Lesson 5: Taking care of myself
Last Sunday, I spent about three hours cycling. Through a hail storm. But that didn’t bother me at all. I was well protected in my rain gear and completely alone, so I didn’t need to worry about anyone else but myself. I wove my way through the puddles and, at one point, even cycled straight through a large one. I saw people huddled under their umbrellas, rushing to the warm, dry interiors of shops and cafés, while I cycled at ease through the soaking wet city. My destination: the Teylers Museum to see an exhibition about the painter Jan Weissenbruch. My departure point: home, where I had left behind a husband on the sofa with his leg in plaster, and three kids, of which two were busy with a pile of homework and the youngest was in his pajamas, absorbed in the Playstation. I had asked several times if anyone wanted to join me, and the answers were always as follows: “Mom, no! I really haven’t got time!”, and “Mom, do I have to?” Uhmmm, no, you don’t have to. Because deep down, mom actually really wants to go on her own. So that mom can focus—completely and utterly—on how she feels today and on what is going on around her. And, even better, so that she can spend ages standing in front of the same painting without being hassled (“Mom, how much longer is this going to take?”).
I’m just over half way through my eight-week course, and new insights and habits are gradually starting to seep in. One of the things that I find so appealing about mindfulness is the concept that you take care of yourself by sitting in silence every now and then. By taking note of how you are doing, right there and then. How you are breathing (is it rushed or calm?), what thoughts are coming to mind, what twinges or discomfort do you feel in your body as you sit there. Stopping with all that rushing around and the need to complete your to-do lists, and simply taking time for yourself. Without feeling guilty. Because—and this is an extremely valuable insight for me—it is not a luxury but rather a necessity to pay attention to yourself every now and then. It’s called taking good care of yourself. And if you do, you can take better care of others.
I believe that, years ago, I knew exactly how to take care of myself. But somewhere along the way, I lost myself. When life got fuller and busier, with three children and three cats (and okay, with a husband who does really pull his weight, even if it isn’t right at this moment in time what with his leg in plaster), I started focusing more on taking care of others. Only after all the gym bags had been packed, lunchboxes had been prepared, the house had been tidied and deadlines were met, did I put myself into the picture. Through the mindfulness lens, however, I suddenly see—very clearly—that my family are actually much better at taking care of themselves than I am of me. I sometimes look, with envy, at my Netflix-ing daughters or my son, who lies sprawled on his bed reading his comics or my husband who reads at least four newspapers on a Sunday, surrounded by the cats and a lot of junk. And I realize: Stop being jealous and start taking action. Try to be more in the moment and let things be. Sneak off on your own every once in a while.
That’s something that everyone at home will have to get used to: a mother who goes out on her own. To the forest, the museum or the movies. Or even just for a stroll round the neighborhood.
And no: mommy is not feeling down or stressed out. She’s simply taking care of herself.
Alice is General Managing Editor of Flow International and the Flow Specials.