Are you the kind of person who puts others' needs before your own, even when that sometimes means that you sometimes grossly neglect yourself? I do sometimes.
Don't get me wrong, I can be as selfish as the next guy sometimes. Still, I'm a recovering "pleaser," you know, the chronic condition where you'll do anything for anyone, even at your own expense, just so you'll be liked or not make waves.
Several years ago, in the dead of winter I was, making the preparations for a Native American sweat lodge ceremony. Though several people were going to participate in the ceremony, just the Medicine Man, a Native Elder, and myself were preparing the sacred stones and blessing them as we placed them into the bonfire.
These stones would represented the bones of the earth. They would sit in the fire for several hours until they glowed red hot at which time we'd remove them from the fire and put them into a special pit in the sweat lodge. After all the rocks were in, the participants would then climb into the low dome structure by humbly kneeling and repeating, "Aho Mitakuye Oyasin," meaning, "To All My Relations," evoking each person's complete tribe of past present and future relations to join this sacred ceremony. Then each person would climb in and take their seat in the circle around the red-hot stones. Once each person was in, the door would close, extinguishing all light from the space except the heavy, crimson glow of the stones. Then the ceremony would begin as the stones began their medicine of purifying and clarifying the body, mind, and spirit of every being accompanied by the legions of their relations.
It was bone on bone: the red-hot bones of the earth beginning to settle their heat into the bones of my body. A current of sweat began dripping off my entire body. The medicine had begun.
As I sat in that sacred ceremony, I began to think seriously about something the Elder had said to me during the hours where he and I were preparing the sweat lodge. The Elder and I were using a pitchfork and shovel to manage and place the stones into the fire and at one point, the Elder stabbed his pitchfork into the snow, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, "How do you take care of yourself? It is very selfish if you do not take care of yourself. If you do not take care of yourself, then those who rely on you to take care of them must then take care of you. You have to take care of yourself, for you and for them. Don't be selfish. Take care of yourself."
At the time I didn't know what to say to the Elder. Later, in the sweat lodge, I sat in the burning darkness, heavy in the thought of the Elder's words. I thought of the presence of all my relations, those who rely on me to be me so I can fulfill my role in the tribe. I'm sure my son, Elio, now 1, then -7, was there with me, probably sitting on my lap. At that moment I made a promise to myself and to all my relations, known and unknown, that I would do my duty to take care of myself so that those who rely upon me for all I need to do would not have to take care of me or worse, put up with the cranky version of me who feels deprived of joy because he's burdened by the needs of others. I understood that by taking care of myself, I'd pick up my responsibilities to my relations with gladness and not only with a rote or begrudging sense of obligation.
The only intoxicating elements of that ceremony were heat and truth and they were the medicine that conjured the vision of my grateful relations because I learned to care for myself.
Now, I care for myself by going on a run, playing my saxophone, and having some quality time with my family. I live dangerously close to Hatch Family Chocolates and I care for myself by periodically walking over there for something delicious and I eat it without a spec of guilt. I go to a yoga class, sit and meditate for a half hour, eat healthy (cuz that's often more delish than chocolates). I go to coffee with friends. I commit myself to my intellectual and spiritual learning by signing up for a training or a buying a book. I listen to music. All in the name of self care.
How do YOU care of yourself? You owe it to your tribe and you owe it to yourself.
Make a list and if yoga is on that list, I hope to see you in class sometime very soon. If reaching new states of bliss and relaxation while simultaneously blowing your mind and understanding the secrets of the Universe through Yoga Nidra is your thing, then maybe you'll register for my online Yoga Nidra course.
Whatever it is, don't be selfish and take care of yourself.