Embracing Play & Creativity
This is part five in our series on self-care. (You can read part 1, the introduction, here, part 2 on caring for the body here, and part 3 on self-care for the mind here, and part 4 on nurturing the emotions here.)
In today's post we'll take a closer look at nurturing the spirit, or self. What does this mean exactly? As Alice Domar explains in her book, book Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively as You Care for Everyone Else, caring for the spirit involves making commitments to various parts of ourselves.
It might mean tending to your creative self by visiting a museum or attending a movie each week. Or it could mean honoring the sexual self by letting your needs be known.
Play and creativity are two important components of nurturing the spirit. As Domar explains, "we must deliberately make space for opportunities to be creative, doing the playful work involved–composing poems, drafting sketches, practicing musical instruments, perfecting dance steps, etc. Domar describes a particular stressful period of her life when she found respite in an evening pottery course: "For two hours, I'd lose myself–and my troubles–in the whirring pottery wheel."
Domar has seen many friends and patients achieve joy, freedom, tranquility, and self-transcendence by pursuing artistic endeavors like gardening, dance, poetry, music, and acting.
Revitalizing forms of active leisure are also a good way to nourish the self. (Note that "active" leisure differs from "dulling" pursuits like excessive TV watching, surfing the web, or gossiping on the phone). Domar recommends leisure activities like music concerts, bookstore browsing, live theater, eating favorite childhood foods, watching films that have had significance in our lives, and visiting amusements parks, galleries, or museums.
When we are feeling down or anxious, there are fun, small things we can do to boost our mood. Try flying a kite, feeding the birds, making a playlist of favorite music, taking a day trip to a new place, cleaning a cluttered closet or drawer, assembling a collection of favorite photos, or writing down a list of 50 good things that have happened in your life.
The Benefits of Giving
As Domar details, life crises are often crises of faith. When we are experiencing loss, illness or hardship, we may ask if God is punishing us or if we have done something wrong to cause such pain.
Domar encourages us to probe these deeper questions instead of merely brushing them aside. Spiritual or religious communities may bring us comfort or we might seek the advice of priest, minister, rabbi, meditation teacher, healer, friend, or guru. Sharing our thoughts and feelings with a non-judgmental party (one who does not pressure us into adopting their own worldview) is often an important step toward finding peace during faith-challenging life crises.
Helping others can also be emotionally and spiritually nurturing. Volunteer work and reaching out to those in need has been shown to lessen pain, ease distress, and reduce tension. As Domar says, "helping establishes a relationship with healing effects on both the giving and receiving side." In order to avoid spiritual depletion, we should be sure we are helping "from the heart" and not from selfishness, self-sacrifice, or the need for approval.
When it comes to helping your loved one with an addiction problem, be aware of the impulse to fix things or to protect your loved one from natural consequences. If you are feeling drained from caretaking, you may be better served focusing attention on caring for yourself or talking to a spiritual advisor or friend.
Many of us are familiar with the serenity prayer, a keystone of 12-step recovery groups: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Whether you believe in God, the universe, human connection, love, or some other higher power, this is a useful concept. But Domar asks this question: "Why is the serenity prayer so easy to recite but so hard to adopt?"
Because we are expected to be "good wives, super-mothers, vibrant specimens of bodily perfection, and thriving career women, without letting any of these juggling balls tumble to the ground," says Domar. "That requires a fabulous capacity for control, and indeed, our culture pushes control as the great virtue women should embody."
And what happens when we fail to achieve the perfect marriages, sex lives, or bodies promised by self-help gurus and women's magazines? We believe we failed because we did not exert enough control; we did not try hard enough or get the technique just right. The result is low self-esteem.
According to Domar, "when we start buying into the belief that we should have near-total control over every facet of our lives, we've swallowed a delusion, which only makes us feel increasingly helpless. That's when the serenity prayer is so helpful: We need the utmost discernment to know where and when to exert control, and where and when to let go."
Letting go is "the healthiest kind of surrender…" says Domar, "…not giving up, but giving in to a higher power after we've put heart and soul into an arduous struggle or cherished endeavor."
The key: to alternate between control and letting go. As Domar explains, it is "a balancing act on the high wire between willful action and serene acceptance."
1. Think about moments when you were happiest as a child. What kind of playful, creative activities were you engaging in? Are there hobbies or pursuits you enjoy that have fallen by the wayside or creative, playful activities you are eager to try? Write down some of these pursuits in your journal. Now, schedule at least one hour for this activity in the coming week on your personal calendar. If you need to research local classes, do so. Commit to spending one hour per week on this pursuit over the next few months.
2. Consider your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding God, religion, and spirituality. What was the worst experience you had with organized religion or spirituality as a child? What was the best experience? What kind of spiritual life would bring you the greatest peace of mind, wholeness, and sense of connection now as an adult? What steps can you take to realize that vision and incorporate it into your daily routine? Write your responses in your journal.
3. Reread the serenity prayer above. Are there areas of your life where you are attempting to exert too much control? Are there other areas where you should be exerting more control and taking action as a form of self-care? In what specific ways can you strike a healthier balance between action and letting go? Record these answers in your journal.