Imagine a typical busy street: You are walking along, likely texting a friend, eyes both down and just in front of you. Car noise, shops advertising their wares, people on either side of you looking at their phones or just in front. Smells, both pleasant and noxious, assault and disrupt your breathing.
You glance up. You see a friend. You see a friend you really love and have not seen in ages. You both stop, drop your packages down at your feet, grasp your phones tightly and hug each other deeply.
How did that feel?
Caring for ourselves and each other, I believe, is the one thing we need to get right.
I know — in the midst of climate change, forest fires, pandemics, etc...I am choosing caring for each other?
I carefully feel we should begin by caring for ourselves, but I definitely understand the ideas of brilliant people like Emily Nagosky who feels (if I understand her correctly) that we should look to connection first, ourselves second.
I feel it's a bit chicken and egg — what a healthy community / society does is co regulate so that it becomes quite natural to self regulate.
For some reason — well intentioned or not — we got ourselves into a pickle where it became (oddly) not part of the culture in many, many places around the world to teach our babies and children how to regulate their emotions. So then those babies grew up, had babies, had no idea what to do with emotions, and so on and so on.
Here we are, several generations out, struggling. We have burnout, we have ADD, we have road rage, we have people getting really awkward as soon as the conversation veers from the weather.
We have entire populations who cannot regulate their emotions.
If you feel like you are the exception, maybe (?) but also, remember, suppressing emotions and always being cheerful is not regulating your emotions.
No fault — honestly, at this point, perhaps some historian or anthropologist might be able to find the exact culprit but at this point, does it matter? Here we are. Many young parents valiantly try to play catch up and attempt to both co-regulate with their babies and children and also learn to self-regulate. I am filled with such joy when I see this.
But I also feel like what is not acknowledged often enough is how hard this is. How it must feel like turning an oil tanker around. How it might even feel like turning an oil tanker around while drunk. Terrifying, massive, impossible, slow.
So, when the question becomes shall we begin by self caring or caring for others or finding others to connect and care for us — I say, "Yes!" Care. Let's.
I also carefully fall on the side of self care first. As long as we know what self care is...which, if you were raised in the 20th or 21st century in most of the world, you likely didn't learn this in a sweet, organic way in your family of origin. (Again, no shade on them, they didn't know, literally couldn't, etc.)
Really, caring holds two main parts: protecting or supporting and providing for needs.
So...when you think about how you care for yourself, do you find that you are aware of your needs and how to provide for your needs? Are you aware of what you might need protection from or support around? Do you know how to provide that for yourself?
I'll posit that caring for yourself takes such courage, compassion, wisdom and patience that you might need some help :) likely it would be awfully challenging to do this on your own.
Again, in a functional community / society, we both know what we need and how to provide what we need. We know how to ask, and be given these things. Hugs, food, a back rub, money, space, time, respect, etc.
We also know how to be asked, and give these things.
Here is a challenge: Close your eyes and visualize a typical work place, classroom, grocery store, busy city street, highway, cafe, party. Now imagine the most vulnerable person in that room and what that person might need. What would it look like if provided? If that person needs protection, what does that look like? Is it obvious to you what any of your imaginary people need? Is it obvious what you need in that scenario?
This challenge is a bit of a litmus test for me to realize how far we have to go.
So — I started my Underbelly Project not really knowing where it would lead, why I was doing it, etc. As I have followed my heart over the past few months (around 18!) I am beginning to notice a few things:
All of the things we can do to care for each other and ourselves are accessible. They may not feel familiar at first, but with practice, they will feel like home.
Using a trusted guide is a very good idea — choose someone who wants to guide you to your best self, to your place where you resonate and shine. I have found that this is a heart-based thing, and takes time and care. And here is an odd trick: the more safe, confident, healthy and well we feel, the better our intuition is at choosing that guide.
As you learn to care for yourself and for other people, you will get better at weeding out people who don't resonate for you and you will also get better at simply understanding that it's okay to choose wisely. Any professional will understand that and help you find a person who resonates for you.
And as you begin to find ways to care for yourself and others, you will no longer command yourself to relax, find you can't, open a bottle of wine, and move on :) You will gently, over time, with compassion, find that one thing you can do in moments where you need the most care: call your sister, get yourself into the woods, plunge into a cold pool, sing loudly.
Good luck, God speed, and I will see you on Monday morning!