Humans tend to be reductive creatures, meaning we tend to take big concepts and diminish them into practices that are small and easy to manage. For example, people will take a massive idea, like spirituality, and reduce it to the brief experience of attending church on Sunday for two hours without the need for introspection, contemplation, or self-inquiry. We just show up, pay your fare, sing a few songs, and make our way back home until the next Sunday. For something so meaningful, so powerful, so purposeful, we’ve lessened its significance.
Spirituality isn’t the only ideal that we’ve reduced and made less significant; we have done the exact same thing with the concept of self-care.
Commercials on TV and ads in magazines suggest that self-care is effortless and superficial. It’s often depicted as buying expensive lotion or an exfoliating body wash; taking a bubble bath, or lying under a fuzzy blanket while eating a bowl of mushroom soup. However, if soup and soap are all you need to take care of the self, then we can conclude the self is uncomplicated and perhaps irrelevant. How ironic that our beliefs about self-care render the “self” as meaningless.
No wonder so many people obsess over self-care and lack self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-development.
In order to truly understand self-care, we must ask: What is the “self”?
This is a profound question. For the sake of efficiency, I will keep the answer simple.
The self is a multi-dimensional phenomenon: it is a conglomerate entity that includes the body, mind and the subtle energy that we call the soul, spirit, etc. So, self-care must tend to the needs of all facets of the “self”. But as indicated by the folly we refer to as “self-care” many people have no idea what the self is and therefore lack the knowledge to tend to its needs.
What does the “self” need or want? All aspects of the “self” want one thing: actualization, or the maximization of potential. Here are three ways to do just that:
The body wants physical health. In fact, the mind and the spirit want the body to be as healthy as possible, too. The desires of one dimension of the self are typically shared by the entirety of the being. The mind wants what the body wants. The spirit wants what the mind wants and so on. When there is a conflict between the facets of the self, there is sickness.
Self-care for the body means proper diet, exercise and rest. You can own a million warm fuzzy blankets and all the exfoliating body wash in the world and still be unhealthy and overworked. If you are lazy, consume toxins or can’t find the time to get a decent amount of sleep, you are punishing the body. Does that sound like self-care?
The mind and body want to feel strong. The body revels in facing and overcoming challenges in order to become stronger and more active. It wants actualization, to test its limits and go beyond them. So hit the gym, take a hike, try a yoga class, or challenge yourself to learn a new language.
The mind is the interface that connects the body and the soul. It makes the choices that appease the body’s and the spirit’s desire for actualization. However, the mind is a complicated instrument, particularly when the mind is burdened with trauma, unresolved issues, or delusions.
Mental health begins with exploring the mind. How? By observing the activity of the mind without judgment. Take time to sit in silence and simply observe the images, words, feelings, and memories that float through the mind for a few minutes a day. This will make us more aware of the unresolved issues that haunt us; the false beliefs that misguide us; and the negative influences that poison our thoughts. Awareness opens doors to peace and spirituality.
In time, all the things that you do to actualize the body and mind become a spiritual practice. The unification of mind, body, and soul is true self-care. Don’t get me wrong, a lavender-scented candle and a bubble bath is great, but remember that these things can’t heal the “self”. That is a far more intricate task.
About The Author
Bio: Devin McCrorey is the founder and president of The Wellness Initiative, an organization that offers workshops, clinical services, therapy and teaches mindfulness and meditation to help clients overcome trauma, depression, anxiety, and trauma. McCrorey has been practicing mindfulness and meditation for over a decade and teaching it for several years, with the intention to introduce meditation to an African American demographic.