”When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.” Thomas Moore. Care of the Soul.
If there was one overriding thing this week that I heard from fellow students undertaking the Masters Degree I am in/under/not quite through/not quite on top of this year, was that they wanted to take better care of themselves this semester.
Knowing what the Masters now entails (and knowing that not taking care of oneself makes the tasks that much more difficult), many that I spoke to wanted to ensure that they started with self-care before anything else this time round. Amazing, but of course not so surprising, that indeed health was the first thing that people had ‘dropped off’ the list of things to do from the very beginning. That, as Thomas Moore suggests in ‘Care of The Soul’, it was only in illness and fatigue that we saw our bodies poetry, it’s sacredness; that we realised we cannot do anything if we do not have our health.
In light of these discussions with fellow students (as much as the consistent dialogue my mind has been having with itself about the matter of my health and well-being) I have booked myself an acupuncture appointment for today. In about three hours in fact.
Acupuncture is a something I know works for me greatly when it comes to the subject of self care. It helps me settle into my body deeply and being in my body in turn allows me to listen much better, listen to its poetry. In this way however I can honestly say how nervous, how scared I am of this appointment as I have done very little to look after myself this year, to really listen; and what I experience first and foremost when sitting down in an acupuncturists room is an overwhelming amount of silence. Silence can be deafening and I’m scared what messages it will bring today, that I will discover just how fatigued I am and therefore realise how much I may need to change in order to restore my wellbeing.
Rather synchronistically I began an elective this week entitled ‘Student Wellbeing’. The four hour seminar I had on Wednesday, along with the subsequent readings, aims to teach us to ‘purposefully use a range of supportive, assertive and negotiation skills to interact with students, parents and colleagues…’ to ‘clearly define the concept of student wellbeing and use an evidence base to articulate the relationship between wellbeing and student social and emotional and academic learning’. Combined with the program I will begin teaching at a Juvenile detention center in Melbourne in a few weeks time, a program that works first and foremost to provide ‘unconditional positive regard’ for students, it seems I am to learn much about care for the rest of the year. Timely.
Much of the emphasis placed on these two programs is about the need for a change in the language one uses when dealing with students who approach you with a problem, with a need that they feel you can help them with. For the most part it has been suggested thus far that we as teachers and human beings do not truly listen to others when they come to us for help, that we are thinking more of a solution as they discuss their problem. When we respond we aim to solve, to placate, to (however kindly) dismiss with a ‘you’ll be alright’ attitude. We do not acknowledge their pain and their need for care and we do not assist them in discovering the solution that will work best for them.
But if, as I have suggested, most of us do not place our own health and wellbeing top on the list of our priorities, how can we truly assist others? How do we give other people tools if we have not first looked at the language we use toward ourselves when we are in crisis? Do we ourselves even ask for help when we need it …take the time to discover what tools work best for us? And do we actually use those tools? I suppose I’m asking do we ‘practice what we preach’? On the issue of self care this would involve actively listening, a degree of openness and willingness to communicate with ourselves. This is indeed scary as the vision I have shared of me at the acupuncturist tells. This is because it requires us to sit with our humanness.
There is a book called ‘The Five languages’ by Dr Gary Chapman. In this book he outlines the five love languages he believes people speak and that the break down of relationships can occur when partners don’t know what language their lover speaks.
I believe that there are probably about as many different love languages as there are people in this world however there were areas in the book that rang alarm bells for me. When these alarm bells went off I realised not only what I may need from my relationships to feel loved, but what I may need from myself. That was one thing I felt was missing from the book in fact, how we could better dialogue with ourselves when it came to love. How we could show ourselves love and care.
Of course the answer to this is individual. For me it’s about acknowledging when I need assistance and asking for it, such as in the case of my foot, my case of Plantar Fasciitis, and the podiatrist I am now seeing fortnightly. I saw him just this Thursday past and again he gave my foot, my pain one whole hour of his time. He asked me questions, watched how I move, looked at my shoes, gave me exercises and held my foot gently, moving his hands about it to diagnose where the pain was and how he can help me. His attention, his gentleness and his time allowed me to feel cared for in an area where I am in pain, where I am vulnerable.
The other answer for me is just this, a gentle attentiveness towards self. But this is where I would argue things get a little difficult for most of us, that it is hard for us to give our-selves attention, to be attentive towards ourselves, our pain, our needs. To show genuine care, gentleness, love and understanding toward self. Why is this?
It’s actually quite easy to think of some of the answers as much as to think of some of the excuses we would use at the time …at the time the body starts to dizzy with stress, fall over with fatigue… That we don’t want our vulnerabilities to be the focus of attention, to be ‘on show’ and that we don’t have time or money, that there are more valuable things we need to be attending to. Our relationships, our jobs, university degrees…
But how can we do those things if we don’t have our health? Furthermore as I have said, how can I specifically ‘preach’ to others to look after and support themselves more when I do not do it myself? This is what I mean when I propose that the most important thing I might do in my Student Wellbeing class is to look at changing my language and my actions for myself first, then I can greater empower my students to do the same.
As if to finish a week of learning about the need to care for self and the love I feel when I allow myself to be cared for by another, just this morning this, when I met a friend for coffee:
‘I got you a present’ my friend said.
He then produced a bag of double salted licorice.
‘You love this shit right? I saw it in a lolly shop the other day and I thought of you immediately’.
It didn’t matter what the present was. It was the thought and acting on the thought that made me feel cared for. The idea that someone had thought of me when I was perhaps miles away and thought to do something nice for me when I came to their mind, made we feel that I was worth doing something nice for.
I felt an incredible feeling of peace as the bag of double salted licorice was proffered to me by my dear friend as much as love in the hug we shared knowing that we both cared for each other.
Wonder. Meant …that care is a skill that requires first and foremost, deep listening with our selves, with our bodies poetry. We can better attend to our lives including other people and our relationships with them when we first care for self. Part of this care may involve acknowledging when you need help from others as much as allowing others to care for you.
By the way, you are worth caring about.