"The reason we’re often not there for others…
is that we’re not there for ourselves."
is that we’re not there for ourselves."
~ Pema Chödrön ~
I have long since given up New Year's resolutions since some of them lasted, oh, say, five minutes after midnight. Or sometime in January, long before the end of the month. I believe that most of us fail at these resolutions, though we would dearly love to be able to keep them, because we set ourselves up for failure. Every resolution becomes a mountain to climb and few of us are up to the task. When you eat a meal you don't dump the whole plate of food in your mouth at once, you eat it bite by bite, moment by moment, and that's the only way to eat a meal, the only real way to accomplish any goals that you may have. As Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." He didn't mean "take the single step and always be aware of how may you have to go!" No, with each step we take toward a goal we revel in each singular breath and live fully in that minute sense if time.
It came to me over the weekend when I was in such grief because my precious little pug Coco, whom you saw in the last entry, died on the operating table on Thursday during what should have been fairly minor procedures, but she was 15 and her heart stopped beating. I sobbed uncontrollably while I held her, wrapped in a blanket, in my arms for nearly two hours, stroking her little body, kissing her gently, and just staring into that precious face with my heart breaking. As the first few days passed what softened the blow was that I have ten other animals in this house to care for, and they need me, and I adore them, they are my joy. Yes, I take very good care of them, but who was taking care of me?In that moment it came to me that my mantra for the year -- I will not use the word "resolution" which, after a lifetime of making and breaking them seems to be a word just fraught with a feeling of failure, no, I wanted something very small and very gentle, something that could be used in any circumstance whether it had to do with health -- spiritual, physical, financial or otherwise -- or perhaps creating a life for myself that made me feel organized and less chaotic -- a beautifully organized household, workspace, everything cleaned out and made a more peaceful way to live, whatever it might be -- and I would think, very gently, "Am I taking care of myself?" That's all I need to do in each moment, no big goals, just caring for myself as lovingly and tenderly as possible. Okay, how do I plan to achieve that?
I am not here to write a "Self-Help" post, giving advice on how to lose weight, save money, or turn you into -- God Bless Her -- Martha Stewart! There are enough books, c.d.'s, dvd's, conferences, and every one around you giving you advice. No, I just want to share with you what I believe will help me create a positive and loving environment for me to grow a happy healthy peace-full life, one that is achievable because it is something you never beat yourself up over or need to feel a failure at. You cannot fail, you can never be a disappointment feeling that you have fallen away again, that you will never succeed at any of the things you want to achieve in life, no, you will take each moment and, knowing that the next moment you can start fresh, and love yourself for your effort in the last one and keep moving forward like that. Here's what this mantra is rooted in.
I based my decision on how I would like to live, not only this year but ongoing, on the two things closest to my heart. First, the teaching of maitri (As most of you know I took this teaching as my legal name several years ago to be a guiding star and reminder of how I wanted to live and give in the world, my central spiritual practice.) which is about compassion and loving-kindness and though these are things that I want to carry into the world are the central core of the teaching, we cannot love another, cannot show them these beautiful, open-hearted gifts until we have given them to ourselves. We are not selfish when we take care of ourselves first, we are creating the ground on which we will be full and have ever more to give. You cannot give from an empty well, and when you fully love and care for yourself you will be more fully capable of giving to those that you love, those that you encounter in the world.
Second, the other practice that I consider one of my core practices is mindfulness, living in each moment as fully and with as much attention as possible, finding awe in each breath, a kind of timelessness and spaciousness. We have all the time in the world in each and every moment.
Note that these two teachings, maitri and mindfulness, are both practices. We never attain perfection with either of these and we are not meant to. Like falling off of a bicycle we were simply meant to meet each moment anew and keep on going. Wake up to each and every moment knowing that it is full of potent possibility abundant and greet it with joy. I will keep practicing maitri and mindfulness all the days of my life and when I fall away I will simply move into the next moment with no regrets, no remorse or self-loathing, no beating myself up over what I didn't do in the last moment but see each moment as a new chance to keep moving forward.
