Exploring the Self in Self-care

Motivation to make the time may be discovered by considering the consequence of self-care’s opposite qualities. Given self-care promotes thriving, neglecting it may lead one to the opposite of care; disregard, neglect, oversight, omission and thoughtlessness or the opposite of thriving; withering.  With the understanding we are bioplastic and therefore grow stronger at whatever we practice the most, it is prudent to acknowledge conditionality. In some circles, it has been suggested that the increasing emphasis on self-care and well being in the workplace may be one more way of shifting the responsibility for health and well being away from employer accountability for creating supportive environments and away from our struggling sick care-oriented health care system. Certainly, this a perspective to be aware of and something to reflect upon as it pertains to one’s workplace environment. In this monthly feature, self-care has been repeatedly presented from the perspective of an expression of self-compassion.

The present invitation is to engage in contemplative practice with the notion of the “self” we are caring for in our present scope of self-care.  Such exploration relates back to prior articles that introduced the practice of regarding oneself as a continually changing happening as a way to encourage mindfulness of the series of present moments that weave the fabric of each day’s experiences. Contemplative neuroscience would suggest such conscious experience is responsible for our sense of selfhood.  Contemplative practices are self- oriented in that they provide practical means to promote human thriving and flourishing by training attention in the domains of self-regulation, self-inquiry and self-awareness. So, this month let’s direct our self-care practice to exploration of who are you?

For many of us, our notion of selfhood tends to be enabled by our embodiment and all of the sensory machinery that comes with the package.  Having continual somatic and visceral inputs to our nervous systems provides the primary reinforcement of our sense of I, me, mine selfhood. I am walking, those are my feet, wearing my favorite shoes. Contemplative neuroscience studies the nervous system mechanisms that are active when we engage in reflection, while contemplative practices map out an experiential path of inquiry into the nature of the self.  So, as you reflect upon the question “Who am I?”, does your sense of self extend beyond your body?

As you reflect, it may be useful to take yourself through a process that allows you to arrive at a sense of selfhood by sorting out who you are not. When the activity is complete, rest assured you can reintegrate all you have sorted out.  Begin by standing in a posture that embodies dignity. Take a moment to experience the feeling of the posture and its influence upon your breath. Spend a few minutes just standing there in an embodied experience of dignity.  Notice if it feels familiar or unfamiliar. Next, imagine you are standing before a shelf on which you will now set all object forms of your societal identification- driver’s license, voter registration, passport, etc.  Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I?  Next, imagine you place all subject ways you identify yourself up there too; child, parent, partner or spouse, sibling, health professional, athlete, artist, writer, even down to your gender identity. Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I?  Now add your five senses and the sixth, your mind as the meaning maker of your sensory experiences. Lastly, appreciating the body as the impermanent material form that it is, tenderly place your body with everything else on the self.  There remains a faculty of awareness or consciousness unconnected to the senses, mental machinations and form just placed upon the shelf. Again, inquire who am I?  I would not presume to offer an answer to this question other than to pass on the typical phrase from this yoga-based practice that invites a next level of reflection and contemplation, which is I am the one who knows or I am that (not subject to name or form).

This type of practice invites a consideration of extending self-care beyond supporting our body-mind tissue-based systems to other powerful, yet presently immeasurable, domains of healing that support our vitality, our life force. Whatever those domains are for you also, the point of this month’s writing is to call for the necessity of (its /that) inclusion in your self-care.  An experience with that nature or essence of the self is likely to be the source of compassion and motivation to take whatever time is necessary for right action in your self-care.