How to make a nest: on ritual + self-care that sticks

Jan 12, 2021

This morning, when I crawled out of bed to begin my day, the yellowest waning moon poured her light into my bedroom window, filtering across the sleeping bodies of my husband and nine-year-old (who leaves her top bunk reliably every night, despite the stuffies we’ve crowded around her and the reassurances that we have abdicated all monsters, and snuggles in with us).

Although I still cringe as the dog hauls her arthritic body off of the floor beside my bed, scraping her claws against the wood floor and then shaking loudly, I don’t need to be nearly as cautiously silent as I used to be, when the kids were tiny and my awakening would risk sending them into a frenzied search for breastmilk, or an arm to hold.

I know the routine well by now, though it shifts over the years depending on the morning medicine I need the most:  writing, meditation, reading a book while wrapped in my grandmother’s shawl.  First, tea.  Then, candle.  Lately, a tarot card, too.


When I spent a week at a Narrative Healing retreat at Kripalu Yoga Centre two years ago, we talked in the group about our writing practices.

Out of the group of thirty or so individuals, I was the only one who put up her hand when asked the question “do you find writing easy?” followed by “do you have a writing practice?”

Incidentally, many of the other retreat participants had Writer as their primary occupation, and I was the only one who had tiny children to contend with as I carved out this time for my craft.

After that moment, my retreat-mates found every chance they could to crowd around me and find out the secret to creating a sustainable writing practice.

I found myself saying, for the first time, the thing that I find myself saying all the time now as I work with clients to create sustainable self-care and meaningful ritual to support them during times of radical life transformation:

Make a nest.


What I mean is this:  pull in the pieces of ribbon and twig and string that you need to create the infrastructure that holds your tender, fledgling practice – whether that’s a commitment to writing, meditating each day, knitting a healing shawl, or whatever medicine of time and attention you want to offer yourself.

When you’re creating a practice to support you

you need to create a supportive structure for your practice.

And like the mama robin, don’t underestimate the sheer number of little pieces of support you might need to create a strong structure.

Three elements of this structure that I lean on heavily are these:  make your new practice NEEDS-FOCUSED.  Make it UNDENIABLE.  And make it NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Let’s break it down, shall we?




When it comes to tending to our own wellness, we’ve all got a great big list of “shoulds.”  Likely, that list is populated by a great number of things we’ve been told, by magazines and well-meaning friends alike, that “good self-care” looks like.  I hardly have to list them here, but they likely involve more Spandex and lemon juice than Tarot and meandering through the woods.

When your self-care practice isn’t focused on your actual needs, and isn’t reflective of those needs on a regular (maybe even daily) basis, then the infrastructure you’ve created for yourself is brittle, and likely to fall apart on the first day of your period, or in the pouring rain, or the morning after a Netflix binge.

One of the practises I always encourage my clients to do is what I call “the heartneeds meditation.”


You can download the heartneeds meditation here.


Want the short version?  As you consider your self-care practice, pause what you’re doing and breathe for long enough to start noticing the beating of your heart.  Place a hand over your heart space and simply ask your heart what it needs most today.  You’ll find that your heart has a way of knowing that’s quite different from your head, and chances are, when you follow its gentle requests, the nourishment you offer yourself will actually be, you know, nourishing.

(I am convinced, by the way, that so many of us feel like black holes of the need for good self-care not because we have no time for it, but because we’re missing the mark.  Just like the hungry baby who keeps on crying when you’ve tried everything *except* feeding her – or the chocolate craving that won’t go away no matter how many apples you eat or glasses of water you drink – your need for sweet nourishment will remain until you *really listen* to what you need right now.  P.S.: sweet love, it is almost NEVER justfinishingupthatlittlebitofwork!)




Starting any new supportive practice can be challenging, and it’s even more so if, like me, the only time of day you could consistently carve out was an ungodly hour of the morning.

My advice?

Make it undeniable.

What can you pull into your practice that make it so incredibly DELICIOUS that you cannot wait to engage in it?

Some of these things might be quite tangible:  if you’re starting a writing practice, perhaps you might invest in a beautiful journal and some pens that write just so.  You might need a space for your new practice, and if so, you can fill it with your favourite things – even if it’s just a candle whose scent makes you swoon.  A delicious cup of tea or coffee or whatever hot beverage I’m craving has always been a necessary element of the practices that stick, for me.

