Self care is another thing on that to-do checklist.
Squeezed between “answer the 8,762 emails in my inbox” and “deliver completed manuscript of book to agent,” you’ll generally find a few so-called me things.
Like, get a pedicure.
Book a massage.
Go to yoga class.
Guzzle a bottle of cabernet.
Okay, maybe not that last one. You wouldn’t put that on a list.
(After all, who wants the whole internet to know that they’re knocking back bottles of wine every night just to hold it together? I joke.)
Anyway, your list — mental or otherwise — probably has a few of these items on it. Maybe they’ve been there for months or years without actual completion. Maybe you’ve got a weekly date with your favorite meat tenderizer — err, massage therapist.
Maybe you don’t even like massages but you think you should get one, because self care and all that.
You might even have a little guilt about doing these activities. Guilt when you’re not doing them because you know you have to take care of yourself.
Guilt when you are doing them, because, well, you should be working.
Isn’t that the rub? (Pun intended, of course.) Taking care of yourself makes you feel like crap because of internalized expectations of productivity.
There are two fundamental causes that make self care seem like cotton candy.
The first is that, culturally, we’ve relegated self care to the realm of women. Massages? Pedicures? Manicures? Getting your hair done?
Men do these things, sure. But predominantly, these activities are seen as “girlie,” designed to manufacture some ornamental feminine ideal.
And “women’s things” are made cute or ineffectual, painted pink and dolled up to be delicate, fragile, silly….frivolous.
The second cause is that we exist, in our capitalistic society (which does not respect the borders of our sovereign nation, the United States of America, but snakes its tentacles into the global economy), beneath the Culture of Productivity (aka The Evil Empire).
The Culture of Productivity states that you shall at all moments of your waking life be producing something of value, whether it provides value for your employer (work efforts), your family (cooking, cleaning, chauffering of children, etc), your relationship (emotional labor) or your culture (which usually includes performing some unachievable perfect ideal).
The Culture of Productivity ingrains in you a preference for doing over being.
Which makes anything closely resembling self care look from the outside and feel from the inside like frivolity in its finest form.
But why does it matter if self care is frivolous? So what? Shouldn’t we all just gut it out and work harder, nose to the grindstone and all that?
What about old fashioned work ethic?
Let me introduce you to the creative’s dilemma….
If you are reading this, you are likely creative. I run with a creative crowd.
Creatives, well, make things. Creatives are the wizards of our society, coaxing dissimilar thoughts, feelings and commonplace elements of our reality to coalesce into liquid gold.
And you, as a member of the relentlessly creative, don’t do this because you want to. You do it because it’s part of your cellular make up. Creating — art, works of literature, business ventures, humanitarian relief efforts, healing modalities, programs, collaborations, and so on — is something you can’t not do, as truly as you can’t not breathe.
About that dilemma I mentioned…. a problem arises when relentless creatives are thrust into a culture of productivity. Creatives produce, all right. But creativity doesn’t happen on demand.
Creativity requires space. It requires time to foment, for the alchemical reactions to materialize.
You can’t make chemistry happen. You don’t smash elements into one another and demand that they combine.
In fact, some substances, when combined in large amounts, won’t mix. You must move ever so slowly, adding one substance to another drop by drop, carefully.
Anyone who has ever made simple mayonnaise knows this is true.
Creativity is much the same. You introduce the raw ingredients into a space. You allow them to mingle, to mix, to dance a sensual tango with one another.
And the sum of the parts is often more than the parts themselves.
The upshot is that creativity requires time. It requires space.
Sure, you can hammer out a few works quickly, forcibly ejecting them out of your cells and your soul, ripping them from your very core.
But the emotional exhaustive backlash that rebounds will knock you flat. This is a state that we so blithely refer to as: burnout.
This demon possesses other names. Exhaustion, writer’s block, existential crisis are among them.
Returning to self care for a moment: we are made to feel that taking time for our selves, for our souls, time to repose, to stew our creative cauldrons, that that time is wasted.
And maybe it is….for someone else. Because that time is time not spent amassing someone else’s fortune, or caring for someone else’s emotional hygiene, or performing a pretty and ornamental role that makes the rest of society feel all warm and fuzzy.
