I’ve been on retreat this week, returning to the hermitage in the mountains of North Carolina where I first decided to follow my dream to be an inspirational speaker and writer. I came here this time mainly because my house was booked on AirBnB and I needed somewhere to stay. I also knew it would be a great place for me to prepare for a couple of talks I have coming up.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about this week is what some people see as my completely new direction. I’ve been contemplating whether my turn to the development of Sacred Caregiving is a genuine inspiration, or a well disguised cop out to continuing the pursuit of my dream. Personally, I have not necessarily seen the two as exclusive, but there is enough self-doubt to warrant closer examination.
Most of my energy and thinking, however, has been on the topic for my upcoming talks: Engaging Our Inner Critic: Changing Our Relationship from Adversary to Ally. I’ve been reading and studying materials to incorporate into my speech. I’ve also been practicing my solution to changing this relationship, which turned out to be slightly different from what I had originally derived.
I’ve learned that one of the ways I can really incorporate what I’m learning is to take a break and go for a walk. For me, there is something about moving my body that allows my mind to process on a deeper level. Being here next to waterfalls and hiking trails has made taking that time easy and enjoyable.
As I’ve been walking I realized how determined I am to be an authentic voice in the world. I recognized my difficulty in writing out my speech is because of this commitment. I know when I read from a manuscript, I lose my effectiveness to sound authentic. So, I’ve had to prepare for my talk without a script.
This, of course, has led the part of me that is critical into overdrive. Not having a perfectly timed, practiced and performed presentation is simply unacceptable. The messages I’ve been hearing from my inner critic are pretty disparaging.
However, I’ve seen this as a perfect opportunity for me to get out of my head of the discussion I need to give and move into the practice for which my discussion will be based. Using the recommendation of Ann Weiser Cornell in Radical Gentleness: A 5-week course transforming your experience of inner criticism to one of inner acceptance, I went inside my body and practiced using self-in-presence language: I’m sensing something in me that is critical and I’m saying hello to it. I then asked that part of me another question: “What might you be worried about?”
To my surprise, the answer wasn’t that I’d get half way through my speech and forget what I was saying or ramble unintelligably the entire hour. No, the answer came in the form of a vision – and it was a much larger fear than just about the content of not having a written speech. I saw myself as an old lady: poor, lonely, and miserable.
With this image, I had a huge “NO WONDER” sense of empathy for the part of me that criticizes. No wonder it’s always pushing me to do more or be better; No wonder it’s always on my case about goofing off. It’s terrified I will end up old, lonely, poor and miserable.
I later realized this fear is likely a universal one for many of us. It’s what keeps us in relationships that no longer bring us joy. It’s what keeps us busy on Facebook or distracted by our addictions. At our core we are afraid of getting old and being alone – and we don’t know how to deal with it.
As I contemplated this awareness and recommitted to showing up as authentically in life as I can, it occurred to me that Sacred Caregiving isn’t just about nursing homes or the direct care workforce. The topic I have been reading about and studying while here this week actually has a LOT to do with Sacred Caregiving. Because caring for others has to start with caring for ourselves, and that means changing our relationship to the part of ourselves that is criticizing.
I’m not sure exactly what this means for my new direction, but I know something deep in me clicked when I had this bigger vision. It’s now going to be my new tag line: Sacred Caregiving: Caring for Ourselves and Caring for Each Other.
Caring for ourselves can start with each of us being gentle and compassionate with all the parts of who we are and what we do. For me this week, that’s meant accepting the discomfort of not having a written speech, accepting the worry for how my talks will turn out, and allowing the uncertainty of my future direction. As self-in-presence, I can hold all of that and let it be.
What can you do in this moment to bring more loving kindness to yourself? Maybe start by putting a hand on your heart and breathing in love. Let the part of you that is criticizing know you hear it, but don’t get caught up in the content. Become big enough to hold all of who you are with love and compassion.