You know that practicing yoga and meditation makes you feel good. It improves your health, reduces your stress levels, and lifts your mood.
So, what’s keeping you from enjoying that wonderful self-care more often? Could it be that somewhere deep down, a part of you feels like it’s selfish to take the time for little ol’ you?
If you’ve felt that way, you’re not alone. It’s a common sentiment among those of us who are natural givers and who love to take care of others. Burnout is an epidemic these days – it never seems like there’s enough time in the day to do all our work and check off all the boxes of home, family, social, and community life. Balance seems pretty elusive, so the first thing to go is self-care, because we assume that it affects the fewest number of people. No one’s counting on me to do my yoga or take that bubble bath or long walk, right?
Nope! The truth is, if you don’t “fill your own well,” eventually you have nothing left to give others. And when you do take good care of yourself, that benefit ripples out to everyone around you. You’re more patient and relaxed with others, you speak more kindly, your mind is clearer so you can make better decisions, and you have more energy to follow through on your true priorities.
Here’s an eye-opening quote from Thomas Merton, a famous 20th-Century Catholic thinker:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs…activism and overwork…To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many people, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy…kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
He’s not advocating that we give up our projects or our relationships, but that we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of the world. Indeed, we can think of our yoga and meditation practices as being dedicated not only to our own well-being, but to the well-being of others, too. The Buddhist tradition teaches the concept of “dedicating the merit” of one’s practice, which means having the intention that your practice be of benefit not only to you personally, but to others as well.
The 8th-Century Buddhist monk Shantideva wrote a beautiful Dedication of the Merit that I’ve been reading in a few of my classes lately. To me, it illustrates an all-encompassing compassion and the aspiration that our individual efforts of self-care might have a broader benefit.
May all beings everywhere,
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind,
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.
May no living creature suffer,
Commit evil or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.
May the blind see forms,
And the deaf hear sounds.
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.
May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food.
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.
May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy.
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.
May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests.
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.
May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again.
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed.
May the powerless find power
And may all people think of benefiting each other.
~ Shantideva (excerpt revised by H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama)
I hope this inspires you to practice self-care generously and often! Let’s make the world a better place, one calm breath at a time.