Self care time is time that you’re not showing up for the edification of someone else.
But beyond that, self care has been made to feel like silly stuff, “crap that men don’t have to care about,” as Laura Belgray puts it.
Self care is so much more than that. Self care is not about pretty nails and up-dos (or maybe just a really, really small percent of it is). Self care is about self nourishment.
About creating space, knocking down walls and barriers. It’s about healing wounds and building bridges. It’s about systems and structures that allow you to function as a more whole, resilient person in the future.
Resilience is really where it’s at. In my book, self care is about building neural resilience.
A person entrapped in the Culture of Productivity runs in what’s called high sympathetic activation — a state of constant fight or flight. Of course, running is rarely an option, and even if you did, you couldn’t escape the greater financial and legal system that obligates you to your overwhelming responsibilities.
Fighting isn’t really valid, either. What exactly would you fight?
You do see people try, through legal channels, or sometimes through media.
Most often, people get stuck in the third option — freeze. Freeze is a state of just being, existing, numbness.
Often their bodies reflect this with stiff joints and muscles that don’t move or bend or stretch (and we wonder why we hurt more and more as we get older).
Your sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system, when activated, also causes tunnel vision. Imagine you’re a rabbit being chased by a wolf. Are you going to stop and notice the beautiful poppies in the field you’re frantically tearing through in fear of your life?
Sympathetic activation — fight or flight — is the enemy of creativity.
What we term creative burnout — or any of the other names this demon masquerades under — is really a state of chronic activation.
Enter neural resilience.
A resilient nervous system can take on activation, deal with the immediate circumstances, and discharge back into a neutral state of relaxation.
In fact, this pendulum swing from activation to relaxation is your natural state of being. This is normal. Chronic activation (aka The Culture of Productivity) is abnormal.
We can only sustain the Culture of Productivity because we’ve converted human beings from living creatures into disposable resources. The Culture of Productivity exists to squeeze you like an orange, extracting your potent essence, only to discard the eviscerated skin and flesh.
There is always another orange behind you, ready to step in when you’re all used up.
This is what I seek to disrupt. This is what taking back our space is all about.
I believe that when our nervous systems are balanced and healthy, when we fully own our space, this is the place from which we can not only embody our own vast potential, but also change the whole damn world.
Because a healthy nervous system isn’t weighed down by the detritus of past trauma. It’s not closed off to the feelings and experiences of others.
A healthy nervous system receives information without being triggered, set off, blown up, exhausted or overwhelmed by it. A healthy nervous system perceives the world around it, all the colors and textures and nuances. A healthy nervous system can get around its own blocks to see the world form others’ points of view.
And a healthy nervous system can create. It can weave new products from disparate elements. It can shapeshift matter and time, twist reality into new constructs, bend and warp the fabric of the universe to encounter improbable solutions.
A healthy nervous system is not just a happy being — it’s an alchemist.
YOU are an alchemist. Or you can be, once you take back your space and truly own it.
P.S. Twelve years ago, I began working one on one with people and their aching bodies. Immediately, I noticed a powerful change happening inside people simultaneous with their external improvements in flexibility. I saw them brighten, stand taller and fully arrive in their bodies. I saw them take back their identities and their lives. I didn’t know what was happening — I thought it was magic.
And in a way, it is magic.
Years later, I created a movement program designed to go deeper into these changes and tested it with a small group of people. The feedback was phenomenal, but when one person said she couldn’t believe the changes and asked why such subtle movement made such a huge impact, I didn’t really have a good answer. I just knew that it worked.
But now I do. I now know that moving through the body is slow and subtle ways makes immeasurable impact both to a person’s physical range of motion and also to their mental and emotional flexibility because it regulates the nervous system.
It dissolves those frozen, congealed places inside your muscles and bones and ligaments — and your heart. Like magic, it gives you the power to observe the forces that shape you against your will, and when you see them, you can resist them.
This program is reborn, and today marks its first release in two years. I call it The Space Lab — explorations in taking up space. I’ll be doing a more formal release later this week, but if you feel so called, you can learn more about it here.