I woke up at 5:30am, like I did every day. The sun had not quite risen, but the dawn was there, outside my windows, filling the sky beyond the trees. I brushed my teeth and drank a big jar of warm water. I went out my apartment door and down the grand staircase of the Victorian mansion I lived in on Capitol Hill.
At the foyer I knocked on a door with a brass number 4 on it. A sleepy voice said to come in, and when I did I found my friend sitting on the floor in the kung fu pants I had given her, tying her shoes in the dark.
I grabbed her sword and added it to mine in the canvas sack slung on my shoulder. Then we headed out the front door, down the sprawling patio steps, and walked across the quiet city street to the still city park where we practiced kung fu like we did every day, before the quiet became loud and the still became bustling.
There was a year of my life when I pretty much did whatever I wanted.
I was free to be wild, to act out, and to rail against the norm. So what did I do?
I woke up early and taught sword to my sister. I had a luxurious hour-long morning stretch and prayer routine. I meditated several times a day. I made my own meals using organic ingredients and brewed my own Kombucha. I read a lot. It took evening walks. I held private ceremonies honoring the moon cycles. I cried when I felt like it. I cranked up my reggae and had daily dance parties by myself. I practiced every single one of my kung fu forms every single day. And I went to bed early.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
It was the most free I had ever felt in my life, and all I wanted to do was take care of me.
This is radical self-care.
Radical self-care is making yourself a homemade meal even though no one else is there to enjoy it with you.
Radical self-care is calling in to work because you need to go to the mountains and sit by the river in order to make it through the week.
Radical self-care is letting yourself cry— even though it makes your lover worry.
It is calling a friend when you need to talk even though you haven’t reached out to her in six months and you need to bypass the small-catch-up talk and get right into it.
It’s realizing you’ve caught that cold that’s going around and even though everyone else you know still works full-speed-ahead on a cold, instead you make yourself ginger honey lemon tea, leave the dishes dirty on the counter, and take yourself to the hot springs for a healing dip.
Radical self-care is radical because it’s doing what you need to do to take care of yourself no matter what.
No matter what, I’m going to go to that yoga class I’ve been thinking about for weeks… Because I know it’s what I need.
No matter what, I’m going to not talk to my mother about my plan to quit my job… Because what I need doesn’t involve getting lectured to about what she thinks I need.
No matter what, I’m going to throw myself a birthday party because last year I was depressed and lonely… And what I need is to feel loved.
And no matter what, when I make the decision to do what’s right for me, what feels good to me in my heart— what I know I really need to be my best me— no matter what, I am not going to feel guilty for taking care of me first.
Did you feel that? Were you there with me on that one? Can you put yourself there for a minute again?
How often do you feel guilty about doing something you know is good for you?
How often do you not do that thing you know you need, because you think you’re letting someone else down?
How challenging is it for you to override that feeling that you should be doing x, y, or z, and do what you need to do anyway?
The more challenging it is to stand your ground on doing something you need, the greater your need to do it.
It’s similar to that thing that happens when you feel what my grandmother used to call “general malaise” and you think, “Screw it. I’m not going to tai chi tonight.” (Or yoga, or dance class, or the backyard chickens meet-up group— whatever it is you do that makes you feel happy and connected.)
What happens when you let your general malaise stop you from doing what you love? You feel worse. You feel way worse.
And what happens if you don’t do that thing you love, that lights you up, that makes you feel alive— what happens if you don’t do it because you feel guilty about being selfish, guilty about being self-indulgent, or guilty about not taking care of them first?
Oh yes, you know who I’m talking about-- that them. Them who have gotten used to you taking care of them first. Them who need you to not take care of you first otherwise who knows what may happen— they may get the same idea and then what will happen then?
Self-care chaos! A bunch of people getting their needs met first, without asking permission, without bothering to find out if it puts someone out, without even worrying that it may affect the lives of anyone else!
Oh, that is radical self-care at its best!
That is radical self-care for the highest good of all.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is the understanding that taking care of yourself first means you allow the space for those around you to take care of themselves first, too.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is what creates a world of people who value their wellbeing so greatly they are willing to let others think they are being let down when really it is the opposite.
Radical self-care for the highest good of everyone is standing powerfully in one’s decision for health and happiness and knowing beyond a doubt that it is the only thing you can possibly do in this world to help anyone else.
That’s right. It’s the oxygen mask example, full-on. Should we do this? Here it is:
You can’t help the dude sitting next to you put on his oxygen mask if you’re about to pass out due to lack of oxygen. Gotta put that thing on you first!
You’ll need a pen and paper (or a device you can take notes on, but physically writing does deeper work with the psyche.)
1. Check in with yourself. All of you— your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit. What do you need? What do you need physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
2. Close your eyes and ask yourself, “WHAT DO I NEED?”
3. Write it down. Big. Keep it simple. No paragraphs. Just a clear, concise one-liner.
4. Now, make a list of all the things you love to do. List everything you can think of that lights you up, makes you feel good, makes you feel alive, connected, free, at peace, healthy, grateful. List all the things, simple to grand, that make you feel better in this world.
5. Keep this list where you can see it regularly. Put it on your fridge or your mirror, or pin it up at your desk or altar. Fold it up and stick it in your journal or handbag where you have it with you all day long.
6. Refer to this list often. And add to it as you think of things. It’s amazing how fast we forget to do the things that make us feel alive. Keep it for times of grief, or times of general malaise. Pull your finger down its items on a day you know you’ve been working too hard.
7. Choose one of those items right now, and commit to doing that today. No matter what.
When you live your life saying yes to all the things you know are for your highest good, it means you are fully there for others when they really need you. It means by doing so you give those people the same opportunity to say yes to the things in their highest good. And it means that we collectively begin to shift the paradigm that taking care of oneself first is selfish.
Total, unapologetic, uncompromising self-care is the most selfless act one can make.
Where do you deny yourself what you know you really need? When do you feel guilty for doing what makes you feel alive? This is something that your mind may want to push away, so if that’s you, it means you probably really need to give this a shot. Or maybe this is your big excuse to do what you’ve been itching to do for a long time now.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!