When we knit we drop stitches. We pick them up and keep on knitting. When you learn to play tennis you don't hit the ball over the net once, or play one game and then quit. The best tennis players always keep on playing, working at their game, and they know that they have to keep practicing to move forward. One missed shot is not the end, simply a possibility to continue on honing their skill. They don't give up the sport when they lose a game, the just keep on keeping on. So, too, shall we live through this year and all the years ahead if we remember to continually and gently say to ourselves, "Take care of yourself."
That, then, is my mantra for the year and it applies to every imaginable thing, every situation, from the food we eat to the handling of our finances to the way we care for our home or do the work that we do in the world. As I go through my day I intend to ask myself, before each meal that I eat, "Am I taking care of myself?" Sometimes I won't, but there is the next moment and before I take the next bite of anything I simply say to myself, inwardly, "Take care of yourself." Before I spend a dollar I now plan to let that phrase trickle down into my consciousness, "Take care of yourself." This has always been a hard one for me but when I am mindful perhaps I can think, gently, "You don't need that right now, but soon you will buy something that will bring you joy." If I save a penny I am taking care myself, and together the pounds fade away and the pennies add up and I have found two new ways to take care of myself.
Those that are good for making huge and complex plans will accomplish much, but they too need to take care of themselves in every other way and there will be other areas of their lives in which they can perhaps be gentler and more loving with themselves. There are no perfect people. There is no perfect anything, just another moment in which we may make "positive effort for the good," as Zen monk Dainin Katagiri Roshi wrote. I love that. Each moment is another possibility to "make positive effort for the good." Sometimes we won't. Sometimes we will just coast for awhile. I had to do that this last weekend after Coco died. I was frozen and numb with grief but I couldn't live there. The dogs needed to go out, be fed, be loved and cared for as did the seven parrots. And so when I got up to care of them I took a few moments to care for myself. I didn't try to clean the whole house for example but I perhaps washed the dishes, swept the floor, and took the trash out. All of those things together took between fifteen to thirty minutes tops, but when I had finished those tasks I sat back down, snuggled into my recliner with a snuggly warm blanket and cuddled with Sam, my velcro pug. What I had achieved might not seem like much, but I had made positive effort for the good, and I felt it. There was a buoyancy in the next little chunk of time, and it made me feel good. I wouldn't win a Nobel Prize for sweeping the floor, but I would have changed the tenor of my day. I took care of myself.
And the thing is that taking care in one area flows over to other areas. The better you feel about yourself for accomplishing one thing, the better you want to take care of other areas of your life.
"Take care of yourself." No passing judgment, no beating yourself up if you didn't take the best care you could in one moment or another, the next moment those words flow through your conscious mind again. And again and again and again. After a period of time you can feel the difference. Your life looks different because taking care of yourself becomes a way of life, and goals will begin to materialize without making complex, overwhelming plans that you can't keep and then beating yourself up for days or weeks or the rest of the year. Take care of yourself in each moment and each moment will take care of you.
I'm going to stop here and take care of myself. I am going to take care of myself by taking a nap snuggling a pug under a warm blanket. Later I am going to put colored cards all over my house, on the edge of my computer keyboard, in the bathroom, on the refrigerator, in my checkbook saying "Take care of yourself." I think this will be a marvelous and profound year, it can't help but be if I keep repeating this mantra, and I will keep a journal noting ways that I made "positive effort for the good." And I will smile and feel happy because I believe I will see changes in every area of my life that I have long wanted to make. I don't need to make new year's resolutions, I simply need to take care of the moments and let them take care of me. I feel so peaceful and happy knowing that this will be a good path for me and I am not trying to win a race in every area. I think, with fondness, of one of my favorite haikus by Issa (1723-1828). He wrote,
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!"
There is no rush and there is a great deal of spaciousness in each moment. I will take care of myself in each moment, slowly, slowly, and I will be fine. I am grateful that this thought came, like a gift, to me. And now, my nap...