“You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” ~Neil Gaiman
I discovered my spiritual path early. As a teenager I would read my mother’s self-help books. I spent most of my twenties actively pursuing self-development by studying, attending workshops, and going on retreats all over the world.
At the time, I thought I was searching for happiness and inner peace. I see now that I bought into a rigid idea of what a ‘spiritual person’ was and tried to live up to that.
My inner world was not happy or peaceful. The way I treated myself was far from soulful. In fact, it was down right abusive.
I thought I needed ‘fixing’ because even after all the learning and work I had done, I would still beat myself up whenever I wasn’t perfect. My internal story about myself continued to be judgmental and negative, and I remained fixated on gathering evidence to prove I wasn’t good enough.
Over a decade later, I was married with a child and had gained many qualifications that helped solidify a life without self-abuse. It didn’t occur to me until I had my second child—nine years after my first—that I wasn’t really being nurturing or caring toward myself either.
I knew I was doing something right, because my experience the second time around was completely different; it was a lot more joyful.
I reflected on exactly what the difference was between my two experiences. I came to realize that the answer was me.
I had changed so much—my thoughts, my expectations, my beliefs, the way I responded to emotions and stress, all of which had a flow-on effect that influenced everything else in my life.
Then something so minuscule happened. I would escape the house and my newborn for thirty minutes, once a week to read an inspirational Tiny Buddha article over coffee.
This was enough to keep me ‘topped up’ so I wasn’t completely depleting myself while caring for my family during those first few months. No big revelation really that taking time out for yourself is going to be a good thing.
Yet, this simple act had such a huge impact on me. I really started focusing on self-care. It became an intention.
Instead of forcing myself to exercise and lose weight, I listened to what my body needed (as a result I didn’t beat myself up if exercise wasn’t achieved).
I stopped expecting myself to complete everything on my to-do list.
I questioned certain beliefs (like defining what being a mother, wife, and woman meant to me).
If any unkindness about myself crept into my thoughts, I challenged it. If there was some truth to the thought, I met that with acceptance, which invoked a compassion that wasn’t present before.
I started paying attention to what was different from a good day to a bad day. I explored when I felt pain and suffering trying to locate why it was there (hint: usually when reality was different from what I wanted it to be). All this eventually turned into an inner practice for me.
An inner practice doesn’t tell you what to think, or what to do. It invites you to explore how you think, and why you do something (or don’t do it).
Here are some tips for creating your own inner practice:
1. Connect with yourself.
Self-awareness is being able to explore aspects of yourself with curiosity instead of judgment. Once we develop this ability we can deepen the connection we have with ourselves—not just our mental self, but emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
2. Connect with acceptance.
Acknowledge what’s true about yourself, today, in this moment, exactly as you are—without seeking to immediately change anything. This is acceptance.
Ignoring, rejecting, or refusing to acknowledge any part of yourself will never bring about effective change. Acceptance brings the possibility of transformation. A caterpillar transforms into a butterfly; it doesn’t change into one or become a better caterpillar. When we practice self-care, transformation shows up in our life.
3. Connect with self-kindness.
Offer yourself kindness. You are not any less special from anyone else on the planet, so why would you show others kindness and not yourself? Is abuse toward anyone (including yourself) ever acceptable?
You have a choice whether you meet your inner world with kindness, ambivalence, or meanness. (Tip: life is easier with kindness in it).
4. Connect with self-compassion.
Have compassion for yourself when you aren’t able to achieve kindness. Acknowledge your flaws, faults, and failing by meeting them with compassion.
Either being human and judgment go hand-in-hand, or you align yourself with being human and compassionate. Which would you rather? Only one can exist at a time.
5. Connect with your needs.
Most of us spend our lives caring for others. Sometimes we sacrifice our own needs, but is it really the grand loving gesture we convince ourselves it is? Do you over-give to others so you don’t have to listen to what might be lacking in your life?
What do you need physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? What do you feel deprived of?
We have to decide that our needs are non-negotiable and put boundaries in place to ensure that we receive what is vital for our well-being.
If you asked yourself how your life would be different if your needs were met, the answer would be a positive one. (Although it is important to note that needs and wants are completely different things).
6. Connect with your thoughts.
If we have been unkind to ourselves for a long time, it can take a while to break that habit. Being aware of your thoughts gives you the opportunity to choose whether they are true or not. You should challenge a thought’s truth, kindness, and purpose.
Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how a single thought can ruin a good mood. For example, have you ever looked at a photo of yourself from a few years ago and thought, I was much prettier /slimmer/ happier/more fun, then? Wouldn’t you think it was a bit rude if a friend said those same things to you?
Or, do you place your future self on a pedestal like I used to. Future Belinda had achieved so much more than me; she was way more confident, wiser, more spiritual, happier, and healthier. It’s so unkind (and painful) to compare yourself to a version of you that doesn’t exist.
7. Connect with your beliefs.
Sometimes our feelings don’t match what our logical brain is telling us. When this happens, the answer often to that contradiction lies in our beliefs.
We formed a lot of our beliefs about the world as children. As adults we can still unconditionally continue to believe what a child interpreted as truth.
Self-care is exploring what beliefs you hold—giving yourself the option of whether you wish to continue to believe them or not. Start with your beliefs about self-care—do you think that it's selfish or self-preservation?
8. Connect with your expectations.
Our expectations can change the way we view everything in our life. I notice that on days I am able to completely disable my expectations, I usually have a really good day because there are no conditions placed upon it.
What happens if you don’t achieve the expectations you place on yourself? Why is the expectation there? Self-care is ensuring that your expectations serve you—not you serving them.
9. Connect with your wants.
There is a gap between how things are now and how we want them to be. Sometimes we fill this gap with worry, pain, and stress.
Explore this gap between what is and what you want. What exactly would you like to be different? What would be useful to help narrow this gap?
10. Connect with your intention.
Intention is behind everything we do. For one day, one week, or one month, make your main intention self-care.
That means that every decision you make is with the conscious intention of doing what is best for you and your health. Do you think that you would make the same choices? How would life be different?
We are all perfectly imperfect, so we are going to temporarily fail at some point. The main thing to remember when creating any practice is: begin, continue, and repeat.
Woman meditating image via Shutterstock