Doing it my way
I know. It’s been a while since I last wrote. How have you been? Things still feel different, don’t they? Each time we adjust to a new normal, a new allowance, a new restriction, something else changes. Not sure how you are finding it, but I’m certainly finding it exhausting at times. I’m reading a book just now, written a few years back, and the character’s dad dies in 1918 from the Spanish flu. It’s written about in passing, and, a year ago, I don’t even think that sentence would have entered my consciousness. Or if it did, it wouldn’t have stuck. And yet, here it is, reverberating in my head, something new to find interesting. So, yeah, different times – for me anyway.
And I’ve been – I don’t know – uninspired? – to write. Well, that’s not exactly it. It’s more that what’s been on my mind recently is really no different from anything that I’ve written about before: kindness to others and ourselves; allowing ourselves our difficulties and not trying to force ourselves past them; being ok with not being ok; being mindful. That, coupled with being busier and more exhausted than normal, has given me the excuse to pause this blog – and stop writing regularly – for a bit. I’ve taken my foot off the gas pedal, and it’s felt ok.
Looking back, though, it didn’t really feel like I was coasting. More I had adjusted my daily routine yet again to fit with my circumstances at the time. Now, what I’ve noticed is that I’m returning to a slightly adjusted version of my slightly adjusted version – which was likely a slightly adjusted version – of my daily routine. And with that, I’ve also noticed how much of a help it feels to me to write. Whether it’s these blog posts, my morning pages or something else, writing has well and truly become entrenched as something I do for myself.
The fact is, I’ve been writing regularly for years in some way shape or form, but I’ve never seen it as self-care. I’ve never defined it as an act of self-compassion. I’ve never noticed it’s one of the ways I’ve developed for myself of being mindful. And yet, that is exactly what it is for me, at least now. I do understand that I might not define it this way forever, but it feels important to acknowledge that this is how I define the act of writing for myself just now.
The more time I spend doing and/or thinking about things like mindfulness, meditation, self-compassion and yoga – or more broadly put, ‘my self care activities’ – the more I’m coming to believe that all of these things can be good for you if you can find the way that they work for you. There are many ways to be mindful. There are many ways to meditate. There are many different forms of yoga. There are lots of facets to self-compassion. There is never going to be one way to do any of those things, and precisely because of that, it is unlikely that one person is going to get exactly the same benefits from any of these activities than another person, especially when directed to do it in one particular way. The yoga that feels right and produces benefits for me may not be the same yoga that feels right and produces benefits for you – or for my sister, husband, friends or neighbours. But, if you keep trying different kinds of yoga (or mindfulness or meditation), you will more than likely find the way that works best for you. No one told me that the best way for me to practice mindfulness consistently was through writing. Being mindful may not be the benefit you get from writing, but if you enjoy it and are willing to practice it consistently, it’s likely to offer you some kind of benefit if you do it as a self-care activity.
There are many ways, if you’re interested, to use writing to your benefit. You just need to find the way that works for you. For some reason, this has taken me quite a while to really understand. It’s only after many cycles of trial and error, being consistent and then inconsistent, following instructions to the letter and then following the spirit of the instructions by adjusting them to better suit me, that I’ve been able to see then need for flexibility in how I do things to ensure that I get the full benefit from the activity. I’m sure for some of you that will sound outrageous; how could I not know that I had to be flexible?! I’m equally sure that for others, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of us who have a need to ‘do things the right way’, this idea of being able to do things in a way that is right for us does not come easily. When we meditate, we have to do it for the right number of minutes, sit in the right posture, breathe in and out the right number of times, or complete the meditation feeling relaxed or in some way different in a positive way. If our minds are racing and we can’t focus on the breath, we are doing it wrong; if we lay down or sit at the dining room table, we are not sitting right or in the right place. And the second that thought of wrongness comes in, we loose the benefit of whatever practice we’re doing and we become less than. I mean, we can’t even meditate right, right?
