Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.
~ Parker Palmer
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Tend Your Own Fire
I began with a quotation by Parker Palmer because I want to emphasize the importance of showing up for yourself.
Showing up for yourself is vital to your ability to show up for others. Self-care is not selfish. There is no room for guilt here.
Too many people burn out because of self-neglect while caring for others.
Think of self-care as a fire whose warmth warms others. You are both the fire and the tender of the fire. If you stop tending to the fire, if you stop feeding it, it will go out. If it goes out, you are no longer able to provide warmth to those around you.
It’s crucial to tend to your own fire in order to continue giving warmth to others.
It is said that ideas do not come suddenly, even though, to the casual observer, those ideas may seem to be sudden sparks of inspiration. The idea for the book I’m writing seemed to come as a sudden spark. Upon closer investigation, the spark was only possible because of kindling that had been gathered in the preceding months.
In order to build my fire, I started small. I started with one thing that allowed me to add another thing that made it possible to continue adding different types of fuel to the fire (sleep, yoga, writing daily, etc.). Once I had a good and steady fire burning, the sparks were a natural outcome.
Sparks are a natural outcome of a well-built fire.
In order to create something of value for others, I had to nurture my own fire daily. I had to create habits that made tending the fire easy and automatic. Once it was burning bright, I could go a day or two without adding quite as much fuel.
After about two days of neglect, the fire would begin to die down.
No matter what, I had to show up each day to check on the fire.
If I saw that it was dying down, the decision to tend to it was a no-brainer.
I knew that if I did not add fuel, it would die down and disappear. I would have to rebuild it, which would require more effort than simply adding to it daily.
Make self-care a daily act.
Foundations of Showing Up
Creating habits of self-care is akin to building a fire.
Self-care does not diminish your ability to be there for others. It adds to it.
It’s very simple: Effective habits are your kindling. They give you energy so that you can show up for others. Other people may not always show up, but if your fire is burning brightly enough, they’ll notice it in the distance. They’ll be drawn to it. They might even be inspired to start their own fire.
Focus on YOUR Fire
At this point you might be wondering if we can add to someone else’s fire. The answer is no. We can provide them warmth by ours, but we all have to build our own fire. No one can build it for us. If we are trying to build someone else’s fire, guess what happens to our own. Yes, that’s right. It goes out.
We can’t tend two or more fires at once for very long.
Don’t Let Your Fire Burn Out
Burn out, by its very definition, is characterized by tending to so many other people’s fires that ours burns out.
With no fire left of our own, our ability to tend to others’ fires grows weaker and weaker.
The fires we built for them start to diminish as well. Why? Because THEY weren’t tending them. We were. We did not teach them how to build a fire. We made their fires our responsibility. We did not model how to build and maintain a fire. We simply took control, enabling them to not show up and not do the work required to create their own fire.
“This is the hardest of all: to close the open hand out of love, and keep modest as a giver.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
While they may have sat by the fire for a time, taking the heat they wanted, they weren’t there for the most important part. They weren’t there when we started building the fire. They don’t know where to find kindling. Not only that, but when we build other people’s fires, we carry those fires around with us. Without our presence, the fire we built them doesn’t exist.
If you really want to make a difference in the lives of others and help other people, allow them to build their own fires.
There’s More Than One Way to Start a Fire
Tend to your own fire. Those who are ready to build theirs will notice. They will watch closely and learn from your actions. They will see where you gather kindling and begin to find their own. They might make some missteps, just as you did when you first began, but they will find their way.
New fire builders might ask you questions. This is good. It means they are showing up. You can share what works for you but know that what ignites your fire might not be what they need to ignite theirs. That’s okay. There’s more than one way to start a fire.
Find Your Path
We all have our own path to follow.
We gather kindling along the way.
We learn what feeds our fire and how best to tend to it.
No one can do that work for us.
Tend your own fire.
Keep it burning brightly.
You might lose your way in times of darkness, but if you show up consistently, you’ll wear a path in the darkness and the way will become easier and easier to follow. You’ll know where the obstacles are and how to avoid them. You’ll know which kindling works best for your fire.
Stumbling in the Dark
If you find yourself in a time of darkness that isn’t abating, one of the most helpful guides for one of my most darkest times was this book: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Here are two excerpts:
“Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time—that is the basic message.”
To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.”
~ Pema Chödrön
Now, more than ever, we need to engage in self-care and things that restore and renew our energy.
With the right kindling, the darkness recedes, and the brightness of your fire will be a resource you can continue to draw from and a beacon for others.
My Kindling Includes:
- A daily morning writing practice
- A daily yoga practice (here’s a playlist by my favorite yoga teacher)
- Taking a few deep, conscious breaths when I wake up and periodically throughout the day
- Moments of stillness throughout the day where I stop and look outside at the birds and trees
- An evening gratitude practice the moment my head hits the pillow
Self-care and self-nourishment can take different forms. If you feel inclined, share yours in a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.