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.”
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.
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.”
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.