Every once in a while I come across a phrase, a way of wording something, that changes my thinking, shifts my imagination and lets me approach the familiar a little differently.
Recently, I experienced just such a shift around my ideas of self-care and self-love. Now, I’m all for both, and I do think loving and caring for the self gives us the resources to be more loving and caring with others. But sometimes- when I’m tired or ill or busy- I have trouble sifting through all the available options to know what self-care might look like in the present moment. It can begin to feel like just another task on a too-long to-do list.
Then I came across Kathleen Norris’ book, Acedia and Me. She tells the story of complaining to her mother about having to make her bed every day when she was a teenager. Her mother replied that doing so was an act of “hospitality to the self” and would make her feel good when she returned to her room.
“An act of hospitality to the self” opened a window in the sometimes opaque directive to take care of myself. For me, hospitality to myself includes leaving the room or my home in a way that feels welcoming, beautiful and calming to me when I return. Similarly, making a pot of lentil soup, going for a walk, meditating or having a cup of tea while I listen to music that slows me down can be acts of hospitality to my mind-body-heart-soul self. For someone else, the list will be different, and it may change from day to day and throughout a lifetime. Using this phrase helps me discern what is and what is not, real self-care, today. For me, reading a good novel can be an act of hospitality to the self, but watching television for more than one hour is not.
Using this phrase as I make my choices during the day opens me to taking care of myself not because I think I “should,” and not as a burdensome task to be accomplished by asserting discipline, but simply as a way of giving and receiving the gift of the day I am offered. This changes the activity itself – makes it mindful, allows it to feel like part of a gracious way of living. Taking care of myself by thinking about what, in this moment, would be an act of hospitality to myself, allows me to find joy in the work involved and sustenance in the gift received. And when we feel welcomed, when we feel what we offer is received as a valued gift, it is much easier to graciously welcome and receive what others and life itself offers to us.