. It’s true that there are some things we just have to do. With a little awareness, we can decide which things are in that category and which things really aren’t. We can save room in our lives for the practice of loving, and that practice will make us more invested in our own lives and the lives of others.
Being loving is not a permanent state. We can’t expect to be our full, loving, careful selves all the time. Sometimes, we really will be anxious and preoccupied. We will have stressors come into our lives that make many things obligatory. We can still come back to loving ourselves through it all. That might look like patience. That might look like taking a tiny break. That might look like trying to imagine a life where nothing is troubling. That might look like sleeping and eating, drinking water: doing things to keep yourself alive.
Being loving is a practice. We practice every day, with every small decision that we make. When we “take a beat,” what we are really doing is learning how to really look deeply into ourselves and care about our own needs.
Being loving is where true, holistic health comes from. My wellness coach “friend” was right: we can’t do anything about our health if we aren’t willing to think seriously about our needs and take seriously the fulfillment of them. It’s a serious business, being loving, and it is hard.
I’ve come up with a couple more posts about this, which I’ll release later.
The important thing to realize is that being loving does not come with the fixing of all the problems or the addressing of all the life stuff.
Being loving comes first.
*Lauren’s website is here, her Instagram is pretty great too.