The World Health Organization defines self-care as: “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.” From a holistic point of view, self-care can include a number of vital behaviors that enhance our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
A good friend sent me an article from the Guardian today entitled, “Generation treat yo’ self: the problem with ‘self care’.”
Before even clicking on the link, little sparks went off in my head, dinging at my ego, especially since I’ve been brainstorming this weekend about a self-care intervention for a colleague’s potential research project. Gently blowing out those flames of judgment, I found myself quickly intrigued by the author’s interpretation.
Citing philosophers, social activists, and even a beautiful song by Solange Knowles, Ms. Mahwadi acknowledges the potential for self-care to be a powerful affirmation of self-worth and a rejuvenating tool to empower community service, particularly among members of marginalized groups. On the other hand, under the influence of today’s consumerist society, the author suggests:
So how do we keep ourselves from becoming drunk on our own bliss and well-being? The question here is not whether self-care is worthy or not, but rather, how do we ensure a healthy balance of self-compassion versus self-indulgence?
The key here is staying intimately aligned with purpose and values through mindfulness. Self-care enacted mindfully is: (1) purposeful, with specific intent; (2) performed with awareness, full attention; and (3) embodied through attitudes of trust, patience, kindness, and curiosity, among others.
If we retreat into ourselves as an extended escape into our own spheres of safety, it may become all too easy to fall into alluring traps of the ego. Alternatively, if the rituals of retreat are purposefully followed to help us better engage with ourselves and our environments (social, cultural, physical, political, etc) through responsive and skillful action, then perhaps mindful self-care can become true service.
Being honest and present opens up the opportunity to catch us in those ego-filled moments. Let’s be real – we can all be guilty of retreating into that realm. Fortunately, our awareness has the innate capacity to call us out. The hard work is in staying attuned to that call, that gentle reminder to balance care for self with care for the world around us.
“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.” - Rumi
What is your inspiration for Self-Care?
Rashmi S. Bismark
I'm a preventive medicine physician specialized in mindfulness, lifestyle, and community health. I'm a yoga teacher, an educator, a researcher, a devoted mom and expatriate wife, living a blessed global nomad life.