Self-care Series - Part 3 - The Soul
This was always a scary area for me to address. I used to think if I spoke the ‘S’ word people would judge me 🙁 . Vulnerabilities are a huge inhibitor to self care. Today, it's down to trepidation. In this blog I am sharing the two steps that helped me to truly start addressing the self care of the soul.
I am sure we all have heard of the ‘attitude of gratitude’ and higher purpose, especially over the last year of COVID. As humans we have the privilege of benefiting from this higher purpose; it’s an eventual route to the soul. This route to the soul is a continuous journey during which we can choose our paths with awareness and in fact try different ones in different times, given the nature of this journey. I have tried and continue to work on the two paths that I found rewarding.
1. The attitude of gratitude. Initially I didn't understand this practice and thought it was just limited to expressing with authenticity what we were grateful for. I would go out of my way to say thank you in my prayers and not ask for relief from the pains of life and relationships that I was experiencing. It was a way to slowly start recognising that I had so much even though I felt completely depleted.
2009 was a very difficult year. It started with me being broke given the financial crisis and I was trying to pay salaries of 11 staff, manage my household, manage a divorce from an abusive husband, and raise two young boys. I sold everything I could possibly sell to keep my head above water for me and the 11 families I was responsible for as an employer. I NEEDED to practice gratitude and positivity or I would have lost my mind. I would say thank you every morning and through the day in a fervent hope that someone out there would hear my gratitude and things would start changing . It didn't happen.
July 2009, in an attempt to take a break from the emotional, mental and financial troubles in my life, I did a trek in Peru, with a charitable organisation called Gulf4good.org (a charity that helps children around the world with medical / school supplies / toilets etc.). We went to a small village outside Cusco to help rebuild a school. It was during that trip that these three children taught me the true meaning of gratitude. The siblings between the ages of 4 and 8, looking after each other while their oldest sister (whom I didn't get to meet) was out trying to earn some money and bring back food for her younger siblings. These kids showed me their home, it was a hut with mud floors, on which I saw a few baby carrots strewn around and a guinea pig. The kids were hungry but were not allowed to eat the carrots, they were reserved for the guinea pig.
The guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru, which when fattened and sold would fetch the family about $10. This $10 would see the family through for a month of groceries. For those of you wondering about the parents.. the father was in the city earning money, which was spent by the mother on alcohol. She was nowhere to be seen during my visit.
Seeing these kids and their situation, made me realise I had SOOOOOOOOO much to be truly grateful for. No matter how difficult it felt, I had a GOOD roof over my head, my children were healthy and did not suffer from malnutrition like these three (the 4 year old as you can see from the picture was more like a 2 year old), I had support from my parents, I had friends i could count on if I allowed myself to reach out, and the biggest, I was a skilled and healthy adult who had choices of how I could pull myself out of this situation. It is THEN, with this realisation that I started practicing gratitude. And it wasn't till later that I learnt the real technique to start this practice - it didn't need an event like Peru.
To initiate the ability to be truly grateful for what you are, what you have and that we are still breathing, we need to recognise our gifts. Our breath is a gift, which we take for granted. It is our breath that connects this body to the soul and it is what feeds our mind too. Known as Prana (life giving force) in Yoga, our breath becomes shallow and just in our chest,with stress and negative emotions. This constricts the free flow of prana through our body, with many consequences to our body and our ability to think and act clearly. So deepening your breath is the first step relieving your mind of fear.
In practicing gratitude, take 10 minutes out of your chaotic day, find a quiet corner and breathe deeply. Breathe into your stomach and as you breathe in, follow your breath consciously reaffirming your gratitude to life, the life force or even simple joys that you have in your life. As you breathe out, consciously breathe out negative emotions and feelings. The focus of this practice is deepening your breath. You know you are doing the practice well when your breath gets longer and slower and reduces your heart beat, giving you the experience of calm. It is at this point we can recognise what we have and be grateful for it.
This technique is also a practical initiation to the path to spirituality* (another ‘S’ word that I was scared of using outside my very close friends and family, I was too corporate, too successful and too cool to talk about Soul or spirituality despite me being a reiki practitioner from the age of 26)
2. Seva (service). Being in service to others without a self serving intent of any nature is amazing soul food. Ranging from helping a stranger to a family member or actively being a part of a charitable organisation, there are many actions to choose from.
I was in seva of my parents for three months recently. It involved me leaving my 7 year old daughter and husband behind in Canada for the 3 months that I went to India during COVID. My mom has Alzheimer’s and my ailing dad had just been diagnosed with bladder cancer. My seva, involved taking over the management of my mom, cooking, cleaning, feeding, hospital trips and more. Watching my parents decline under the weight of a disease like Alzhiemer’s was hard. Taking some steps for their betterment like strapping my mom down to a hospital bed to sedate her was one of the hardest things to do. Through these trying times of seva taking a step back from them and focusing on myself internally with my breathing practice helped.
A word of caution with Seva - remember that we can't serve someone else before we serve ourselves unselfishly. I will explain this with my own example. I referred to seva of my parents: I was away from my family, my routine, my dog, my home etc. for 99 days. The aim was to help settle my parents. I was so consumed by that goal that I stopped taking care of myself during that process. I was reaching burn out. My ability to manage my mom’s outbursts diminished greatly. I recall an incident where we were all going to go to a mall and needed to get mom dressed. She refused to put on the clothes we were recommending for her and was getting increasingly agitated. With her agitation my patience and ability to reduce her anxiety was also diminishing by the second. I was getting angry with her 🙁 It's the day I realised I had neglected my own stability and needs. I had stopped my meditation practice, my self care practices. I hadn't spoken to anyone outside my parents in nearly 63 days and it was now telling on me but more than that, it was defeating the very purpose I was there for - caring for my parents. When the realisation hit, I resumed all my self care practices, and in fact even earned myself a yoga teacher training certificate.
Net net of this blog: Practice deep breathing to get to the attitude of gratitude. Be in service of others while ensuring you are in service of you first!
The assistance you provide another being with the sole intention of assisting the other will feed your soul. The minute it has a hidden agenda, even if that intention is ‘this will make me feel better about myself’ will take away from this experience of Seva and will no longer be soul food.
In today's OVID environment many of us are already practicing this, I would encourage you to consider actions outside COVID as well.
My yogi guru Gabby said something to me which I repeat for you (the readers) with all sincerity
“When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one!”
* Spirituality means different things to different people. For common understanding the meaning I refer to is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. The shift in priorities allows us to embrace our spirituality in a more profound way.