July 12, 2022

This is the Definition of Self-Care that I’ve Been Waiting For.


I felt it happen recently—that shift of perspective where all my to-dos and to-don’ts slide off of me and I’m present and connected. Where everything feels…right.

The shift occurred a few weeks ago when I finally took the beginner’s kayak class I’ve been wanting to take for several years. I was nervous at the beginning of the class because it was a group lesson, and I’m an introvert, and we’d be paddling on a small bay in the ocean, which is beautiful, but also probably brimming with sharks and water snakes and riptides.

But once I’d been in the kayak for a few minutes (after immediately getting stuck on a bank of rocks from which a kind classmate rescued me) and got the hang of the simple motion of paddling, I felt the rhythm of my arms meet the rhythm of the sea. I felt like I’d been dropped down into the most essential version of myself, the one who’s not worrying about all the things and feeling constantly behind, the one who feels like maybe she’s running out of time, because of course, we all are.

As my core and arms worked, but not too hard, and the sea stretched all around me, strong and shining, the pine-lined shore in striking contrast, I felt small in the best way possible. Like when we look up at the stars on a dark night and get lost in their faraway light, in the miracle that we’re made from them in some way our brains can’t quite make sense of, but we understand in a poetic way, in a spirit way.

I’ve missed this feeling, I thought to myself. I’m not sure I could even pinpoint the last time I’d felt it.

But I didn’t feel regret—I was just so happy to be there, saltwater splashing on my ankles, a small speck in this wild, aching world.

If you looked at my daily habits, you might think I’m quite dedicated to self-care. I exercise almost daily because it’s one of the most reliable ways to keep my mental health in check. I meditate most mornings for at least a few minutes. I do therapy and 12-step meetings. I even have a vocation that’s aligned with my values and enables me to process this crazy life.

But I’ve suspected for a while that there’s a deeper definition of self-care. Something more meaningful than bubble baths and pedicures, but also more fulfilling than exercise and meditation and writing.

After sitting in that kayak and paddling around for a couple of hours that felt like minutes, I realized that for me, true self-care often includes two aspects:

1. There’s a spiritual component to it.

2. I might experience some significant resistance around making it happen.

When I was younger, before motherhood and marriage and mortgages, I spent a lot of time outdoors. Trees and mountains and water felt like church to me. But my life has changed significantly since those days. Somewhere along the way, slouching with responsibilities, I made my to-do list my higher power, chasing some mythical mountaintop of achievement that I’ll never reach. I forgot that I feel most spiritual, most connected, most myself, when I’m surrounded by water and pine trees.

Beyond self-care, being in that kayak felt like soul-care.

And here’s the resistance part: if I want to spend more time paddling, I need to find the time for it. I need to research which kayak makes the most sense for me. Then, I need to figure out how to attach it to the roof of my car, which even thinking about makes me want to take a very long nap. It’d be very easy to put all those tasks off, because after all, I have books to write and kids to feed and weeds to pull. And somewhere not-so-deep-down, I’m not sure I deserve to take the time and money required to spend time kayaking. After all, the world is a steaming mess, and I am more privileged than many. Shouldn’t I be using any extra time and money to help somehow instead of rowing around in a tiny boat?

And yet, I want more of that feeling I had in the kayak. Because what is all the work for if I don’t make space to feel awe in my life? If I’m so focused on my to-do list that I forget I’m just a small, spirit-filled speck of this spinning mystery we’re in?

My new definition of self-care: an activity or practice that makes me feel like the most essential version of myself—something that brings me joy but that I also might express resistance to.

Does this resonate for you? Let me know in the comments.


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