You can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself.
It sounds almost inanely simple, but it’s easy to forget to put one’s self first, amidst all of the demands of this fast-paced world.
I run a business that focuses on making healthy, rejuvenating cleanses for people. I work all the time. Somewhere between the clients, family members, business partners, lovers and friends, I realized that I had lost myself. Taking care of others was a lovely excuse not to take care of myself. I knew what I was supposed to be doing but I didn’t know what my body, mind or spirit was telling me anymore. I was on autopilot, seeking love in green smoothies or men, not in my own heart center. This recognition, paired with some events that had taken an ugly emotional and physical toll on my wellbeing (relationships gone awry, family woes and general stresses), caused me to realize that it was time for some self-love. And while I knew that a good part of it had to be tough love, I also knew that every ounce of it would be real love.
In order to gain back My Self, I knew that it was time for something I knew best: cleansing. But I needed something more drastic than a food cleanse. Thus, I began to ruminate over the idea of a “Spirit Cleanse.” Unlike the ones I design for others, I resolved that this cleanse would not be focused on the body, for it was my spirit that ultimately needed a recharge, and my mind that sought quietude. However, cleansing my body would definitely be one of the primary tools for accomplishing these tasks. By challenging my body on entirely new levels, and succeeding in overcoming them, I knew that I could shatter the illusions of what I can and cannot do. And I knew that the only way that this could happen was through blatant self-discipline in several aspects of my life.
I had recently read somewhere that, “it takes 30 days to form a new habit.” Okay, I thought. It’s settled then. We (um, obviously me and my divine self) are going to cleanse for a month. Let’s see how many positive things I can do for myself in 30 days. I grabbed my journal, lit some sage, and put my pen to paper:
- No sex. I don’t know why this one found its way onto the paper first, but somewhere deep inside, my squelched little voice knew that it was time to stop seeking comfort in another’s body. Now, I don’t want to give off the wrong impression, as I am actually quite selective in, um, that department, and it’s not that it would be difficult to maintain abstinence. But I established this rule because I knew it would now prohibit any feelings of sadness or loneliness from being band-aided by a man.
- No alcohol. This way I couldn’t hide stress in a post-work glass of vino. My inherent shyness that so inconveniently propels its way back into my life in any awkward social gathering but gets so brilliantly knocked down with a drink would have to be dealt with in another manner. If I didn’t feel comfortable enough to be my big, vibrant self around people, it was worth questioning removing myself from those very situations that contained such people in the first place.
- All vegan. The cleanses I make are vegan and I typically eat a diet of 80% vegan foods, but occasionally I have wild- caught fish or humanely raised protein. I am a trained and certified natural foods chef, with schooling in holistic nutrition, so I know that plant-based foods are the key to longevity, cleansing and restoring homeostasis in the body. If I was going to center myself, we were going to start with the center of my body—my stomach. The connection between digestion and every other system of the body is amazing and ought to be treated with care. And while 80% is awesome, this Spirit Cleanse called for gusto of 100%. So here was my reset button.
- Yoga and meditation everyday—at least 30 minutes. Yoga was one of the first things that got cast aside when I stopped “having time.” I pay attention to giving myself love in most areas of my life; but up until now I have neglected to dive deep enough into my yoga practice. Some people fall off the wagon and I fall off the mat. As someone who can become prone to laziness, I have had trouble making my body move when I have thousands of other things to do. The thought of running would only occur to me if I were in a high-speed chase. For me, the activity itself is not the thing that keeps me active—I have aimed for committing to the physical obligations and the runner’s high to no avail. Yoga, in contrast, keeps my body active but (almost more importantly) its spiritual and mental benefits are what keep me coming to the mat. And because of the nature of this Spirit Cleanse, I knew that yoga was going to deeply address each aspect of my being.
