I’ve already talked on this blog some time ago about the three permaculture ethical principles–these are simple ethical principles that allow us to live life in a way that is fair, equitable, and sustaining to all life. I use these ethical principles as “mantras” to live by and they are deeply woven into my druid practice. I have them hanging in my house, as small reminders, each day. As a review, the principles are people care (caring for others of our own species); earth care (caring or all life) and fair share (ensuring that you only take your fair share and that all life has theirs too). Today, I want to talk about the fourth ethical principle–self care and show how principles from druid practice can help us engage in better self care. I do so by describing three self-care strategies rooted in druidic practices: the bardic arts, sitting quietly with plants, and celebrating the wheel of the year.
The Challenge and Dominant Narratives of Self Care
We have a really contradictory culture when it comes to self-care–on one hand, we are supposed to “treat” and “indulge” ourselves and take what we need while, on the other hand, we are admonished for being “selfish.” On top of this, there is the glorification of busyness and work that pervades most of our culture: if you are taking regular rest, this is seen as somehow bad. I’ve seen this a lot in my academic career–I’m supposed to be wedded to it, working nights, days, and weekends and not really doing anything else. I manage my time and commitments carefully so that I don’t have to do this–but keep it quiet because others would look down on me and I’d get harassed. Finally, there’s this idea that in order to get rest and relaxation, we must get “away” from our lives and go on vacation. Why do we need a vacation from our lives? Can we instead work to take better are of ourselves in each moment?
Self care, like many other aspects of our culture, has been co-opted by mass consumption. Now the narratives suggest in order to care for yourself, you must do so by consuming X product or service–bath salts, a day at the spa, drinking a designer tea, buying yourself a nice dress, and other ways you “treat yourself.” After all, a corporation doesn’t’ care one bit about you–only the stream of economic resources from yourself to them. I’d suggest resisting corporate narratives of self-care and instead listen inward. We can have self-care that is nurturing to ourselves and to other life and not consumptive.
Ethical self care, within the context of the permaculture ethics of people care, earth care, and fair share encourages us to think about how our actions care for the earth and not take too much. Ethical self care realizes that we can’t engage in any other kind of care if we, ourselves, are not taken care of first. Nature spirituality and druidry is a path that allows us much in the way of self-care, if only we don’t get in our own way.
Create and engage in the bardic arts
The more that you identify as a consumer and fill your life with goods, TV, and the like, the less time you have to express your own creative gifts. And for many people, finding an outlet for their own gifts, can cultivating them, is one of the greatest ways of feeling fulfilled and happy. In fact, one of the great gifts of the druid path, I believe, is the emphasis on the bardic arts, the creation of bardic circles that encourage people’s creative gifts and in entertaining ourselves, and the encouragement of individual bardic study in the various arts.
So one key way of caring for yourself is by making space, time, and allowing yourself a creative outlet: music, poetry, painting, novel writing, sculpture, singing, storytelling, woodcarving, basket weaving, printmaking, book binding, whatever it is–any of these arts and crafts of any sort are things you do for yourself, often with yourself. It might be that the only person who reads what you write, or hears what you sing, is yourself–and that’s ok. You don’t have to produce masterpieces–if it relaxes you, it doesn’t’ matter what it looks or sounds like.
I’ve met a lot of people who want to be creative, but they have imposed their own rigid blocks. We disallow ourselves, disempower ourselves, and talk ourselves into believing that that’s ok not to create. But look at small children–every one of them has a drive to create–and we were once those children. For own long-term self care, it really isn’t healthy to keep blocked up and stagnant. I’ve met poets who haven’t composed poetry in years for fear nothing will be good enough; singers who no longer sing; writers who talk about their books they have planned but never write a word. I was like this too, once, before I had a radical shift in my life and became a druid. For me, the issue was the connection I had between my artwork and poverty. My family didn’t have much money growing up, and my parents were both graphic designers and artists–I was afraid that if I got too deeply into my own art (especially when I was an undergrad in college) I would want to do it all the time and somehow fail at life. I semi-consciously associated art with poverty and blocked myself from doing it. When I finally allowed myself to do it, and use it as a healing process, the artwork flowed from me. After 10 years of art (especially painting trees), I’m pretty good these days.
This leads me to the second thing that often blocks us up creatively: the idea that inborn talent is all that matters. We have this narrative in our culture that suggests we are “gifted” at things and do them well or we shouldn’t do them–but this can’t be further from the truth. Maybe you don’t have the best voice, or you can’t yet draw anything decently, or have difficulty with simple whittling. But you know what? All of the bardic arts are about sustained practice and skill–not about innate, raw talent. I speak not only from experience, but expertise on this subject (I’m a learning researcher.) In fact, what makes us really good at something and what allows us develop expertise quickly is by sustained challenges and by pushing our skills into new directions (not doing the same comfortable thing over and over again). You can’t get better at something if you don’t begin and don’t work at it. Its the challenge, and the ability to rise to the challenge and push our skills from wherever they may be, that makes us grow creatively.
The third thing that prevents us from our bardic arts is just life getting in the way. This happens to so many of us–we have too much to do, family obligations, work obligations, and things that pile up and up and up. But again, regardless of the circumstance, we have make the time for the things we love. I like to schedule it in, just like everything else, that creative time has a place.
Take quiet moments with plants
Another basic self care strategy is simply to find some quiet moments–even for 5 minutes–where you sit with plants. What we have happening now in our culture is that everyone is in a frenzy and in a near-constant sympathetic nervous system state where we are in “fight or flight” mode rather than “rest and digest” mode. Running from here to there, driving and traffic, horrific world events being broadcast into our homes 24/7, answering emails, disagreements at the office, screaming toddlers, even watching TV requires us to always be “on” and present–our bodies physically can’t take it.
Taking quiet moments, with plants, helps us in two ways–it rebuilds the ancient bonds between humans and nature and it helps us slow down and breathe deeply.
A quiet moment with a plant ally might be a steaming cup of herbal tea on your porch, looking at the sunrise. It might be sitting by a quiet stream, sitting under a tree, even sitting quietly with a houseplant. The specific situation is really not important–the important thing is that you take the time to do it. I like to take my quiet moments with plants in my gardens–sometimes I’ll take a blanket and just lay among my vegetables, or, take a blanket and lay in a park, looking up at the trees. Take a sleeping bag out on a cool night and lay under the stars. Sit with the grass that grows up in the crack in the pavement. Whatever it is, its worth doing.
Sacred Days as Days of Rest and Rejuvenation
One of my personal self-care strategies since I became a druid has involved the druid wheel of the year. I arrange to have a day or part of a day, somewhere as close to the holiday as possible, entirely to myself. It might mean that I go somewhere, or might I stay home, but the important thing is that this is a sacred day. These are the cornerstone of my own long-term self care strategy. Its on these days that I dedicate time to my bardic arts (panflute playing, writing, and various kinds of artwork), I spend time doing ritual and meditation, I spend time in nature, I do all the things that fulfill me and quiet me and make me whole. I turn of electronic devices on these days–they are simply days for me to be with me, not my computer or phone or anything else. Its been very hard over the years to take these days between work obligations, relationships, family issues, school, etc, but its something that I work to do– to ensure that at least 8 days a year, I manage it. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but more often than not, it does.
There are lots of other self-care strategies, but these three, rooted in druidic practice, have gotten me far. Does anyone have any they’d like to add to the list? New things to try for self-care? Please share!