Once upon a time while pursuing a master’s degree in conflict management, I had to take a course called, “Disciplines for Sustaining the Peacemaker.” I tromped into the class ready to hate it with a rabid, unrelenting passion, because for me, discipline itself—structure for its own sake—is a dubious, if not impossible, source of sustenance.
And yet, the class had value. My classmates were from all over the world, dealing with deadly, entrenched conflicts. They’d seen first hand the kind of tragedies enacted in Newton, CT, had gone eyeball to eyeball with genocide. A later student in the program, a Liberian lady named Leymah Gbowee, ended up winning the Nobel Peace prize. They were warriors for peace, and to examine how they’d maintain physical, spiritual and emotional health under the most trying of circumstances was a worthy pursuit.
The idea being, once the bullets started flying, time or motivation to reflect on self-care would be scarce.
One assignment was just to make a list of all the things we did that we considered “self-care,” whether we did them daily or infrequently. I sat down, prepared to be stumped, because at the time I was a single working mom, running my own law practice, and “self-care” was not an indulgence I felt I could throw many resources at.
The list surprised me:
Journaling, going for a walk, having a hot cup of tea, reading novels or watching movies with happy endings, meeting friends for breakfast or lunch, seeing the naturopath regularly and being treated at least monthly with acupuncture. Petting the cat or the dog, meditating, lifting weights, taking vitamins, pursuing an education, finding solitude, sleeping, having sex, listening to music, nature and natural beauty, long drives, gardening, prayer, keeping flowers on hand, laughing, wearing the clothes I want to wear…
Other people had things on their lists I did not: Dancing, going to church, the occasional alcoholic drink etc, making music, painting, reading to their children, cooking, cleaning, yoga, team sports, running, reading scriptures or various denominations or favorite authors, knitting, throwing pots, reading history…
What came home to me is that my identity and sanity are protected by measures great and small, everything from a cup of tea to pursuit of an advanced degree. I was surprised to realize I had a bag of tricks—a big bag—and that I was engaged in sustaining the (insert identity of choice here) without realizing what I was doing.
So are you. This week has been hard—awful, in fact—for most of us, and yet, you’ve carried on, you’ve tended to your obligations, you’ve possibly even tended to others as they’ve coped with shock, horror, and sorrow following the Newton shootings.
I’m not giving anything away this week. Instead, I’m asking you to share what you’ve done to keep yourself moving forward. What are your mantras, your cups of tea, your playlists for when it hurts to be human?