In my life, I have always been drawn to help people. This propensity has sometimes been to the detriment of my own wellbeing, and it has afforded me many opportunities for learning to create healthy boundaries between my self and the people I wish to help. Over time and with bumps along the path, I have discovered that I can only help people who are willing to actively participate in their transformation. I have also learned that my own health will suffer if I do not create a balance between the energy and time I expend in my own self-care and caring for others.
I began writing about my life experiences and lessons in the summer 2010. Since then, I have found that writing is an effective tool for healing. In writing, I can balance an act of service for others with my own requirements for self-sustainability. In the act of the writing, I make sense of my own world. In the act of sharing my writing, I share my own vulnerabilities, the questions I struggle with, and my many misadventures, giving permission to my readers to embrace their own authentic selves.
I do not find this balance in all of my pursuits.
Over breakfast the other day, I recounted to my husband an interchange I had overheard after one of the yoga classes I had taught the day before.
Me: At the end of class, a woman turned to her neighbor and said, This is such a nice way to start the weekend.
Husband (hereafter referred to as H): Nice!
Yes, but… I said to my husband. It seems like I am pretty good at helping other people relax and release their tension. Now, I just need to figure out how to relax myself.
H: Well, you know what they say: Those who can’t do, teach, my husband responded.
H: I think it comes from Bernard Shaw.
Side note: He later sent me the full quote, which I have shared below.
People who are able to do something well can do that thing for a living, while people who are not able to do anything that well make a living by teaching. (Used to disparage teachers. From George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.)
H: Then, there’s the Woody Allen version: Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym. (Woody Allen, Annie Hall). It makes sense because people who have an issue and are aware of it and want to improve on it spend a lot of effort and time figuring it out, and just because they don’t necessarily have it all figured out, I think they understand it quite well. So someone who has always been relaxed would say, Oh, you just relax. Someone who hasn’t always been relaxed would say, Ok, here are some methods to try. You figure out some methods that work for you first and then see if they might be helpful for other people.
Me: Yes. Look at my dissertation on self-sustainability. I figured I couldn’t really claim to understand or define this idea for other people until I put my self under the microscope and had a better understanding of how it works for me.
I recently took a weekend workshop with master Anusara teacher, Jaye Martin, who told the class about a saying he had learned from one of his teachers, Douglas Brooks.
I’m not you. I’m something like you.
I took from his words the idea that while we each walk our own path, these paths often run parallel. So, something I experience or struggle with is likely familiar to other people. I have long considered this to be true, which was inspiration for beginning to share these struggles in a more raw and honest way in my blog. I began to discover that in being completely authentic in my own expression gave other people permission to reflect on their own dark places and to share what they were going through.
Jaye shared a Rumi quote about the heart, which I found particularly moving:
Don’t hide your heart but reveal it so that mine might be revealed, and I might accept what I am capable of.
Giving so much of my self to the world can be exhausting, but moments like those in Jaye’s workshop give me the strength and inspiration to continue my work.
There is a reason flight attendants tell us to make sure our own oxygen mask is securely fastened before helping others. If we do not practice self-care, we can burn out…fast. Personal health and wellbeing, or what I call self-sustainability, is both an art form and a constant practice. It is a practice that takes practice and regular attention because it is easy to forget to care for yourself when you are caught up in sharing your precious energy with everyone else in the worlds who needs it.
The more I am able to embody this practice, the more I am able to embody the teachings of yoga and Rumi:
The work of love is to open that window in the chest and to look incessantly at the beloved.