The annual pendulum keeps swinging – gluttonous to ascetic, ascetic to gluttonous. Each year, with the drop of a ball, we collectively flip over from one to the other, the advertisers having pre-primed their messages like the dependable prophets they are.
When we are in ascetic mode, we having diets and gyms on the brain, but also in general an idea of “self care.” We’ll take care of ourselves, we say, in ways that are smart according to science, caring for our bodies and enriching our minds too. That mean some suffering, but we are down for the challenge.
Self care is problematic, however, for a couple of reasons. Implied in the idea of “self care” is a sort of humble brag: it’s as if we have cared so much for others that we really ought to think of ourselves too. Simultaneously it also feels like the opposite, like an overly indulgent practice always performed in a massage chair. Self care seems like a personal “time out” from life’s responsibilities.
The fact is we care for ourselves more or less all the time just to different extents. And when we are eating cookies it feels like we are caring for ourselves, too, just in a different way.
As such, I propose an end to the idea of “self care,” ascetic or gluttonous, and acknowledge that we all are doing our best. Really, what I think we all might need is not any sort of “time out,” but rather “time in.” I recently noticed the phrase in the “Yoga Pretzels” card set by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish. They note that a benefit of yoga is “time in” to unwind, rest, and revive.
Used this way, “time in” is the much the same as “time out” well known to any caregiver of preschoolers. When a kid gets overwhelmed by emotion and acts out during playtime, they benefit from “time out” to calm down. They get planted in the corner or the bottom step and think hard about what happened.
No one would think that kid was being overly indulgent to take that time – in fact, it could be argued that the their “time out” to take time in their mind is more crucial to their development than the playtime itself.
Are we really so much more mature than our kid-selves? Wouldn’t you really kind of love to knock down your co-worker’s block tower?
And so rather than indulging in gluttony or suffering in asceticism and calling it “self care,” let’s all just be truly humble enough to know that we need to do what brings us back to ourselves. Do yoga, read and write, or just sit in the corner or on the bottom step and take the “time in” that’s the care your self really needs.