Comment: Herein I describe with I consider to be the primary skills of self-care, those skills that keep me stable and able to be (relatively) relaxed with what life offers. Self-care requires time, but essentially if I do not take care of myself, I am not able to gift to others. Nor will anyone else effectively take care of me.
MacQuarrie Email Program #23 — The Primary Skills of Self-Care
In my 40s, I had a very painful mid-life transition as I came to terms with how my life had developed to that point (fortunately the second half of my life has been much better, frequently painful but much better). In the earlier mid-life transition (and also later in my eldership transition), I found that I needed to spend up to 3 hours per day in self-care, and came to regard three skills as essential to my health: meditation, journal writing, and yoga. Even then, I still needed a fourth skill, that of energy release, but the primary skills of emotional stability were these three. Energy release provide acute care; the others that of chronic care.
Meditation allows me to stabilize my energy, my anxiety, so as to have a sense of peacefulness. It later became the way in which I practiced awareness. Journal writing allowed me to clarify my thinking. Eventually it became my ¿Truths? and my writings (my books, my blog, et cetera). Yoga allowed me to ground myself in my body, to grasp the nature of emotional energy.
Here in this email, and as part of your tasks for this time, I will describe each in turn as to how I practice(d) these skills. As task for this email, please explore each skill (and plan to engage in at least one of the skills on a more regular basis). This email is much longer than usual (four pages instead of two) because I wish to describe certain skills in detail (see below).
Meditation (Mindfulness Practice or Vipassana)
I initially picked up meditation in my training as a Gestalt therapist, using the Now I Am Aware Of (NIAA) exercise of Email #03 Awareness. A number of years later I attended my first 10-day vipassana meditation retreat, and recognized that vipassana was an advanced form of awareness, studied within Buddhism for over two millennia. Subsequently I came to realize that every authentic religion has its own practice of awareness, generally called contemplation.
The practice is simple (yet one is always a beginner to the practice): Sit! (or walk), while attending to the data that arises, without judgment as to the nature of the data. Have some gentle way of reminding yourself of time, with the intention to practice anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes (a minimum time period is necessary for the mind to begin to settle). Do it daily!
You can use a mantra (a keyword) as a focus, but the skill is still that of returning to awareness when you drift away (you will, always — that is the nature of the mind). For example, if the focus is that of counting slowly from 1 to 10, then simply count quietly to yourself. As you do, your mind will drift to other thoughts; perhaps you will totally lose track of counting. When you notice that you have drifted, gently come back to the focus of counting, starting again at 1 — no judgment, no criticism, simply return to 1, and resume, until the next drifting. In all of this, if you drift into story, simply note “story,” and return to counting. If you reach 10, simply return to 1.
Specific mantras are useful as reminders, e.g., love, acceptance, Yahweh (one possible origin of the name Yahweh is that it is the sound of the in-breath followed by the out-breath), et cetera. Or, name the sensations as with the NIAA practice.
Meditation is my preferred way of accessing my other-than-conscious mind; it allows me to by-pass my analytic functioning, accepting what is presented. I have very much learned to trust it.
To continue your practice, find a mindfulness course, or go to a vipassana meditation course.
Journal Writing (The Progoff Journal)
Journal writing can be as simple as keeping a diary, or it can be an integrated study of many facets of your life. Principally it is a way to record how your life is changing over time.
The most sophisticated journal I know is called a Progoff Journal, with many branches. If you can, find a workshop on it. The additional pages of this email are from this process:
- Progoff Stepping Stones: a method of developing your life history.
- Progoff Journal Entry: a method of exploring any issue.
Yoga (Hatha Yoga)
Historically, Yoga is the scientific investigation of consciousness within Hinduism, very similar to vipassana as being the scientific investigation of consciousness within Buddhism.
The practice of Yoga in the West has principally been an exercise form, the branch of yoga known as Hatha Yoga. Here one practices yoga postures (which are actually actions in stillness), designed to explore body energy in relationship to gravity. There are many teachers (styles are often named after specific teachers), often with major differences between the styles. Some styles I consider dangerous: e.g., Astanga Yoga and Bikram Yoga (hot yoga). For me, these popular styles encourage rapid movements, and are very stressful to body joints —the associated joint injuries are likely cumulative, slow to develop, and very slow to heal.
My own Hatha Yoga practice, that of Iyengar Yoga, is based upon the teaching B. K. S. Iyengar. I consider it the most precise form of investigation, and offering the greatest depth of awareness.
