Towards the end of each calendar year, I ask my clients to create 3 overall wishes/intents for the year ahead. I have been doing this practice for many years and, encouraged by me, ‘Self-Care’ would be added as number 3.
Since the pandemic, and unprompted by me, it’s become the top of their list. Why has Self-Care become their priority? These are highly successful people who have worked very hard to get to where they are, but they are conscious that achieving success and then maintaining/repeating success requires very different energies. They are also now holding greater responsibility for others at work and often in their personal lives too.
Decision-making is core to great leadership and also to our equilibrium and happiness as human beings. We cannot make great decisions/choices if we are too stressed, exhausted or miserable. This is when we make poor decisions and choices that have a huge negative impact on ourselves and others. When we choose to focus on Self-Care, we can then find Equanimity, that precious inner balance and calm in the midst of turmoil: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Victor Frankl
Self-care has been core to my life since I first started my psychotherapeutic training many years ago. I entered it wanting to heal the world, and, like many novice healers/nurturers, ignored my own needs and well-being seeing any focus on me as selfish and irrelevant. To my astonishment, I was told Self-Care was an ethical requirement enabling us to be ‘cleanly’ present for our clients and that I would be of no help to others until I began to heal myself and integrate Self-Care into my daily, lifelong practice.
In the last 3 years, there has been a much greater awareness of physical and psychological well-being, and the dreadful consequences of what happens when we don’t attend to these. I am involved in a great initiative, hosting retreats that create a safe space and well-being experience for women who might otherwise not have access. Led by the actor, Tamzin Outhwaite, We Free Women aims to: ‘Create space in women's lives to reset, reconnect and recharge. Women are brilliant at spinning plates, juggling responsibilities and keeping the whole show on the road - and yet if we give too much, for too long, we often end up pouring from an empty jug. Which is why we created We Free Women - a not-for-profit organisation that funds retreats and experiences for women who could really do with a break; women who would deeply benefit from the chance to relax and make their wellbeing a priority. We aim to provide ‘a retreat and reset’ to women who are struggling, whether it be financial difficulties, menopause, single mothers caring for children, troubled teens and some caring for elderly parents too... it goes on and on... Spinning plates, juggling childcare, work, running a home – and all with the cost of living crisis; it can feel impossible for women to make themselves a priority financially, time wise and whilst dealing with too many responsibilities.
We fund our retreats via a combination of donated time (from therapists, support staff and goods and services) and fundraising. The more funds we raise, the more retreats and experiences we can offer.’
I was talking with a friend recently about Equanimity. We knew what it felt like, but we were aiming to quantify it. In our exploration, we found many philosophers who have described the various ingredients that create Equanimity, but the component pipeline that really spoke to us was of Gratitude, Acceptance, Forgiveness and Hope. I have since gone down a rabbit hole figuring out what these mean to me:
What really helps ground me fast when I’m feeling destabilised, is connecting to thankfulness. To all that is good in my life, however challenging or dark it might feel in the moment. I start with baby steps: small and obvious things, but as I get into the rhythm of naming what I’m thankful for, my list deepens and each time an extraordinary thing happens. As I begin to let go of all that is wrong in my life, everything I feel anxious or hurt about, and focus on all that is good in my life, I experience an energetic, visceral shift: my heart opens, and I feel a warmth and peace flowing through me.
From this place of gentle gratitude, I go into my ‘Stillness’ and tune into my inner voice, my intuitive intelligence. From here I gain a sense of perspective: is this a real crisis, relative crisis…or no crisis? Understanding which one it is, gives me a sense of how I can respond going forwards. As Victor Frankl taught us: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ We cannot always stop external events from happening, but we can create a pause in how we choose to react. This is what we can control. We can focus on what is going to bring us inner strength and equilibrium in that ‘space between’, i.e. what will stabilise us.
