I woke up one morning 2 weeks ago, having had another of my recurring dreams.
The recurring dreams I have aren’t exactly the same, but they have a recurring theme. Each time I have one of these dreams, I am observing lions, tigers, or big cats of some sort, in an enclosure, sometimes at a zoo and other times in some other random setting. The thing that is unusual about this is that in every dream, I eventually discover that the enclosure is not secure – either a gate has been left unlocked, or the fence is broken, or sometimes it’s even just a matter of me suddenly realising that this ain’t no regular big cat enclosure – wire farm fencing or flywire is hardly going to protect me if they decide they want to come and play.
I’ve pondered on the meaning of these recurring dreams over the years. Of course there are many different interpretation guidelines and methods I could follow, but I prefer to take the intuitive route. I’ve always felt into my dreams, to contemplate what emotions they evoke, and how they make me feel, and what the themes and specifics symbolise for me personally.
My hunch has always been that these dreams are a warning signal for me. A soul warning that whilst on the surface things may seem to be hunky-dory, I’m actually in dangerous territory. It feels as though I’m not paying adequate attention to a situation that seems to be under control right now, but that won’t take much to turn into full blown and life-threatening catastrophe.
I’ve wondered what specifically these dreams are pointing to. What is it that I’m not being careful enough with? The past 3 years in particular have seen me dedicate to working on improving my life by practicing self-care from a spiritual and energetic perspective, and I feel incredibly grateful that I’ve found and followed this path. If I hadn’t made the changes I’ve made, I believe I’d be in a state of worsening depression and overall mental health, and declining physical health. So I felt that even though I couldn’t pinpoint the specifics of where I was in danger, I felt as though I was taking proactive action from a broad perspective.
So, when this dream cropped up again the other week, it caught me off guard. Haven’t I come so far? Aren’t I doing all the right things?
Pondering this again has prompted me to get a lot more real with myself this past week. I’m doing a lot of stuff “right”. I generally eat very well, I exercise, I meditate, I do yoga, I manage my energy, and more recently I’ve begun incorporating my new love – essential oils – into my life for their therapeutic benefits. But the truth is, in so many ways, I’m ignoring a number of aspects of my self-care that are having a negative impact on my health. I’ve made no secret over the years of the fact that I struggle with disciplining myself to get adequate sleep. There are days when I eat an entire block of chocolate within the space of 15 minutes, kidding myself that because its 95% cocoa it’s “healthy” and therefore ok. And since beginning my business, I’ve really succumbed to the compulsion to be “on” all the time – checking and responding to emails and messages into the night and first thing when I rise. Then there’s also the “I don’t have time” excuse creeping in here and there: my daily morning walks have become “sometimes”, and there have been a few too many instances where I’ve let my meditation practice slide.
The truth is, whilst deep down I know these actions aren’t helpful, I do them mindlessly. I slip into habits that are supported by cultural and societal norms. I allow my conscientiousness and work ethic to dictate over and above my inner knowing. I zone out and let my actions happen, rather than acting with intention. I let my ego take the driver’s seat, bowing to her justifications for emotional eating and behaviours that set my nervous system on edge.
And when my inner truth, the voice of my soul, gently whispers to me that I know full well that these behaviours aren’t helpful or sustainable or aligned, I pretend that I can’t hear her, or that I don’t know how to do things differently, feigning helplessness.
This recent dream has prompted me to sit a little more still with these gentle whisperings. When I do so, it’s quite laughable how hypocritical I have been, always singing the praises of self-care, energy work and alignment, and yet completely disregarding the truth of my actions.
I started this business for so many wonderful reasons, many of which centre around how it gives me the freedom and autonomy to work the way I want to work – in a way that is sustainable and flexible for me and my family. I work this business educating others about the importance of improving our health and wellbeing using simple and natural self-care solutions, and yet here I am sabotaging all the efforts I do make. The leaders within my team promote self-care and sustainable work habits as essential to our success. And yet, my ego does its best to convince me that I can get away with these dirty little secrets by making up for them with the good stuff that I do actually do.
But that’s not how it works.
As I sit with these truths, I can acknowledge that when I’m not getting the sleep I need, my mind isn’t as sharp, it takes me longer to complete just about everything, and I don’t look my best. Added to that the longer term health implications of inadequate sleep in general, coupled with the hormonal imbalances and disease I am challenged with. When I wire my nervous system with screen time into the evening and night, my sleep is affected. When I drown my sorrows in a block of (oh-so-delicious) chocolate, the pleasure only lasts as long as the mouthful takes to swallow, and I’m left with the sugar crash that inevitably follows. When I skip a few too many morning walks, my body gradually becomes stiffer and I feel less and less grounded. The cumulative effects of all of these actions include sluggish digestion, mental fogginess, skin breakouts, susceptibility to illness, long term health decline, inability to practice mindfulness, mood swings, difficulty articulating myself clearly … this list is nowhere near exhaustive.
We all know, deep down, what we should and shouldn’t be doing.
