Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hospitality to the Self

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.

So, what would it look like today, to perform an act of hospitality to yourself?


  1. Interesting: in the last sweat, one of the insights that came was how much I treat myself as Yang... I must do this, or that today. (Preferably BOTH this and that!) but how little yin space: receiving energy from outside I give myself.

    I guess the one exception would be cooking: I cook well, even when it's just for myself.

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  3. Oh good grief- having trouble learning this- just deleted my own comment! which was:

    good for you on the cooking. I still find it so much easier to cook healthy means when I am cooking for others.

  4. Hospitality to the Self - that's immediately touched me and it's so easy to know what that would be for me. So today that was a walk in a beautiful nature, then Sting's Soul Cake music when I was cooking meal for myself and a comfortable feeling while resting on my couch.

  5. Being single, I have found I really need to find ways to make meals for myself. One of the best purchases has been a small rice cooker. It makes enough for two meals, and I like to add black beans and stir fry with veggies. This way I feel I am getting the protein I need and a hot meal as opposed to standing at the counter, eating whatever is in the fridge.
    Making up my bed with nice linens and this year I put a fleece blanket under my duvet, and its so comfy and warm ( keeping my space a bit cooler these days )when I crawl in and pick up a book ............. feels like I'm in a nice guest house somewhere special.
    Thanks for the idea of Hospitality just for me.
    Blessings all

  6. What a great blog, Oriah! I believe the one thing that keeps me centered is journaling. Coming home from work, it is the first thing I do. The evening flows easier after I have written down my thoughts for the day.

  7. What a nice thought...Hospitality to self. There is something I have been doing for years now just never thought of it in that sense. Every morning before I leave for my long day I fix a snack and place it in a zip lock bag and leave it on my table so when I return home it's there waiting. It's usually something healthy, maybe trail mix ,dried fruit or my favorite pumkin seed crackers. This way I come home change, destress eat my small snack and get ready to cook my meal and enjoy my evening. I used to grab junk food....I am much nicer to myself these days. And sometimes I forget what I left and it brings a smile to my face when I see it lying there ready for me. And sometimes when I am feeling really self indulgent in the morning I leave a piece of (dare I say it)dark Chocolate.

  8. "Hospitality to self"... hmmm... It's a lovely thought. Perhaps a could cut a bud from my backyard and bringing it indoors in a small vase by the kitchen window. When I return from work, and begin dinner for my family, I will see the flower a little more in bloom ~ just for me. Petals revealing a "welcome home" message with open arms. That would be a gift.

    ~ LaRonda

  9. Last week when I read your blog entry on Hope and Faith, I noted that you were aiming for posting on Wednesdays. So here I am, at the end of the day, and it dawned on me that it is once again Wednesday, and my eyes light up like candles as I remember The Green Bough.

    I'm so happy that you're making time for yourself. To do this, has been such a struggle for me... I've been preaching this to folks for years, ever since my time of spousal caregiving, and I'm the one who has trouble practicing what I preach. But now I'm in that caregiving mode again, and I'm finding self-hospitality not only a good thing to do, but it is imperative to my survival.

    Please don't take this the wrong way, but in a way, I'm glad you had to slow down, Oriah. It gave you an opportunity to view life from an entirely different angle, and I am honored that you courageously decided to address what you saw, for the benefit of others... us. I am grateful for your presence, and I just hope that I -- we -- can be of as much service to you.


  10. What lovely ideas- leaving a healthy snack or beautiful flower to welcome yourself home at the end of the day!

  11. Touching your Green Bough this morning invited me to reframe my Whack-A-Mole attempt to "keep up" as an invitation to dance.

    Thank you for sharing your hospitality (and Kathleen Norris's mother's). They re-minded me that right action, however intimate, can through the power of example have unimagined resonance.

  12. What a great insight and reframing- and a great reminder about how our private habits ripple outward. Thank you.

  13. Living rurally now, I don't get many house guests and the tendency has been not to be as house proud as I once was. Thank you for making me realise that I don't just cook and clean for others but as an act of hospitality to myself also.........!

    I do cut flowers for myself and bring feathers and unusual rocks into my studio where they will inspire me and make me smile while I'm playing...

    Love your blog!

  14. You are so right. Clean sheets on the bed today.
    If I can find them...