Radical Self-Care is Totally Zen

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb

In my quest for radical self-care, this has become my proverb, though admittedly I’m not following it literally.

The proverb was confusing to me before this semester. I was focused on the time aspect and the ordering tone. Both made me curl my lip.

But I think now I’m starting to understand the wisdom underneath the less than perfect language. If I could rephrase it to the way that I live it out, the proverb would say:

“Do something self-nurturing for yourself every day—unless you’re too busy; then do two things self-nurturing for yourself every day.”

Once upon a time, I would have thought that self-care was the first thing that should go when I became swamped. I still feel the temptation to ditch it all the time right now. Sometimes I add up the hours that I’m supposed to be putting into school, work, internship, and homework (never mind anything else), and I don’t know how those hours are supposed to fit into my hamster-wheel week.

But I have taken that proverb to heart. When I start to feel that pull to neglect myself in order to fit “all the things” into my life, I look for ways to increase my self-care instead. It’s a sign to me that I’ve become overwhelmed enough to forget my priorities.

The proverb used to feel a little shaming and blaming to me, like the speaker was assuming that busy people obviously aren’t “efficient” enough or must be “lazy.”

That was my cult mind though. That was the memory of the way that the cult would drive you to the brink of exhaustion, then blame you for being tired.

I don’t doubt that some have used that concept in that way. Meditation has been hijacked by cults for abusive purposes. Self-care has been used as a means of oppression and victim-blaming.

What I was missing was the way that it could be used against the cult thinking. When I feel too busy for self-care, choosing to increase my self-care anyway isn’t meant to add to my workload or my sense of guilt. Rather, it’s to make me re-evaluate what I think needs to get done–to prioritize consciously.

If I’m too busy for self-care and I don’t take that conscious step, something is already being let go—my well-being.

But my proverb reminds me that the frazzled feeling is a sign to step back rather than do more. Essentially what the proverb is saying to me is: If forced to choose, let something else go.

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