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Hiking in New Zealand with my nephew Daniel.

The word narcissist is one of the many words I cannot spell. Yes, I had to ‘have a go’ and then allow those little squiggly red lines to appear under the word and then right click and get the right spelling. Narcissism is a disorder. A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feeling, an inability to handle any criticism and a sense of entitlement. Most probably you would not need to tell the narcissist that they need to ‘take care of themselves’.

A martyr on the other hand is traditionally regarded as someone who is willing to give their lives for others. In the religious sphere the person may give their life for their faith. There is much to be admired in the courage and conviction of the martyr to believe in some cause to such depth that they would be prepared to give their lives for it. People like Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler and a Philippines journalist who continually speaks out against the atrocities of the Duterte government would be someone who is very aware that their voice is a threat to tyranny and by speaking up they are risking their life. I daily thank the Universe for the gift of the Maria Ressa’s of this world.

But another use of the word martyr can be those people who give and give and give until they are empty. They ‘spend themselves’ in the service of others. I am not convinced that this is a healthy thing. One of the questions I often ask of myself and others is, “Whose needs are getting met here?” To me the litmus test of whether the giving to others is healthy or not is JOY. When giving comes from a space of love and freedom it leads to joy – the old saying, “God loves a cheerful giver!”

We live in a world that knows so much pain. At times it could be so easy to lose heart. Many years ago I did a Masters Degree in Counselling. One of the best things about the degree was that we were told over and over again that the best way we could care for the other was to care for self first. Self-care, not in the narcissistic way mentioned above, but in that balanced choice to nurture self in the many ways that YOU deeply sense you need to be nurtured, is a gift that keeps on giving.

This self-care is not as easy as it sounds. Too often we remain as victims of past hurts and this can cloud how we view the world. Too often we choose to cling to those hurts – almost like a reverse security blanket, in our misery we ‘feel good’. Crazy! Too often patterns learnt in our childhood can bind us and never allow us to dance freely – this is certainly my own story. Too often we should on ourselves and allow these shoulds to dictate how we live our lives. Too often we spend our lives marching to someone else’s drum. Too seldom do we place healthy boundaries around our hearts and so allow the crap of others to be dumped on us – unfairly.

In a previous blog I shared about self-esteem and that so many of us have a filter that blocks out the affirmation of others. Ultimately we can be affirmed by many others but we have to choose to believe in what they see and come to see it for ourselves; this is a choice we have to bravely make, noone else can make it for us. This choice, made day by day and in some cases hour by hour leads us to that space where we need to care for our one precious life. I love the Mary Oliver poem – Summer Day. The poem concludes;

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do – with your one wild and precious life?

To me there is no easy way to a life of self-care. I certainly don’t believe that there is some magic formula or must buy book. Sure the wisdom of insights of others may help – but ultimately this is one journey we can only walk alone and walk OUR way. But when we begin that most sacred of journeys it begins to become an adventure and life is never the same again.

I love the poem Desiderata. Written by Max Ehrmann in 1927 it says among other pearls of wisdom;

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

A teacher meditating on a retreat near Oamaru, South Island of New Zealand.


Below are some ‘pointers’ for self-care – what would you add to YOUR list and why?

Pointers to Self-care

  1. Can you say ‘no’ to unfair and too many commitments?
  2. Can you gently accept a compliment – acknowledge it and then accept it
  3. Can you allow a compliment to truly ‘go within’ so you truly hear it?
  4. Can you gift yourself with quality time with those who love you?
  5. Can you gift yourself with quality time with mother Earth (beach walk, forest walk, gardening etc)?
  6. Can you gift yourself with time for what you love – a hobby – gardening, listening to music, playing an instrument – whatever?
  7. What gift will you give your body today? A massage, a healthy meal, some stretching, a gym session, a leisurely walk?
  8. What gift will you give your spirit today? A meditation session, a sacred sit, an awareness time in nature, some journaling?
  9. Begin each day with ten long slow breaths – then look around you – despite all that will come your way that day – you have been ‘gifted’ with another day
  10. Surround yourself with positive people who are dreaming of a better world for all
  11. Do a slow senses walk in nature; close your eyes and take in the scents, look – deeply at a flower or leaf or ant or whatever, gently touch – bark or petal or leaf, close your eyes and welcome in the sounds of that place; the wave, the bird, the humming insect, the flow of water …whatever
  12. Linger over a meal with loved ones
  13. Small is more than OK as is one step (life is a journey and a dance, not a race nor a stock market)
  14. Look into the eyes of someone who loves you
  15. Accept a hug – gently ask for one
  16. Write in your journal, plant a tree, start a compost bin, write a poem – a song – a melody ….do whatever gets YOUR creative energy going
  17. Forgive yourself over and over and over again – until your hearts truly hears it and then ritualise the hearing
  18. Do coffee with a friend and recall old memories – laugh a little
  19. When regrets come – as they will – gently smile, let them go – you did what you could with what you knew and who you were at that time
  20. Welcome tears when they come and light a candle for those who can’t or have forgotten to cry
  21. Catch a movie
  22. Read a book
  23. Listen to your favourite music
  24. Enrol in that class that you always wanted to but never felt you could; learn to dance, paint, DIY home projects
  25. Take a photo of something that grabs your attention or your heart – share that photo
  26. Snuggle up with a glass of wine – and perhaps a loved one
  27. Sleep in or get up early and watch the sunrise
  28. Waste time with those who love you
  29. Ice-cream, chocolate ….whatever
  30. All there is is NOW
  31. It is as it is; acceptance of the present moment is not surrender or fatalistic – but a doorway to freedom
  32. Choose a motto for yourself and put it in a place that you will observe it often
  33. Make a list of the ten things in your life that you most appreciate – and when necessary – update it
  34. Your wisdom …….

A friend of mine often says to me, “Damien, gift yourself one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year to gently but specifically nurture your spirit!” A couple of years ago I was working overseas for a month and the team I was working with were working seven days a week. After ten days without a break I said, “Stop! I can’t do this. I am a hard worker but I can’t and I won’t work seven days a week. I need one day just to be, to re-create (I love that word), to just potter around!”

As we have reflected on self-care it could be very easy to allow ‘guilt’ to sneak in. The false self, the ego loves and thrives on guilt. We feel guilty that we did not give and give and give. We feel guilty that we could have done more – been more. We feel guilty that we did not save the world! Guilt is the most useless of emotions – it white-ants our self-care.

But, the ultimate thing about true self-care is that it will naturally and beautifully lead you out to others. And when you engage with the other from this sacred space of self-care you will do so with a sparkle in your eye, a lightness of step and a freedom that others will be in awe of. What an adventure! Enjoy it!


What is YOUR way of being ‘gentle’ with yourself?

Who in your life has great life – work balance? What is their secret?

What works for you – what doesn’t?

Add YOUR self-care wisdom to the list above – and if you feel inclined to – share it either with myself or someone special in your life – your wisdom may inspire or motivate others.

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