The five senses as self-care. Pt. 1: Sight
I've been struggling with the whole self-care thing (see previous post) and I think it's because most suggestions I read seem too hard to maintain, too far out of reach and therefore have little meaning to me. If I try to sustain them I end up feeling like a failure because of my inconsistency. That isn't remotely helpful.
I don't have the time, energy or cash for regular facials or pedicures. I can't always head out into the wider world for a long hike and often don't have five minutes to scratch myself in a day. A teacher at school today asked me when I find time to write and my answer was "between". My never ending mental list makes it very difficult to relax and focus on myself. If relaxation feels like a task then it ain't staying on that list long. Nope.
So, what to do?
How can I approach self-care (which I know is very important) when I am feeling so resistant and resentful towards it as a whole. The only way I know how to approach any problem is to break it into chunks.
Whilst some of you may see regular yoga practice, hitting the gym and/or drinking a green juice each morning and making a salad for lunch each day as an achievable notion, I find it kind of horrifying and extremely triggering. This focusing on me and my "health", mental or physical, is too close to the self-esteem recovering bone. I'm hoping that will change but I don't feel like putting more pressure on myself than necessary right now. Yet I still need a solution.
I don't, however, have a problem with pleasure and definitely have a healthy hedonistic streak. I love flowers, I love cocktails, I enjoy magazines and Pinterest and music. I enjoy going for walks and pouring over home sale listings out of sheer curiosity. I like shopping (too much) and and spending time with friends, being silly, having fun. I do this stuff without much thought. Like watching this adorable bird getting a massage with q tips. Sigh.
Why not create a self-care routine consciously derived from the things which give me pleasure? Turn that procrastinating into a positive. But I don't want to head into pleasure willy-nilly, I want a sort of a plan just so that I make sure I am continuing to "take care" of myself and also not getting so lost in these pleasant things that I never get anything done. I need a routine of sorts, but it has to be flexible. I know I won't commit to a regular time of day and long periods just for "me".
It occurred to me that I could actually chunk this pleasure seeking down even further and play directly to the five senses.
Get back to absolute basics.
Thinking and reading about pleasure and mindfulness led me to consider infants in this context. Babies enjoy a smile, a cuddle, something colourful, a new and interesting taste. Simple pleasures which they enjoy in the moment with no consideration for what came before or what is next. Talk about mindfulness. Why have we lost this?
According to a study by Alison Gopnik, a University of California at Berkeley psychologist and the author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, (cited in this article) babies have a greater capacity for experiencing beauty and pleasure than adults. Our experienced, yet somewhat jaded prefrontal cortexes which help us to react to new situations with tenacity are also responsible for our limited capacity for learning something new and seeing things differently. We seem to have little room for awe in our lives. Gopnik recommends meditation as a means of achieving a similar state of mind to that of a baby.
As I mentioned, I'm not ready to dive into activities which require too much mental time with myself just yet so here is the first installment of my own little self-care program. If you have anxiety and/or are short on cash or time or both, these might seem approachable and less intimidating than trying to adopt a whole range of new activities and behaviours all at once.
Let's start with "sight".
I've been pondering all week, as I write this piece in my head, about what I love to look at. I am a very visual person and need to hold a fair amount of colour and variety in my gaze and periphery to feel calm. No monochrome for me.
So if I've made a list of the things I enjoy looking at:
Decorating images, home exteriors, house plans. Gardens, plants, flowers. Nature documentaries of any type. Animals of any type, but particularly German Shepherds. My German Shepherd. Dogs playing at the park. All puppies, kittens, and cute baby animals. Fabric, embroidery. Illustration, surface design. Images representing body diversity. Magazines, books. My family.
The list could go on for a page or two I'm sure and that is something to aim for, but this is a good start.
Try making your own list. Make it quickly, don't overthink it. The idea is to actively pursue a list and get into closer contact with yourself.
The next step is to focus purely on Sight as self-care today. Allow yourself some time to use your sense of sight without distractions and without guilt. Keep it short but regular throughout the day. Take it a step further and try to look deeper, see the textures and colours and patterns in whatever you choose to observe. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it and then sigh it out through your mouth. Repeat.
Watch this video to work on focusing your breathing if you need some help.
No flicking quickly through a hashtag feed or magazine, focus on one image, or one object or vista to and really see it. Make sure you are unplugged and reacting to things as they exist in reality. If you are looking at a digital image, that's fine, just pause over it and don't do a single other thing. This practice need not be captured in an image, or shared on social media or even discussed with another. It is for your eyes only. Look and breathe. As the day progresses you'll notice your attention being captured and you'll naturally slow down, just a little.
It is enough. This isn't a race or a competition. Your self-care doesn't need to look like my self-care. It actually works. It is simple, non-confrontational and not remotely triggering.
Feel like joining me? My Pinterest board is slowly filling up with ideas to bring mindfulness gently to all our senses. Why not make a board of your own or save some beautiful images on IG? Or simply head out for a walk and look at something lovely. The fresh air will do you good!
I will continue to add to this as I strive to consciously make time for the things I enjoy. Little gifts just for me.