by Katie Talbott, LMHCA
posted 1 October 2012
As a therapist, self-care is frequently on my mind. Not only is it a topic that I talk about with many clients, it has become clear that it is essential to my own work.
Self-Care Is Self-Love
I can talk about self-care sometimes as though it were optional—a nice thing to do, if I have the time. But what is the self, but the vehicle for our survival, the instrument (especially in the healing professions) for the work we do, and the means of being in relationship to others?
Being a therapist is finally starting to bring home to me that self-care is at the center of everything I do. Without caring for myself, I will not be sensitive to what is happening for my client. Without finding my own health, I will not be able to cultivate health in others. Without self acceptance, I will continue to judge the parts of others that I refuse to listen to in myself.
Buddhist loving-kindness practice always begins with offering kindness to ourselves before offering it to others. Without water in the pitcher of our own soul, we cannot offer anyone else a drink. Likewise, Jesus says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which has always seemed to me less commandment than fact: that the way you love yourself is how you will treat those around you.
The most profound self-care is care that says, “I value you. You matter to me.” If I take care of myself using a check-list—so many cups of vegetables a day, so many miles walked, so many minutes meditated—I may get the benefit of a healthy body or mind, but miss the more fundamental goal—to know that I am capable of loving myself.
The larger goal of self-care is not just health, but to feel appreciation for ourselves, gratitude at our being, and wonder at our complexity. It is to listen to ourselves — not only to the pleasant parts of ourselves, but to the dissatisfied, terrified and angry parts as well — out of the sure knowledge that they all have something important to say. And ultimately, it is to know ourselves as an intimate part of the universe, inseparable from the fabric of existence.
Self-care And Our True Work In The World
Parker Palmer says, in Let Your Life Speak, his meditation on true vocation, that self-care is the path to our true work in the world. He says, “I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” Caring for the self allows us to listen to the quiet promptings deep inside us that lead us toward the work that we are best suited for. And it is doing our true work that brings us full circle to be in communion with the world around us.
Like a terrier chasing its tail, any discussion of self-care eventually brings us back to the rest of the world. It is inevitable that paying attention to ourselves will connect us back to others. But as the yin/yang symbol shows us, solitary, interior time with ourselves is necessary to showing up fully in the world. You cannot have one without the other: interior and exterior, self and other—both exist in exquisite, harmonic, inseparable, inter-tangledness.
At Home In The Center of the Universe
As a therapist, an important part of my own self-care was having an office in a place that I enjoyed spending time in, and that I could trust to hold the deep work that people come to me to do. When I found my space at Fremont Healing Arts I knew immediately that this was the right home for my practice.
Though I cherish my quiet little office, it is really the people at Fremont Healing Arts that make the space special. If I am having a hard day, there is always someone around to talk to. Because there are so many different practices here (everything from acupuncture and massage to shamanic work and counseling) I know that all the parts of the self are being valued—that I can truly bring my mind, body, and spirit into everything that I do. Though we are all individual practitioners who value our independence, we also work actively together to create a shared space that benefits the whole community.
I talk about this because it is a good example of the concentric rings of influence of self-care. Taking good care of myself creates a healthy self, which contributes to building a healthy workplace, which contributes to growing a healthy community— which then takes care of me again. My self-care comes full circle, but only after resonating through all the layers of the world around me.
When people ask me what I do, I sometimes say that I work with people who want to feel at home in the world. And this is what I mean by being ‘at home.’ That we feel this sense of connection between ourselves, our true work, and our community. That we know that our actions have an effect on the world around us. And that we know, without a doubt, that we are worth caring for—just the way we are.
Katie Talbott, a long-time Fremont resident, provides sensitive, thoughtful therapy for men and women who are looking not only for relief from suffering, but to connect with the deeper truth of their lives. She is currently excited about Hakomi therapy as a powerful way of feeling at home in the universe.
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©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.