When I recorded my podcast with Lisa Jo Landsberg last week, I was shocked when she said both binge eating and anorexia meant that you didn’t know how to take care of yourself.
I’ve been trying hard to learn to take care of myself from a very young age, when at twelve I started an exercise routine and eating what I thought was “healthy” back when nobody in my family was talking about health.
Surely nearly two decades of relentless focus on self-care had gotten me somewhere, and I really resisted seeing myself as someone who doesn’t know how to take care of myself.
And yet, it makes sense. My parents were at work a lot when I was a child, and what I wanted most of all was to be creative. I wanted to paint, write, put on a radio show. I wanted to inhale books. But when I woke up on Saturday mornings with the whole day ahead of me and nobody home, I didn’t know how to steer myself or direct myself towards the things that truly fed me. I had a small inkling of what those things were, but none of the self-regulation to direct my energies toward their fulfillment.
In other words, I needed an adult to guide me to live my values, not just fantasize about them.
Children need adults to model self-nurturing behavior that, ideally, is in line with the values of the child (even if those values are not matured at this early age, they exist on the deep soul level.)
Instead of living my values, I kept them waiting on the back burner while I walked to the fridge or cupboard, made myself some food, brought it to eat in front of the television, and then repeated that dance many times throughout the day until my parents came home.
Two essential ingredients were missing here: communion with others (isolation is now widely acknowledged as a marker of binge eating) and healthy modeling.
“You can’t get enough of what you don’t really want.”
After I had destroyed my body with too much food, and I was getting all kinds of messages from my body that it couldn’t take much more of this imbalanced and abusive behavior, I went about trying to fix it by eating healthily, investigating the right amount of food, etc. In short, I became obsessed with nutrition.
But what I thought was surely the way to impeccable self-care turned out only to be a beginning.
Here is how I look at it now: if there is a hole to be filled, you will use something to fill it. And until you find the exact thing that truly nurtures you, life is going to be full of substitutes. Porn, gambling, video games, food, even something as seemingly intrinsically innocent as yoga or self-care books can become fodder for filling a hole. ANYTHING can become this fodder.
The mindset change is, it’s not about the fodder. It’s about the hole.
The hole = the absence of living your dream.
Your dream = your mission, your raison d’etre, in the most literal sense.
How My Self-Care List Looks Today
What I am suggesting is that self-nurturance is not just about eating the right foods, or exercise, or reading a good book in the evening after a long day at work.
I’m suggesting that ultimate self-nurturance is to spend all of your time living a life that is in line with your values, what you feel you came here to do.
Yes, I said “All your time.” (Washing the dishes, if they are dishes you love that serve food to a family you love in a home that nurtures and nourishes you, is an act of devotion and can feel so completely in line with your core values. This isn’t about escaping the ordinary; ordinary things can be infused with the divine).
I’ve been blessed with everything I need to create my dream in this world. And here’s the thing: so have you.
Once you commit to making your dream a reality, the universe will help you get there. As Deepak Chopra says, “the universe has infinite organizing power.”
Meaning, it isn’t up to you to know exactly how it is going to happen, only to make your dream strong and clear enough that the seeds can begin to sprout.
Today, my self-care list is my life. My work fulfills my self-care list as I write and record conversations with people that have so much to bring. When I go to the bank (historically my least favorite activity and the area of life I’m having the most trouble bringing into the light of self-care), I call in how I’m managing money that will be used to keep my family healthy and happy and allow them to live their dreams. The magic of this intention turns it into self-care.
Geneen Roth recently spoke of a study that found the majority of Americans associate self-growth and change with deprivation, AND they associate self-kindness with indulgence.
As Lisa Jo spoke during our podcast, the dots connected.
Of course we don’t know how to care for ourselves if we are binging! Indulgent behavior doesn’t help us live longer, happier, more radiant lives, it only helps the pain go away temporarily so that we feel okay about staying on this earth when the pain becomes seemingly overwhelming.
But that pain, that very pain that seems so unbearable, is steering you to look deeply at the question, why are you here?
Exercise: Find Your Purpose
“Finding your values” and “Finding your purpose” are the same thing. It can take a little praying and digging to find exactly what that is for you.
Praying and digging is a powerful duo because it calls on both the earthly resources ~ the memories and life experience stored inside of you ~ and the timeless infinite wisdom of the higher Self (you can think of it as God, your own higher Self, a nameless higher Truth, however appeals) to materialize an answer.
- By praying, we ask to be shown our true path.
- By digging, we do some self-study to remember what our soul knew before we were conditioned.
When you were a child, you knew what your values were.
It’s what lit you up.
Those values are the same now as they were back then, though they have likely matured within you somewhat.
It may have been literally digging in the soil or picking out fabrics in the window displays that appealed to you; making clothing (even if you were just cutting the sleeves off your old tee shirts and reimagining them), reading books or playing an imaginary flute. It may have been playing with a pretend cash register and discovering the magic of math and numbers, or helping elderly people cross the street or get on a bus.
It brought you a pure, clear, innocent kind of joy and you clicked into it instantly.
A big clue is given when you think about what you did in imaginary play. If, as a child, you were blessed to have the time and opportunity to play imaginative games, what kinds of things did you envision yourself doing? What kinds of scenes did you create?
What was particularly inspiring to you?
Food Fades Into the Background
My great grandmother is ninety four and lives on bologna sandwiches. As far as I am told, she hasn’t done a moment of deliberate exercise in her life and she has always lived on bologna sandwiches on white bread.
She’s not overweight, is mentally clear and focused, and most of all, when I visited her last summer, she exuded a radiant halo of joy.
Unlike me, who has been fussing over eating the right foods for eighteen years, she seems effortlessly healthy.
My great-grandmother is a writer, and has been a writer of children’s books for as long as anyone can remember.
She writes to this day – poetry, children’s books, songs.
She is bedridden, but she writes.
Her aura is as innocent as a child’s, because that is what we are. All of us. When we line up with our dream, our purpose, our values and our reason for being here, we exude the same innocence.
When we are lined up with our purpose, we want to live in harmony with other beings, and live an ethical life. To top if off, our life is inherently spiritual because purpose itself is spiritual. We don’t have to dig so deep to live a spiritual life when we are living in line with our values.
Inherently, one takes care of the other.
And, curiously, food and its importance begin to fade into the background.
I am still thankful every day for every meal that I have.
But now, I am thankful because it is here to provide me the fuel to live my purpose, to live with meaning. The food itself is a vehicle.
Make Your Own Self-Care List
A list that looks very different from any list you may have made in the past.
As my Ayurvedic teacher Alakananda Ma says, “Efforts at self-betterment that are based on self-hatred rarely work.”
Instead, what would feed your soul the kind of food that would begin to fill you up for a lifetime? What could you see yourself doing day in, and day out?
Importantly, even if it doesn’t seem feasible right now, write it down.
This is an exercise in self-honesty and self-intimacy, and you will be rewarded for your courage. So the more outlandish the better, as long as it is your truth.
(Non)Action Step: Do some praying and digging and let magic take its course.