I guarantee you, if this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. I can say that with confidence as I’ve started teaching yoga to a student who wants to do the postures the right way. “There’s no point in me doing it,” she tells me, “if I can’t do the correct posture in the correct way.” Since it’s the beginning of my journey with this student, I nod and smile in agreement, all the while making sure I teach any posture from the beginning. Starting with the basics with this student allows me to see what she is doing, hear how it feels in her body and then make the same posture more challenging if that feels possible for this student. That way, she’ll always be ‘doing it right’ and there is less of chance that she’ll do herself an injury trying to get it right. As far as I’m concerned, so long as she is paying attention to what is happening in her mind and body as she does her yoga practice, this student is doing yoga right. Maybe she’ll come to realise that at some point in the future, but for now we’ll work on what she is already doing right so she can progress safely.
I’ve also had to go through the same process in learning how writing works for me. I started out several years ago writing morning pages, because that’s what Julia Cameron, who wrote ‘The Artists Way’, said you had to do. “Write three pages in 30 minutes every morning.” That Julia Cameron wrote this in America and that paper in America is slightly smaller than in Britain became the topic of my morning pages for weeks. Which was it? Three pages or 30 minutes? Because it wasn’t the same for me. I could do three pages in 45 minutes or 2 pages in 30 minutes. I read on in the Artists Way, struggling each morning for either 3 pages or 30 minutes, trying to figure out the ‘right’ way to write my morning pages. Finally, getting myself agitated enough to the point that I had to take a decision, I settled on the 30 minutes and found the topic of my morning pages start to change. Thankfully, I was no longer tying myself up in knots about my morning pages and getting them right; I was just getting on with them and, eventually, seeing that they were beneficial for me – even though they started out as relatively anxiety-provoking.
Also, my process of writing morning pages has adapted over time. Whereas I started doing them the minute I got up, now I write them in the front room with my coffee, after I’ve gotten ready for my day with a shower and breakfast. Whereas I wrote them every day at the start, now I write them on weekday mornings. And while I would get quite agitated with myself on days I didn’t manage to do my morning pages, now I am allowed to miss it out if it doesn’t suit my schedule or fit in to my list of things to do that day. The act of writing my morning pages has helped me learn how to undertake this activity in a way that is flexible enough for me to get the full benefit of them, though it certainly didn’t start out that way. When I get a new notebook or don’t have 30 minutes, I tend to return to a discussion in my morning pages about the 3-pages/30-minute dilemma I had created, but now that makes me chuckle, whereas before it felt a real bone of contention.
Only after that struggle did I come to realise that writing has become a way for me to be more mindful, meditative and self-compassionate. It might not necessarily be a form of yoga (though, perhaps, that can be debated if we take the formal definition of yoga being ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’), but it can be more than ‘just’ writing. Since I felt unable to consistently write my morning pages last month, I began to notice how beneficial they were to me, how they helped me to tune in to what was going on in my mind – and sometimes my body – and perhaps not change it, but acknowledge it was there. And doing that would allow me to get on with my day. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the opposite; I didn’t notice that the days I wasn’t able to write my morning pages I was more agitated or depressed or negative. It was just far more noticeable that the days I was writing my morning pages, I could see the beneficial effects, whether that was just the ability to be a bit more kind to myself or to work through ideas in my head to become inspired about a way to move forward.
So, now, finally coming back to this activity on a regular basis, I am ok with doing it my way and I feel far more secure in the fact that doing this activity my way is indeed a self-care activity. It’s my way of being mindful, acknowledging what’s happening for me and maybe, just maybe, being able to leave the judgement out. It’s my way of being more compassionate to myself. I can examine any ‘shoulds’ or ‘can’ts’ cause they’re right out there in black and white. And I can leave them there on the page; there is no need for me to continue carrying them if they aren’t helpful. And, through time I've learned that this particular self-care activity isn’t helpful every day – it doesn’t feel the same every day because every day is different. But when I do my morning pages now, intentionally, as an act of self-care, it also becomes an affirmation. An affirmation of my worth. An affirmation of my value. I am allowed 30 minutes a day to look after myself, to acknowledge to myself what is happening for me and to do that without judgement.
I can’t recommend that highly enough. Whether it’s writing for you or something else. Find the way it works for you. Persist and adjust until it feels right – or give yourself permission to try something else. But don’t give up. Find that way to look after yourself that is right for you and do it your way. Not only are you worth it, but it may just help you get through the rest of this crazy year.