Two months ago, I had flown out West to attend a large popular culture conference in New Mexico and I was having a wonderful time enjoying long-missed friends, having pick-up coffee dates to toss around paper and publishing ideas, grabbing snacks from well-stocked buffet tables, and enjoying the comforts of a top-notch hotel.
My, how times change. Airlines and hotels may not ever be what they were a mere sixty days ago. Like a large part of the world, I’ve spent weeks hunkered down at home and I’ve discovered that it’s far from being either a terror-filled zombie apocalypse or a uproariously-fun prolonged snow day. As a college professor, I’m an odd sort of “essential worker” these days – I haven’t gone into the office since early March, but my classes have continued full steam through Zoom, Blackboard, and YouTube. We’re in exam week now, and I have to say that it’s been gratifying to see how my students and colleagues have pulled together under trying circumstances. (Side note – that’s because – no matter what you may hear – not all students are wild about online classes and some do not have access to the tech you might think they do. Also, not all professors are particularly proficient with tech. Moreover, online classes [done properly] are harder and more time-consuming than face-to-face classes. One example – in a “live” class, I know who has taken a quiz by simply thumbing through the test papers. Online, well – let’s just say it’s more complicated than that.) However, it’s also been exhausting.
Regular visitors here at Splendor know that I often (and loudly) preach from the Book of Self-Care, firmly believing that if you don’t care for yourself – especially in hard times – you won’t be able to care for others. I’ll say this again – and louder for the people in the back – self-care is not selfish! It’s what allows us to recharge so we can continue to take care of other people without becoming crazy or resentful.
There are many ways to approach self-care, but I think it’s wise to remember that you’re really talking about three separate areas of focus:
All three of these areas need regular attention to keep you balanced and sane.
One aspect that I had really been neglecting in my own practice during this “quasi-quarantine” had been spending time in a sacred space, which goes straight to the practice of mental self-care. Now – stick with me here. “Sacred space” does not mean you’re in a stained-glass sanctuary or an ancient stone cloister. I have spent lovely meditative times in the forest, the desert, and walking a contemplative labyrinth here in my small town.
But you can also create your own sacred space in your house – yes, even among piles of laundry and unmopped floors. I’ve had such a space for yearsandyears, but I had been neglecting it in favor of (I’m sorry to say) “busy-ness.” Today, I read an article that made me quite thoughtful – I’ve linked it here for you. I sat very, very still for a few minutes after I finished my meditation this morning (not done in my sacred space, which tells you what you need to know) and decided that it was High Time I Did Something About This.
So – with a rough plan in my head, I did my necessary work for the day, then I took a deep breath, thanked my old, and sadly neglected, sacred space for all it had done for me, and packed it all up. I gathered some items (books, seashells, candles, etc.) that had become significant to me, cleaned everything (neglected things often get dusty, I have found), and began to happily putter until I had created a new sacred space in a location that was more suitable to my current life. It’s completely lovely, located where I can access it easily, and has been updated with books and items that matter to me. Just like a wardrobe – never be afraid to update! What had worked for me in the past no longer did, so I had just started ignoring that aspect of my life, instead of putting in the effort to change it. For me, that meant I was brushing aside self-care for my soul. It had gone on too long – and I am sorry for that – but it did not need to go on any longer, and I’m pleased that I took steps to repair that aspect of my life.
Your sacred space will, no doubt, look quite different from mine. That’s fine. This is YOURS and it should reflect that. (That’s why I’m not showing you mine. You need to find your own and I don’t want to encourage anyone to think that a sacred space “has” to look one way or another.) Perhaps you’ll use smooth stones from a river walk, or photographs of your family, or a religious symbol. Maybe you’ll have a book you read from every morning, or your journal and a special pen, or some poetry or song lyrics that uplift you. What it is really doesn’t matter – it’s how whatever those items are permit you to concentrate, breathe freely, and set your mind for the day.
And it takes very little room. Your sacred space can be a bookshelf, a bedside table, or a corner of the living room. Just make sure it’s something that is carved out just for you and that you can leave it set up as you like. Worried about what others will think/say if they see what could be taken for a household altar when they come visit? Well – first off, thanks to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, you have some time to sit with that idea – no one’s coming over. And second, how does that worry benefit you? If anyone ever does ask and you don’t want to launch into a discussion, just smile and say, “Oh, that? Yes. Pretty, isn’t it?” and begin discussing the weather.
It’s your soul. You’re responsible for taking care of it and you owe nothing to anyone who questions that.
My only advice about setting up your sacred space is to make it beautiful so that you want to tarry there for at least a few minutes every day. If you’ve never done this, setting up a personal sacred space may well be the beginning of your own “year of roses.”
Your soul will thank you – probably sooner than you suspect!