On Sundays I have a rule; they are completely unscheduled days. No time table, no calendar events, no plans with anyone. It is strictly a spur of the moment day. This rule has become writ in stone for me in the last couple of years. It is not really negotiable and if it ends up being negotiated, the person place or thing I am giving up my truly free time for must be extremely important to me. This rule has saved me. Yes some of my Sundays end up being used to do taxes, or clean, or grocery shop or prepare food, but most have been used to go on long bike rides, hikes, read books, lounge in the backyard or on the couch watching Netflix. It is a day in the week that, upon it's arrival, I have the space and time to ask myself “what needs doing right now?” And a lot of the time that answer is “whatever I want.”
This past weekend I dedicated my free time to relaxing. I went hiking through Iroquois heights and tried watercolour painting. I sat in the backyard with my cats colouring pictures of butterflies and peonies all Sunday morning and went for a long, easy and scenic bike ride along the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail with a good friend in the afternoon. Several times my friend and I remarked to each other variations of “aaahhhhhhh yeah” and “this feels soooo good” and “I haven't even thought about work.” When I got home, my body felt a bit tired, but in a delicious sort of way, pleasantly spent. My mind was relaxed, peaceful and positive. I felt open minded and optimistic even about things that, just a day or two before, were clouded with worry and pessimism and anxiety. A certain sort of harmony existed between my body and my mind, a harmony I hadn't really made much time for in recent months.
That felt sense of self-harmony is the point of my free Sundays. When we take the time to actually just be, we are connecting with that compass inside that points the way for us to go. It is a subtle thing though and an easy one to miss. Our mental spaces, once used for talking to friends, connecting with elders or quiet contemplation are now cluttered with advertising, news stories and the latest trends we must follow or face social rejection. The small quiet voice of the animal self gets lost in the noise of social pressure. As problems like depression and anxiety hit new levels of prevalence in our communities, now more than ever we need to reclaim our mental time and space.
A few months ago, after a harrowing month, a patient came in to see me. Between our two appointments he'd had a crisis that landed him in hospital very sick. As we spoke about things he said, “I can actually breathe here,” and I knew so well what he meant. There are few places and times we allow ourselves uncluttered by social pressure to be or look or do things in a way that is socially acceptable. In my treatment room, he could lay down, be cared for, and just breathe. That one hour each month has been his commitment to self for the last 5 or 6 years and it has been an inspiration to me. It doesn't matter if it's a massage with your favourite therapist, or a yoga class, or a hike in the woods, or time spent with a hobby. That time that we set aside for just being is so important to our health. Allowing ourselves to relax gives our minds a break, improving mood and cognitive function and can alter our perception of pain. This can ripple outwards to the choices we make about food and activity and how we show up in our relationships with our loved ones, friends and colleagues.
My relaxing weekend helped me start my week out on a good note. I regained some perspective I'd lost in the pressure cooker of managing my own practice and helped me see that the tasks I thought were mountains were just a little bigger than mole hills. It helped me remember that there are friends near by willing to listen when I'm struggling who can help me see things from new lights or at least help pull me out of a dark spot to clear my head. And it showed me that I can safely rely on the team I work with at the clinic to get tasks done and remember all the things that need doing, in the proper proportions.
When we commit to taking care of ourselves we are committing to more than just a scented bath to relax in or getting our taxes done on time. We are committing to the cultivation of a relationship with our bodies that informs us of what our needs are in the moment. This practice requires the ability to experience stress and relaxation in equal measure. It requires our skill at accomplishing the things that need doing and the things that rejuvenate us, make us feel alive and whole and connected to ourselves. It will help us seek and ask for the help we need when our problems are greater than our abilities and it asks that we slow down and pay attention to our whole selves; our minds, our spirits, our bodies and all the ways and things and relationships we interact with and how those elements of our lives affect us. The commitment to self care is the commitment to giving a hoot about your own well-being and developing your behaviours to ensure that you can complete the things that task requires, taxes and scented baths in balance.