Tending to Ourselves when Suffering Is All Around

Fire and Ice
When my mother was dying, it was exhausting in every way imaginable, despite the great support we received from palliative care. I remember one conversation with the support coordinator where I passionately outlined my concerns for not only my mom but also for my sisters. She offered solutions and then looked at me and said, “You know, we’re here for you too.” I blinked. For a moment I didn’t understand what she was saying and then my eyes filled with tears. There was support for me too?

Sometimes when all around us there is strife and need we forget that we are a part of the healing equation. Tending to ourselves is important though it seems like the least reasonable thing to do.

How can I sleep when my loved one is suffering?

How can I take time to write, when there is a crisis?

How can I have my own feelings when clearly this is not about me?

We human beings are social animals and we live and love and work in constellations. What happens to others in our world happens to us also. We are not separated, isolated or alone, which means we are not free from shared suffering or support.

Our lives are intertwined with the lives of others and how we care for ourselves makes a difference for everyone.

I often say that a garden is a gift to all of us. When I walk through the neighbourhood and pass by a well-loved patch of land, it nourishes me. I say thank you not only to the Universe for creating tulips, peonies and tall grasses but also to the hands and hearts that turned the soil and tended the plants.

Each of us is a garden. When we are fully resourced, strong and blooming we are better able to bring light, love and care to any situation.

Here are the things I found most important for tending myself while supporting others:

Eat Well. For me, this is always the greatest challenge. In tough situations, I find myself just wanting to eat something fast and comforting but I’ve learned that taking the time and making the effort to focus on fresh foods, particularly vegetables, and mindful eating makes a difference.

Rest Well. Take naps. Go to bed early. If you can’t sleep, close your eyes and power down, even for 10 minutes. Your body, mind and soul are in overdrive. They need recuperation time. Give it.

Move. Just as we need rest, we need movement. Stress, intensity, crisis, challenge, all of it puts immense demands on your body. Moving our bodies helps the built-up energy burn up and pass through. Movement helps us let go and release things we might not even know we are holding. Moving our bodies helps us stay healthy, free and agile, ready for the tasks at hand.

Journal. Conflict, stress and strife bring up all sorts of feelings. When someone else is in crisis or need, we often push down our own feelings, dismissing them as trivial, selfish or inappropriate. It may be true that your loved one doesn’t currently have the capacity to respond to your feelings but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid or don’t need expression. Turn to your journal and express yourself fully, completely and without judgment. Let it be a safe place for you to let out what is in your heart and on your mind.

Take “Me Time.”  Even if your caretaking responsibilities are heavy, (especially if your caretaking responsibilities are heavy) you need time that is just for you. Give yourself quiet moments away from the crisis so you can refill your well, remember who you and breathe.  You may also find that you need some time with other people, time to express your heart or to have fun and remember the light and love that exists in the world.

Create. As creatives, our souls settle when we use our hands, hearts, minds and bodies in the act of creation. Write poetry. Knit a scarf. Dance your feelings before going to bed. Play with plasticene. Cut paper and collage. Not only will these practices give your energy somewhere to flow but they will also remind you of the power and possibility of creation even in the midst of the hardest of times. This does the heart good.

As Best You Can, Tend Your Life. It’s hard. It’s hard to show up to work, to pay your bills, to plan your meals, to clean the kitchen. Sometimes it is the last thing you want to do but when everything else is out of control, it can be grounding to keep regular life going, to keep daily activities flowing. Plus you won’t add the layer of worry that inevitably comes from letting things slip or have to throw yourself in with the furious energy of catching up when things finally settle down (if they ever do). You may even find a new sense of meaning, joy and gratitude for everyday, normal things. That certainly happened for me.

No matter where this message finds you today, may these practices serve you well. May they support you when all is well and when all is trying. May you and all your loved ones be free of suffering and strife. May you trust the knowing that tending your soil is a gift to the world.