Over time, especially through my own practice of yoga, I came to the conclusion that life energy is stored in two locations: 1) in the story, and 2) in the small muscles of body (this is at least my working metaphor). I suggest you do a google search of Muscle Charts of the Human Body, for example, here. What you will see is what I call the Muscles of Mobility (MM) — the large, easily visible muscles whereby we move. But they are not the muscles which hold energy. Deep to these large muscles are the many tiny muscles with hold the bones together, what I call the Muscles of Stability (MS). It is these that carry energy. In Western exercise patterns, people exercise the Muscles of Mobility — such exercise, although fatiguing, does not provide much energetic release!
Imagine a rubber band (MM) attached to a spring (MS). When you pull the two ends, the rubber band stretches, but not much happens with the spring. Now pull directly on the spring: the exploration of Yoga — in stillness, minimizing the Muscles of Mobility while activating the Muscles of Stability.
Furthermore, my experience is that there is a paradoxical effect. We exercise to strengthen our musculature — that is generally why we go to the gym. In so doing, we utilize the Muscles of Mobility, and activate them to sub-maximal load. They strengthen over time.
But what about the emotional energy stored in the musculature? Does “exercise” strengthen that also? Yes, anger and other emotions are strengthened by gossiping and complaining! — the equivalent of sub-maximal load.
However, what I am suggesting is supra-maximal load, thus exhausting the energy. It is this that empties the pot, such that you are now able to think more clearly.
Coming next: Forgiveness
Progoff Stepping Stones
Dr. Ira Progoff, an American psychologist, developed an in-depth process called the Intensive Journal Method; in my experience, this methodology is the most comprehensive journal available. As part of the process, he devised a manner of recording an autobiography based on the intensity of memories, — as follows (the process requires about one hour):
Warning: the first time I did this exercise, I sobbed deeply and painfully for 30 minutes.
15m In free-form writing, list memories from your whole life; attempt to list these memories as 1-2 words, only as reminders. Obtain as many memories as possible (ideally at least 50-100, both pleasant or unpleasant). Do not dwell; simply record the memories briefly.
5m Review memories briefly, and circle those that have significant energy attached (strongly pleasant or unpleasant memories). Indicate your age with each significant memory.
10m Divide your current age by 10 to obtain the closest whole number (these are the Stepping Stone divisions). On a new piece of paper, create a one-column table corresponding to this number of SS divisions. Transfer significant memories (those circled) to the appropriate age slots so as to develop a chronology of significant memories.
10m Pick one memory from each SS row — give it a specific 1-2 word name. List these chronologically on a separate page, again as a one-column table, the “Stepping Stone Record.” One row blank is no problem; avoid two rows blank (find a memory).
30m Describe each memory in more detail, as:
- I am ___ years old and … (briefly describe sensory details of the memory), and
- It is a time of … (describe the energy tone of the memory).
SS#1 Hospital Walk
I am 3 years old, standing alone on the street in front of the hospital window, looking for my mother. She has been absent from home for 2 years with TB. I have just walked ½ mile alone through busy Halifax streets.
It is a time of great pain, yet I feel an inner strength.
Stepping Stone Record Format
Name: _______________ Date: ____________________
For each Stepping Stone (usually 8-12 in number), list:
SS# Name: _______________________________
I am _____ years old and _____________________________________
It is a time of _______________________________________________
Finally: Read the completed Stepping Stone Record aloud, preferably to a close friend; or read it into a tape recorder, and listen to the recording as you hear yourself speak.
Progoff Journal Entries
This is a standardized format for the study of any issue. It allows the grouping of events (specific issues, e.g., angry with my partner over use of the car) into more general category (e.g., anger when not informed of changes). Specific sections of a journal can then be recorded, and made accessible for further study.
General Category of Issue: _____________________.
Name of Specific Issue: _____________________.
10m Free-form writing on the issue
5m List memories of life events of issue (1-2 word descriptors)
1m Circle the major memories (high energy memories).
5m List metaphors: (this issue) is like . . .
1m Circle major metaphors (high energy metaphors)
10m Impact on my life (1 minute each topic)
Important persons at the time of this issue.
Important personal events at the time of this issue.
Important social/cultural events at the time of this issue.
Impact on my body.
Impact on my sexuality.
Impact on my relationships.
Impact on my work.
Impact on my dream life.
Impact on my hopes for the future.
Existing wisdom I already have of this issue.
10m Music Meditation (loud music can both focus the OOC and distract.
20m Dialogue with metaphor or meditation.
Summary: Summarize writing, metaphors, impact and dialogue (max 1 page).
Journal Record Format (Name of Category: _______________)
Name of Issue: ________________________________________ Date: ________________
Summary of Free-form Writing ________________________________________________
Most important Metaphors: ____________________________________________________
Impact on My Life: __________________________________________________________
Summary of Dialogue learnings: _______________________________________________