- Daily journaling. Taking a note from The Artist’s Way, I decided to do three pages each morning, to let my unconscious melt into the visible world, and see what happens. We can think consciously about things till our heads start to hurt, but when you put your hand to the page, it’s amazing what can come out subconsciously if you don’t let your hand stop. And, by God, did I want to know what was hiding under there!
Thus, I created these five ‘rules’ to which to adhere for 30 days. With The Rules in place, I could not run from anything with which I was faced. I could fill no voids with more empty containers. I could not hide anymore. Instead, I knew I had to walk proudly into this vast pool of uncertainty, sadness, loneliness, insecurity or anything else that might come up on a dark, cold night by myself. I would have to face every single stress, I would have to sit with each emotional curve ball that was tossed my way and I would have to get to know my body on a more intimate level than I had ever known—for I had never in my life done yoga for 30 days consecutively, as sad as this may sound to fellow yogis. This was a month of grounding, of feeling, of being, of silencing, of allowing, of flowing, of centering, of stretching, of breathing. This was time for me to literally be as conscious as possible.
So I did it! And I completed my Spirit Cleanse—successfully. I was not perfect, and there were definitely a couple of late nights in which my yoga consisted of 30 minutes of savasana, or corpse pose, in my bed. But the point was not perfection. Life is not perfect, yoga is not perfect and we are not perfect. The point was doing something immensely positive for myself that I had never consciously done before. The point was getting more acquainted with my imperfection, so that I wasn’t scared of it—sitting with my own baggage and confronting it, forming new habits, strengthening my will, opening my heart, grounding myself, not letting my emotions control me, centering my mind and finding deep peace and happiness within my own core. And while it is still a journey, I can confidently say that I have begun to achieve this. My Spirit Cleanse was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. And one of the most beneficial results that came from this is the dedication to my yoga/ meditation practice. Consistent yoga has helped me silence the ego, and now that wee-little-voice-of-intuition-that-had-become-so-quiet is louder than ever. I feel more attuned to my instincts, less attached to things and to people, and I’m relying more on myself for my contentment. While I still love people and the external world immensely, I definitely find more happiness than ever choosing to spend evenings alone with myself. And, let’s be honest, you’re never alone when you’ve got your Self, Harry Potter, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott, Howard Roark or Hank Moody to keep you company. The kind of love and joy within is never fleeting if you choose to make the effort in seeking it.
But the most profound thing about the Spirit Cleanse? On the very last day of it, I received terrible news that a person very dear to my heart was diagnosed with cancer. I have too much experience with both losing and not-losing loved ones to cancer, so my first reaction was, “again?” But, next, something interesting happened. Instead of running to other loved ones (or a man), as I would have normally done in the past, I went home, sat in my bed and cried with myself. I was bawling. I knew that I didn’t want advice, didn’t want to try to work it out, demand from the universe that this situation be repaired or try to mask it either. I was going to sit with it, process it, feel it, confront it, experience it and let it out. So I did. But the key here is that I don’t think that I would be able to deal with this right now, if I hadn’t elected to cleanse my spirit a month ago. It would have been one more stressful malady on my plate that could have potentially tipped me over the edge into depression or complete loss of care for myself. Sure, I know all about holistic approaches to dealing with cancer, but I needed to gain my own strength and spirit back before I could even rationally try to deal with helping another loved one get his own strength back. I am by no means saying that this process is going to be easy, or that I can cure anyone or that I am now a perfectly centered saint; au contraire. I am merely human. However, with a stronger body, a stronger mind and a stronger spirit, I may be better equipped to deal with this situation. I have a wealth of born-again strength and wisdom inside of me that, combined with my arsenal of holistic culinary tools, can now be better put to use for all. Now that I am taking care of myself, I can care for the person close to me.
Dani Larson is the co-founder of Zuddha, an organic holistic cleanse company that focuses on bringing rejuvenating vegan food into your life in order to promote optimum living. You can find her skipping about in life and stopping to smell the flowers. Visit her website at www.zuddhagirls.com or contact her at [email protected].