There’s No One Better to Take Care of Yourself….Than You

 

I just returned from a week-long vacation to Upstate New York where I used to live. I’m about to jump back in full time to the workforce and really needed a breather after nursing school.

I stayed with one of my best friends the whole time, and it was incredibly relaxing – alot of wine, alot of good coffee, shopping, touring the beautiful Finger Lakes countryside, and most importantly- sleeping in ridiculously late every morning.

One of the many reasons I enjoy being with this friend so much is she literally doesn’t think I can do any wrong. One day she’ll come to her senses and lose the biased filter she’s looking through, but until then I will continue to relish her encouragement and constant cheering on of everything I do.

Almost every time I talk to this friend, she says:  “Julie, I’m so proud of you. You are making such good decisions!”

Every time I hear her say this, my first instinct is to snort with laughter.  Me? Make good decisions?  And all the stupid choices I’ve ever made in my life flash before my eyes. She must have had a little too much Finger Lakes wine, I think to myself.

But then she’ll remind me of specific decisions that I’ve made over the last three years – really hard decisions, decisions that demanded sacrifice on my part, decisions that changed the course of my life forever, decisions where the end outcomes were entirely uncertain.  And yes, she’s right. I have been making good decisions.

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Lately, I’ve been using a neuroscience and mindfulness app to help me eat more mindfully. I’ve always managed to keep my weight within healthy limits, but its been a lifelong struggle. Even as a vegan or vegetarian, keeping the weight down isn’t easy when eating is one of your main coping mechanisms for life ‘stuff’.

As I was listening recently to one of the daily meditations, the app’s designer, a neuroscientist named Judson Brewer, commented that ‘the best person to take care yourself – is you.’ I TOTALLY agree with this statement, but I think it takes some real convincing people to get them to trust in themselves.  Many of us are taught from a very young age not to trust our instincts, to receive external confirmation, and to rely on the experts.  This belief in the inadequacy of ourselves is a real disservice to us – it overlooks the divine within us and the fact that we know ourselves better than anyone else ever could.

It took me a long time to start trusting myself to know what is best for me. To reach this point, I had to get to a fundamental shift in how I viewed myself.

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When I was little, as young as 7 or 8, I remember thinking that I wished I could just push pause on my brain.  If I could just step out of my body and brain for 5 minutes, I would feel so relieved.  How I wish I had known about meditation back then, or even contemplative prayer as taught by Richard Rohr or Thomas Keating.

I thought that I was what I thought. Even as a youngster, I could conjure up thoughts that made me feel like a horrible person. And the constant stream of thoughts coming down my brain pipeline was relentless and overwhelming. Yet, I believed those thoughts and acted on those thoughts because I didn’t know there was an alternative.

Finally, in my 30s, I began to try out meditation, largely thanks to Rohr and Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh. (I finally stopped believing that ridiculous notion suggested by a Frank Peretti novel that demons will stir up the soup of our minds when we try to empty them through meditating.)  I was astounded when I discovered through meditation that what I had desperately hoped for in early childhood was true, albeit in a slightly different way.

Inside me, there is the “me” I think I am and identify with, and then there is the “REAL ME.” This realization changed everything for me and started building the foundation on which I could trust myself.

I now know there is the ego, the false me – a ghost that thinks it really exists and will last forever.  It is the me that gets blown around by the circumstances in my life, that gets its feelings hurt, that feels it must have its way all the time.

Then, there is the REAL ME, the deepest part that is connected with the Divine and is eternal. This is the calm, still ME that isn’t afraid, that loves and accepts all, that knows that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

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I really like the passage in the New Testament Gospels about the vine and the branches as told by Jesus (or I would interpret this as the Cosmic Christ, or Christ-consciousness). In the book of John (which I view as a mystical, post-resurrection view of Jesus), Jesus tells the disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. If they remain in him, they will be fruitful, but if they aren’t plugged into that vine, they will wither away.

This idea makes so much sense to me now that I get the idea of there being two “me’s” – my false self, and my true self.  My true self is the vine – that divine part of me that brings life, and love, and creativity, and joy. It is the part of me allows me to make good decisions, decisions that aren’t rooted in fear and shame. The branches are my false self – the part of me that can look pretty and smart on the outside but doesn’t possess anything longlasting or of substance.

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We are complete and whole as we are.  We just miss this sometimes because we get so caught up in believing our false selves.  Yes, we are influenced and impacted by our environments, genetics, and so many other factors. But way deeper than any of that is who we really are.

Later in the New Testament there is a passage about the “priesthood of all believers.”  This is an area where Protestants grumble at Catholics. Whereas Catholics have priests in place for people to confess their sins, Protestants are adamant that we can serve as our own priests to go before God.  But I still think many Christians cut themselves a bit short in this realm. We believe we can enter the holy of holies, sure….but we usually crawl in on our hands and knees reminding God of how undeserving and wretched we are.   I think this is exactly what we shouldn’t do.  The holy of holies is the very deepest part of ourselves that is connected with all things, all creation, and the Divine. This is the place of original blessing that Matthew Fox speaks about (no, not the Party of Five guy). This is where real prayer and real connection with God happens.

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If the Vine is within us, and Blessing is within us, then it makes no sense to hang our entire lives on what other people think. Of course, there is nothing wrong with mentors and good advisors – they can help point out when we’re being driven by our egos and fear. But I’m convinced the more we start learning to separate the voices of our true and false selves, the more authentic we become and the more we can trust our decisions.

No more frantically running around trying to find the best book to tell us what to do.  No more making decisions after consulting a billion people so that if the decisions turns out to be a bad one, we can blame it on them. No more questioning our value and worth. No more feeling like we have to fit in with society or tow the party line.

The best part of all of this is: being able to hear and thank people for their opinions and advice, and then calmly being able to decide whether or not it resonates with you.  After all – you are connected directly to the Divine. You are connected directly to your eternal self. As such, you know yourself better than anyone, and ultimately, know better than anyone what is best for you.

Walking the Labyrinth

I walk in the circle of destiny

Winding road of twisting uncertainty

I start along this journey

Praying there is something waiting for me

Anxiety fades the lines; unclear beneath my feet

Unpredictable the turns; leaving no easy retreat

The road is one well traveled

Yet so much misunderstood

Why do I walk this lonely path looking for the one and only cure?

The crunch of sand beneath my feet, the deafening echo of progress

The rising moon over the tree breeds the light which lends to focus

Around the twisting turns, where control slips through my hands

I look up to the rising Goddess and continue to walk on the sand

I turn the familiar corner and look to the prize that awaits

Walking forward to the center, the conclusion of my pending fate

The reason I walk in the shadows, the reason I step through fear

In the center of this journey inward, suddenly it becomes so clear

I am the cure,

The answer is within my soul

One foot in front of the other,

The center was always the goal

The light of the moon looms above me and my feet are solid on the ground

For the power I was afraid to find, had already been found

I am the one I seek; I am the one I fear

In mirrors I see myself; in the labyrinth it becomes so clear

— Crystal Blanton

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