Last week I shared a story from my own experience of self care. The essence of a response I received about self care and knowing one’s own boundaries has been paraphrased in the title above. 

I was very moved to be asked – or, more accurately – I was stilled. 

So, okay, ready for this? I’m going to be very frank with you: I don’t know how.

To share about self care, to tell you the story of a moment when – in the middle of an uncomfortable family gathering – I took my leave and ‘practiced’ self care… you have to know that I only knew it was self care after it happened. Forgive me if it sounded like I knew what I was doing.

There were clues, though, even if briefly taking leave of my family I wasn’t full of mature self understanding in the moment. One clue was that I was starting to feel uncomfortable, a bit frustrated, with folks whom I dearly love. I really didn’t like feeling what I was feeling and I certainly didn’t want my family to know I was uncomfortable as if my discomfort was some how their fault.

It takes bravery to practice self care. It takes a level of willingness. It would probably be best if that bravery and willingness was blended with compassionate love, right? If self care is a practice in a way similar to the practice of letting go of outcome… I was slightly braver in noticing my discomfort and frustration than I’ve been in the past and slightly more willing to not blame others in the moment I chose to take a break from my family. 

If there was any particular ‘doing’ or ‘how to do it’ that I was conscious of, it truly was that I desire to listen. I may not know how, but I know I desire to listen.

When I wrote of the experience last week… it was based on a kind of trust, a multileveled kind of trust. So, while I can’t tell you how in a step by step fashion, I can tell you that I trust the practice of listening. I trust, more and more, that I can – in fact – let go of outcome. And, in my own way, in a way that opens me and asks of me to be more brave and aware than I generally consider myself to be, I trust that you all who are receiving this letter truly care about listening. Because I trust your heartful desire to serve, I bring myself more fully to the practice of listening and share what I have learned, from and through listening, with you.

And there is a compassion deep within all of this. The compassion for not knowing. The compassion for never really being good enough. The compassion for how messy life is. The compassion for how deep our human desires are and how often we fail to meet those desires. 

Similar to last week’s letter, I want to share a poem with you. And, again similar to last week, I may not have fully pulled a thread through my confession above and tied it to the poem below. Still, this poem speaks to a compassion noticed after the fact. It speaks to a level of love and care embedded within ordinary – and sometimes uncomfortable – life: “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden.

     Sundays too my father got up early
     and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
     then with cracked hands that ached
     from labor in the weekday weather made
     banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

     I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
     When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
     and slowly I would rise and dress,
     fearing the chronic angers of that house,

     Speaking indifferently to him,
     who had driven out the cold
     and polished my good shoes as well.
     What did I know, what did I know
     of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Here’s the thread, or at least a thread: allow yourself to be both characters in the poem (the trick here is to be both characters – boy and father, or even three characters, boy, father, boy-all-grown-up-narrator… and be them all at once).

Look back on yourself and notice how you have listened, notice how you have practiced self care… even during times when you assumed otherwise. If you want to understand how to practice self care while listening, reflect back on what you already are doing in those realms and… with loving compassion, acknowledge yourself.

All gratitude, all compassion,
Avie & Marcia