Back to Life after 5 Days of Extreme Self-Care

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I recently took unprecedented action in my life.  It was the opposite of being on one of those reality TV survival shows.  I removed myself, for the first time in the 15 years since becoming a mom, from taking care of anyone but myself.  For 5 days.  Okay, that was kind of a lie.  Honestly, I was cared for.  Well, I still had to brush my teeth and shower.  Does that count?  It ROCKED.  The icing on the cake?  I engaged in this being-cared-for practice in the mountains of Umbria, Italy.

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This was my work.

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I was more relaxed than I’ve been in I-don’t-know-how-long. Ever, perhaps. Seventeen other women and I were sequestered away, freed up to meditate, express, dance, cry, hug, reflect and connect.  We showed up three times a day to savor delicious, fresh food lovingly prepared by a chef as we talked, laughed, and soaked in the views of lavender, rosemary, cyprus tress, surrounding mountains and abandoned, far-off castles. We walked and ate wild blackberries.  We made fresh pasta.  We tasted wines. We even had a day of shopping.  Oh, and we had massages.

Everything was planned and provided.  Really, I’m not sure a girl can be in a more nurturing environment than the one in which our lucky group of women was immersed for almost a week.  Heaven.  Our two lovely leaders, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson, teamed up their very different styles to help us identify and surrender those things that deplete us, and to receive more of what buoys us.  They helped foster a safe sisterhood that made us feel supported and connected.  I left that retreat full of energy, love, and optimism.

So, here I am, in the process of re-entry.  My precious family, who cheered and showered me with affection when I walked in the front door after returning, is back to a bit of bickering about chores and critiquing my choice of family meals.  Four days after returning from Italy, I got back on a plane with my 13 year old daughter and her two friends to see One Direction in concert at the Rose Bowl.  It was so fun to watch the girls bursting with joy and melting over these coiffed boys, but really, trust me when I say I probably paid sufficient penance for my time savoring quiet and relaxation. I’m not a great crowd person.  I may have even dropped a few quiet f-bombs in the middle of the pushing and shoving of that teenage estrogen-fueled frenzy.

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Do you feel the contrast in energy from the above pictures?

What’s a girl to do?  I don’t want my spirit to start rolling up into a cocoon amid the rush to get to appointments on time, less than cheery news stories, and the treadmill of busy to-dos of everyday life.  I want to live open and joyfully, despite and, perhaps, especially with the darkness that lurks in our world.

So here’s what I’m thinking might work for me.  As a regular practice, I’ve decided to:

1.  Make space.  Space in time and in environment.  I bought a sparkly watch while in Italy to remind myself that I am allowed to set aside time for ME.  In my life, this looks like waking up before the rest of my household.  It means taking time each afternoon before school’s out to break out my yoga props and drop into a restorative pose.  20 minutes should do just fine.

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It also means to keep the clutter to a minimum.  I don’t know about you, but nothing sucks the happy out of me quicker than a pile of stuff on my desk.  That nagging reminder that I have bills to pay, papers to file, invitations to answer is not ringing with joy.  I aim to clear out for a few minutes each day and make space to live presently without the burden of have-tos.

Another way I make space is to sit in my backyard and commune with our big old oak tree.  Its strength, stability, beauty, and patience soothes my soul in a way that’s hard for me to explain.  If I lived next to a creek, I know the sound of water would do the same for me.  Nature, nature, nature.  Always there to remind us that life goes on, even when an unanswered jury summons remains on the kitchen counter.  Life is bigger than our everyday tasks.  Finding a bench, a walking path, a flowering plant in our surroundings where we can go for just a few minutes each day can provide a gateway into our bliss.

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2.  Connect.  Yes, it would be nice to have our closest, most unconditional-love-filled people available to us at any moment.  Having these people on speed-dial is a great idea, but the reality is that connection can and should happen on so many different levels all the time.  It makes my day to hit the grocery store check-out line and know the name (and kids’ names) of the person helping me.  I love running to the dry cleaner and talking about family, life, and whatever comes to mind.  This week, my acupuncturist/therapist/friend and I laughed so hard during my session that his colleague had to shush us.  This is the stuff that lifts me.   Connection provides such healing energy, even though it’s rarely about baring your soul in a protected space, holding hands, and hugging.  Although, don’t get me wrong, I do love those sacred moments, too.  Especially the hugging.

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My guaranteed sources of unconditional love.

3.  Breathe.  (Does this fall into the space category?)  I always come back to this tool, but it always works.  Pause, breathe, and feel tension melt away.  Slow it down regularly.  It’s hard to feel inspired and joyful when you’re gunning it to your next appointment, fists clenched around the steering wheel.  Slow down and breathe.  Chances are you’ll get where you need to go just as quickly, and you’ll bring way better energy with you when you get there.  Which then helps you to connect.  And, it’s a lot easier to notice beauty in life when you slow down and breathe.  It’s there, at the ready to soothe your soul and dose you with joy.

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So, here’s to occasional get-aways that remind us how peaceful life can be.  And, here’s to creating some of that slowed-down, nurturing feeling in the every day.  Cin cin!