So if we know this, why do we sabotage ourselves? I think there are a few key reasons.
Firstly, we are seduced by the notion that ignorance is bliss, that if we just squish that little niggling, knowing voice down far enough, we can hide out in the luxury of shunning responsibility for our lives. This happens so easily and comfortably that we’re virtually unconscious of it.
The ignorant path may seem the easier option in the moment, but when we live our lives day in and day out with the consequences of our actions, the “easy” option doesn’t seem so easy to live with. We’re forced to live with the pain of our karma.
The truth is, we essentially know what we need to change about our behaviour. Acknowledgement is the first step. Then it’s a matter of taking responsibility to create the kind of life that we want to live, a life that makes us feel good. So, why don’t we do this?
This brings me to the second key reason we sabotage ourselves. As I’ve sat with this topic since having my most recent dream, the answer has become clearer with each passing day. I believe it comes down to our egoic yearning for approval. Let me explain.
So often, when chatting with friends and fellow mums in particular, I find that we’re all having an almost universal experience in our daily lives: the feelings of being perpetually busy, over-extended, drained, overwhelmed, stressed, unable to get ahead, and constantly tired or even exhausted. And what is also almost universally similar is that so many of us feel powerless to change by implementing self-care habits that will turn this situation around. We know we should exercise more, we know meditation could help, we know we need more down time, we know we need to review our diet, we know we should get more sleep … BUT, these things require effort and energy and time. So, we repeat the mantra of our societal era: I DON’T HAVE TIME.
The very idea of practicing self-care feels like adding more to our already overloaded list. So what do we do? Nothing. We lament the so-called fact that we just don’t have the time or space to implement these changes.
We don’t prioritise ourselves.
The truth is, we could swap out these changes for other stuff that we are doing, but we don’t make them a priority, so they fall to the bottom of the list where to-do’s that are never-gonna-happen live.
I believe there is an insidious little cultural norm that drives this pattern. We do what appears “right” from an external perspective. We are terrified that if we actually prioritised our health and wellbeing before anything else, that we would be judged and condemned as selfish, uncaring parents, heartless citizens, and just plain bad human beings. We think that everyone believes that self-care is a luxury for the self-centred.
We know deep down that if we took prime care of ourselves, we would have more health, energy, and vigour to gift to our families and the world. We would get more done in less time. We would succumb to illness less often. We would have the energy and motivation to give our everything to the causes that most touch our hearts. But our ego slyly pipes up with that devastating question that shuts down our sensibility: What will everyone think of me?
What will my children think?
What will my spouse think?
What will my family think?
What will the school mums think?
What will the neighbours think?
What will my employer think?
What will my work colleagues think?
What will the world think?
And as quickly as that, we place everyone else’s opinion of us before our own knowing.
The point I’m trying to make here is not to make you feel bad about yourself. Rather, I’m observing that we all slip into habits of thinking and behaviour that society deems normal or required in modern life, and we allow these habits to derail us. The team I am a part of in my business fully promotes and supports sustainable self-care, lifestyle and work habits to support our wellbeing, and yet it has been SO EASY for me to disregard these and slip into habits that leave me depleted, all the while telling myself that I’m practicing adequate self-care.
Looking after ourselves isn’t rocket science. But I’m discovering that it takes courage.
Are you triggered by this idea? Do you feel helpless and trapped in your current circumstances?
I challenge you to sit with this notion that your wellbeing is completely within your control, and that you know what to do, right now, and that you actually can do it. I’m not downplaying the challenges that so many of us face in our everyday lives, but I truly believe that you can create true wellbeing for yourself. I truly believe that if you are privileged enough to be reading this right now, you have the power within you to shape your experience of life.
It’s time to take stock of our lives, and notice the areas where we are vulnerable: where are we ignorant of the fact that the lion enclosure isn’t protecting us? I for one am spending this time in the lead up to Christmas and the new year getting real with myself about where I’m shirking my self-care responsibility and succumbing to the herd mentality that it’s all too hard to create a life of health, wellbeing, and success that incorporates caring for myself as well as others. I’m building the courage, step by step, moment by moment, to take a stand for prioritising my self-care. I invite you to join me in creating a 2018 where we dare to buck the trend, and place our self-care at the top of our lists. Let’s not leave it to fate to determine whether we find ourselves suddenly face to face with a metaphorical lion, all because of our fear of judgement. Let’s be brave together.
You may also find this post relevant to this topic.
Also see the previous post for ideas on how to get started with cultivating calm.
Relevant resources that I stumbled upon in the lead up to writing this post:
The Kate & Mike Show podcast: Karen Brody, Daring to Rest: https://katenorthrup.com/podcast/episode-64-karen-brody-daring-rest/
The Quote of the Day Show podcast: Work Doesn’t Work Without Play, with Shonda Rhimes: http://seancroxton.com/quote-of-the-day/289/
Main image credit: Lions by Christopher Michel via Flickr. Used under licence.
Hmmm … seems I have a bit of a thing for lion images 😉