Once I have grounded by shifting my energy and perspective, I can move onto Acceptance. ‘Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible.’ Epictetus
When I’ve understood and accepted what I can control and what I can’t, I let go of wasting precious time, emotion and energy on what I can’t control and focus, tunnel visioned, on what I can. And to this I am fully present and fully committed: one task, one step, one day at a time.
And in all situations, what I can control is my Self-Care and staying in the ‘now’. I focus on connecting happily with loved ones, meditation with deep breathing exercises, walking and connecting to the beauty of Nature, exercise, healthy nutrition, restful sleep etc. I also love stories in all forms: book, film, theatre etc and I up my intake of these and everything else that brings me joy and inner peace.
As I lean into my acceptance, my energy is continuing to transform from being anxious and tight into a much deeper, flowing inwards ‘Yin’ energy. I’m now ready to move into Forgiveness, stage 3 of the pipeline.
Forgiveness has to start with forgiving myself. If we cannot forgive ourselves, we cannot begin to forgive others. And forgiveness is ultimately about love and compassion. It does not mean anything goes and we accept all that is done to us, but we harm ourselves even more if we get stuck in our anger and obsess on revenge. ‘Let go and let God’ who/whatever your God is. Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela are extraordinary examples of this.
In a recent article I wrote: ‘From a very young age, I learned how to give and anticipate what others needed, even before they consciously knew it themselves, what is called ‘advanced empathy’. This finely tuned empathy is the essence of kindness and compassion, and I am deeply thankful I have it: it’s a key part of who I am. But I’ve since learned that when I was coming from a ‘good girl’ dutiful place, I was not truly giving: it was conditional and controlling. Ironically the shadow aspect of overly giving to and caring for others is that it not only infantilises them, but it is a brilliant deflection from looking after our own emotional, physical and psychological needs, what I call the ‘Do-gooder syndrome’. I know when I go into overdrive in my concern for others, there’s something I’m not attending to in myself.
What did I have to do to make this shift? I had to learn to love myself as well as others. It took me many years: lots of therapy and far too many experiences of what not loving myself does to me and to those I love but I persisted because the alternative was no longer an option. If we don’t love ourselves, not ego love but deep inner love, then we cannot begin to love others, embrace our life and create the future we desire. To paraphrase Ghandi, our Beliefs become our Destiny. If we don’t believe passionately that we are worthy and deserving of love, then we will inevitably create the self-fulfilling isolated future we most fear.’ https://www.cascad.co.uk/post/receiving-an-act-of-love
So, now I’m feeling full of love and compassion. I’m grounded and at peace and the gentle little girl in me could happily stay in this beautiful ‘fertile void’ forever. And there are many who do. But I know there’s a difference between a healthy stillness and a fearful stuckness. So, I allow myself to be in this stage, knowing I will feel the energetic shift when the moment is right. And when it comes, this ‘Chance meets Purpose’ moment moves me onto the last component of our Equanimity pipeline. And…full disclosure… my favourite!
Hope can only come here, in this final stage. If we focus too soon, before we’ve gone through the first three components, then it is a false and weak dream, not based on what we can control. We will be hooked into a victim Groundhog Day loop, not changing internally but still expecting a different outcome externally.
True Hope is to our spirit what water is to our body. It is extraordinary how even a tiny glimmer of light in a dark wood brings us the promise of a better and different future. Hope brings meaning and purpose and fills us with strength and courage. And the converse is true. Without hope we give up. As Thomas Edison said: ‘Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’
So how do we find hope? Creatives understand the essential connection between imagination and hope. I up my intake of film, theatre, music, dance, art, great literature etc. Stories always bring me hope and also give me meaning and perspective. And from all this, I create my own story, i.e. my Personal Vision going forwards, guided by that great question: what will make my heart sing?
Amidst all that is happening in our world, the more we learn the discipline of this Equanimity pipeline, the quicker we will connect to our inner equilibrium and poise, and the greater positive impact we will have on others and our world. Like attracts like!
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood