Caring for Our Bodies is Sacred Work
Love of Self
For Broad Bay Congregational Church on August 23, 2015 in Waldoboro, Maine
With Nancy Dail
When I think of sacred my mind automatically shifts to the sacrum……
“The sacrum is one of the most fascinating bones in the body – beginning with the spiritual clue in its Latin root from “os sacrum” meaning “sacred bone”.” The sacrum is a v-shaped bone that is the foundation of your spine and links to your pelvis on both sides.
“Irene Dowd likens the sacrum to a keystone arch in a church. The downward force of the arch keeps the columns in place. Of course in the body the columns are our legs and far more subtlety is needed to adjust to the constant micro movements we make even when we are still. Add to that the 19 ligaments in and around the pelvis plus the 57 muscles that have a connection to the pelvis and you have a cross over area where there is a translation of the heaven to earth forces…the sense of the spine connecting from the sacrum up to the brain and the doorway to allowing our grounding forces to flow.” – Jeff Lennard (private correspondence) From David Lauterstein author of Deep Massage Book.
I am going to give you permission to stand if you want to. If you are uncomfortable sitting, please feel free to get up. I will not take offense. My students lay on the floor, bounce on balls and stand up. Freedom of movement is self-care.
I want to thank Nancy Duncan for inviting me to speak here today at Broad Bay Congregational Church. It is a daunting task to speak about Self-Care in a way that does not make one feel guilty if you do not participate in an activity. It is my goal today to shed light on how one can “Care for our bodies and insist on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship, and recreation in addition to work.” But I also want to link back to number 10: “Claiming the sacredness of both our minds and our hearts, and recognizing that faith and science, doubt and belief serve the pursuit of truth.”
It is daunting to speak to this congregation as I know that you are a group of caregivers and being one myself, I know we are probably the toughest group to propose self-care to. Care of self usually comes last on the list of the caregiver, so whether you are a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, reverend and I know there are inordinate amount of reverends in this group, being a caregiver does not mean you are supposed to sacrifice yourself in the care of others. It is all about balance and that is often the toughest act to accomplish. We need to remember that we are human. We are our own worst enemy – we judge ourselves for that what we do not do.
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
There is unfortunately a pile of truth in that statement. I will not get into a discussion of our insurance system however today. But I hope to lead instead to understanding the sacred role that self-care has in your life. I believe that mankind makes most everything more complicated than we need it to be. We need to strike a balance instead of reaching for the extremes.
In the process of learning self-care there is no right or wrong. One should not judge yourself with self-care. Chastising yourself for not doing something beneficial is counterproductive. It wastes time on the negative. Having a positive attitude helps. Applaud yourself for doing one thing for your self-care. Avoid the guilt trip. There is a poem I would like to read in its entirety by Thomas Merton called “Great and Small.”
Great And Small
The Way of Chuang Tzu
By Thomas Merton
When we look at things in the light of Tao,
Nothing is best, nothing is worst.
Each thing, seen in its own light,
Stands out in its own way.
It can seem to be “better”
Than what is compared with it
On its own terms.
But seen in terms of the whole,
No one thing stands out as “better”.
If you measure differences,
What is greater than something else is “great,”
Therefore there is nothing that is not “great”;
What is smaller than something else is “small,”
Therefore there is nothing that is not “small,”
So the whole cosmos is a grain of rice,
And the tip of a hair
Is as big as a mountain-
Such is the relative view.
You can break down walls with battering rams,
But you cannot stop holes with them.
All things have different uses.
Fine horses can travel a hundred miles a day,
But they cannot catch mice
Like terriers or weasels:
All creatures have gifts of their own.
The white horned owl can catch fleas at midnight
And distinguish the tip of a hair,
But in bright day it stares, helpless,
And cannot even see a mountain.
All things have varying capacities.
Consequently: he who wants to have right without wrong,
Order with disorder,
Does not understand the principles
Of heaven and earth.
He does not know how
Things hang together.
Can a man cling only to heaven
And know nothing of earth?
They are correlative: to know one
Is to know the other.
To refuse one
Is to refuse both.
Can a man cling to the positive
Without any negative
In contrast to which it is seen
To be positive?
If he claims to do so
He is a rogue or a madman.
I use this poem when I teach ethics for a basic understanding that if there were no wrong, we would not have to worry about being right and be ethical. It also speaks to the balance of positive and negative. Just like trying to balance on a see saw, somehow we need to reach a balance in our lives.
From my perspective, as a massage therapist, when I touch someone, I am working on the whole person. For me there is a spiritual acceptance that there is a whole person, body, mind and soul on my table. The emotional component is every bit as important as the physical. I have worked on individuals who were so wrapped in the emotional plane that letting go and relaxing is not an easy feat. I can tell when I touch someone whether there is still voluntary tension being held versus straight forward tight tissue. We carry around levels of tension and stress, and are often are not even aware we are emotionally supporting physical tension. I am constantly reminded that I work on human beings. My job is to help you help yourself, and I do not fix anything. The human body is capable of doing that all by itself, but often with a nudge or catalyst.
I have prepared for you a Self-Care Wheel that is divided into four separate parts. (It is just a big circle with four parts if you wish to recreate it). Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual and Emotional. The best way to fill in the blanks is with a group of people, because we learn from others and it opens our minds to possibilities. For example, physical for you may only be taking a walk. To someone else, it might mean dance, Tai Chi, or any type of movement. Getting enough sleep is also part of the physical. Discussing self-care in a group might lead to walking in pairs or in a group. You do not have to do pushups to get physical exercise. These categories can be combined and you will see that they lend to each other, for example, if you put nature in the spiritual and you go for a walk in the woods, you might stop under a tree and have a moment as you listen to the wind as it rustles through the leaves.
I have a birch tree outside my office window and sometimes I will ground myself by listening to the tree make natural music.
This chart represents self-care for the whole body, Body, mind and spirit. Seeking someone to help you find your self-care is honorable. I recommend it. It is your personal journey.
Besides this chart, I have a few recommendations to help you with your journey of self-care.
1. Take charge of your health care. Make sure that when you have a diagnostic test or surgery that you have a copy of every report. Do not put all your faith of your health care in the hands of one person. When you go to a physician, write down your questions before you go, so the time you spend with your health care professional is profitable to your health and to your understanding of your health. If you cannot read the report you are given, find someone else who can. Understand your condition before you do something that is irrevocable. Think of yourself as being the center of health care. What health care professionals do you need to help you find optimal health? I know that this is bold, but this is the idea behind holistic health. (recent airport experience)
2. Pay attention to your symptoms. Signs and symptoms are what Doctors use to give you a diagnosis. Only you can report on symptoms as they are only felt by you. Pain is a symptom. Headaches are a symptom not a diagnosis. Look at symptoms as warning signs! Get maintenance checkups!
3. Take a close look at your posture and the repetitive actions you do daily. Your head weighs about 10-12 pounds. Because our head sits on top of our cervical spine, it is kind of like carrying around a bowling ball on a stick. Just our tendons, ligaments and muscles act as guy wires to keep our head upright. If your head is on top of your spine you will have 12 pounds of pressure on your posterior cervical muscles. For every inch that you head is in front of your spine you multiply that times the weight of your head. So if your head is 3 inches forward or your head is flexed forward and suspended, you will have 36 pounds of pressure on your posterior cervical muscles. This leads to headaches, neck pain and discomfort in between your shoulder blades. It could also lead to pain and discomfort down the upper extremities. We know have syndromes from technology: Computer vision syndrome, Digital vision syndrome, and Text neck.
4. Sleep posture is as important as day posture. Try to not sleep in a fetal position all night long. Hug a pillow. Do not sleep with your arms over your head, it will cut off your circulation and nervous innervation to your upper extremities.
5. Take more breaks during all kinds of repetitive actions.
6. Have a care as to how you lift things. Use your legs, not your back. Balance yourself first; try not to lift things in awkward positions.
7. Include some form of movement in your life. Like the exercises we did with the children. Warm your body up before you do exercise.
8. Try to find something that will decrease stress in your life. The stress hormone is cortisol. Find something that counteracts stress. It could be walking, massage, exercise, dance, laughter, or listening to the wind.
9. Hydrate! The brain is a selfish organ – it requires so much water that if you are dehydrated, the brain will steal water from your other organs.
10. Breathe. Be conscious about breathing fully, expanding not just your chest but also your abdomen. Breathing done consciously can exercise your internal organs as well as support good posture.
11. Include beauty, art, music, and anything cultural in your life in some form.
12. I believe that caring for your soul can mean that you are enlisting ways to unite your body and mind. Thomas Moore says: “Care of the Soul requires craft – skill, attention, and art. To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is the very heart of soul-making.” He also says, “No one can tell you how to live your life. No one knows the secrets of the heart sufficiently to tell others about them authoritatively.” We all have to experience life ourselves, so you all have your own personal journey. Combining the sacredness of both our mind and heart, accepting faith and science, pursuing truth to take care of your body in a variety of ways achieves a balance that we all need in our lives.
Robert Browning said:
“Truth lies within ourselves; it takes no rise from outward things, whate’r you may believe. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness and to know rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape than in effecting entry for light supposed to be without.”
You will all find your own truths in your own time. Have confidence in your abilities. Thank you for this opportunity to talk with you today and enjoy your journey.
Nancy Dail, BA, LMT, NCTMB, Director Downeast School of Massage
firstname.lastname@example.org , www.downeastschoolofmassage.net