Self-care, self-discipline, and showing up for yourself

I’ve been working my way through T. Thorn Coyle’s book Kissing the Limitless, which is all about cultivating and aligning your life force with your will. This passage came up and punched me in the face:

Everyone struggles to work. Practice requires a continuous sense of coming home to a self we may or may not wish to talk with today. Will development calls for a fine balance between dedicated action and the awareness that a person also needs to have fun and some days off.

Sometimes we find ourselves in patterns of avoidance. We clean the refrigerator or play video games. We are in a state of resistance. The parts of ourselves that fear – change, success, sticking out, finding out something new about ourselves – conspire to resist the activity that will bring about the changes. We don’t meditate. We don’t take that class we’ve been wanting to. Our altars grow dusty and our jogging shoes are buried at the bottom of the closet. So we say we are lazy or procrastinators. What we really are is afraid. Or some parts of ourselves are, the parts that want to keep to the status quo, even if it makes us miserable in it. In these cases, I start by renaming what is happening as resistance and then try to look at the manifestations and what they are trying to tell me.

All practice is the same. Take sitting practice, for example. We can do five minutes if twenty feels like too much. We set our intention, show up, and this develops our will. Sometimes true discipline and compassion is asking ourselves again. “What do I really want?” and listening for the deeper answer. If what I want is spiritual discipline, if what I want is to write a book, if what I want is to be healthy – no matter what the answer is – then I have to make sure i’m making the choices that support that desire.

Discipline is not punitive. It can be the greatest act of self-love there is.

Know thyself. Know thy will, and keep returning. Life is the great return.

T. Thorn Coyle, “Kissing the Limitless”

The concept of “self-care” is one that gets misunderstood a lot in American culture, I think. We mostly see the “relaxating and recharging” aspects, which are super important, but they aren’t the whole picture.

Self-discipline is equally part of self-care. In reading the passage above, I internally reframed self-care as “showing up for myself,” in all the ways that manifests.

“Showing up for yourself” self-care looks like:

  • Setting healthy boundaries with yourself and others to protect your mental and physical health
  • Going to therapy
  • Exercising (with an attitude of cultivating strength and endurance rather than exercise as punishment for food choices)
  • Resting and recharging
  • Meditating regularly and listening to your guides
  • Communicating with your loved ones in an emotionally honest and kind way
  • Eating nourishing food
  • Asking for help
  • Cleaning your home
  • Enjoying social time
  • Buying groceries
  • Paying your bills
  • Working toward your goals in a meaningful way

“Showing up for yourself” self-care is not:

  • Punishing yourself for not doing the things in the list above
  • Doing the things in the list above out of fear of what others will think
  • Giving in to hopelessness
  • Avoiding things you don’t feel like doing
  • Avoiding stress at all costs
  • Taking a YOLO attitude and shirking responsibilities

To put this a different way, let’s look at the concept of “obedience.” In Qabala, each sphere has a “virtue” and a “vice.” I take issue with those words as descriptors, but they basically mean “what happens when you are working in alignment with the sphere’s full potential” vs. “what happens when the sphere’s power is abused or misused.” For the sphere of Chesed, the virtue is “obedience.”

“Obedience” is a concept we cringe at in our individualistic society, but in this case we’re not talking about “obedience” in terms of obeying someone else’s will, or submitting to authority. It’s about obeying your own Will, it’s about putting your actions in such perfect alignment with your goals that working towards them feels almost effortless. It’s like having the perfect job, and doing that job every day to the best of your ability because it uses your skills to the fullest and brings you joy.

Obedience in this context doesn’t imply punishment for noncompliance. Self-punishment and negative self-talk does not work as a motivator; it’s basically just causing self-inflicted mental and emotional damage that makes it harder to get ourselves into alignment with our goals. Instead, when you miss a workout, when you go a few weeks without doing right by yourself, forgive yourself, and then pick back up and try again. If we wallow in self-punishment, nothing gets done.

Our best self-care puts us in a mindset of being able to simply do the things that must be done, because it feels natural and right to do so. Obedience in this sense is about aligning your actions with your goals, with your Will, which is actually liberating. That is the goal in all our self-work.

When we look at self-care and self-discipline, we should cultivate an attitude of “showing up for ourselves” in the same manner we show up for dear friends. Especially in These Times, when there’s so much horror all around us, we must ensure we are taking care of ourselves so that we can show up for those in need. And when we fail at our self-care, we simply need to try again, without shame, without negative self-talk, but with an openness to aligning our actions with our Will.

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