Some of the undeniability you incorporate might be a little less tangible, like noticing the way your whole entire day is better when you’ve had a chance to meditate or go on a walk in the morning, for example.  Consider it evidence in support of your continued good care.




The infrastructure I needed, probably most importantly, when I was first starting my morning practice, was to convey to my children and husband that this was my time, and that it was sacred.

That meant that if I woke up at 4a.m. and one of the children did too, my husband had to wake up also, because I had passed the parenting baton (not that this happens often:  I have learned to be a goddamn ninja at crawling out of bed without anyone noticing).

It meant that because 4a.m. was, in fact, the time that I was most likely to actually engage in my self-care practice, that actually my entire family’s life had to rearrange:  I still needed at least seven hours of sleep so that meant that I went to bed way earlier.  Which meant that my husband was now on bedtime duty most of the time.  Which meant that the time we spent together as two adult humans who decided to get married and occasionally talk to each other about things other than the kids needed to be scheduled into different corners of our week.

Before you start breathing into a paper bag about unapologetically asking for all this support for your well-being, please read this.

Your care also needs to be non-negotiable with yourself.  In the first days and weeks, like with any new habit, you might find yourself feeling resistance to your new self-care practice.  Those aren’t necessarily moments to just push on through, but to stop long enough to ask yourself what the fiercely compassionate thing to do is.  You see, there’s wet dishrag compassion that says, for the eleventyth time this week “aw honey, you’re tired?  Just sleep in this morning, it’s okay, sleep is what you need.”  Fierce compassion says something like “aw honey, you’re tired.  Sleep in this morning but This Is It.  You must be in bed by 9p.m. tonight.”  Or possibly “Just get up.  You need this more than sleep.”


And so.

In case you’re feeling like you’re failing at self-care, 

or in case you’re doing all the things and they never seem to fully nourish you

build a nest.


Layer it with messages from your heart, and pull out the thorns of other people’s opinions.  Weave in sweet ribbons of undeniability, and strengthen it with commitment and support.


May your nest keep you and hold you and allow you to fledge and flourish when the time is right.

The Becoming Podcast has been on a short hiatus while I focus on writing my book, but oh what a comeback episode I have for you!

This month, I spoke to Toko-pa Turner, who many of you may know as the unofficial patron saint of many of my circles and gatherings because of the sheer number of times I’ve quoted from the wisdom of her book, Belonging.

Toko-pa is a Canadian author, teacher, and dreamworker. Blending the mystical teachings of Sufism in which she was raised with a Jungian approach to dreams, she founded The Dream School in 2001, from which thousands of students have graduated. She is the author of the award-winning book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, which explores the themes of exile and belonging through the lens of dreams, mythology, and nature. This book has resonated for readers worldwide, and has been translated into 10 different languages so far. Her work focuses on the relationship between psyche and nature, and how to follow our inner wisdom to meet with the social, psychological, and ecological challenges of our time.

Here’s some of what Toko-pa and I talk about in this episode:

> The dream that changed Toko-pa’s life, causing her to question her career and, ultimately, her identity

> How we can court our dreams to support us during times of radical transformation – and the reasons so many of us have a hard time remembering and working with what shows up in our dreamscape

> Toko-pa’s perspective on the message of Belonging after the divisiveness our society has experienced in the years since it was published

> What happened for both Toko-pa and I when we fell out of belonging from the ideologies of the “wellness world”

> How to build community when you’re under-resourced

> “The Big Lie” when it comes to belonging, and how we can reclaim a sense of belonging to the greater family of things, as Mary Oliver so famously wrote

Listen to the episode on iTunes


Show Notes

Toko-pa’s Website

Belonging:  Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa’s book

The David Abram video about animism mentioned in the interview

Toko-pa’s self-guided program, Dream Drops

Companion, the program that accompanies Belonging


Also, while you’re at it, if you enjoy The Becoming Podcast, I would be so grateful if you would rate and review, and even subscribe to it on iTunes.  That goes a long way to helping more and more people find and benefit from hearing these interviews!  Thank you so much!