Exploring the Self in Self-care

This blog entry invites us to engage in contemplative practice with the notion of the self we are caring for in our present scope of self-care. Working with the universal constant of change, begin by adopting a perspective of oneself as a continually changing happening in your inner, outer and other environments. Every breath, every heartbeat, every sensation, even every thought is a new phenomenon.Practicing with observing oneself as a happening encourages mindfulness of the series of present moments that weave the fabric of each day’s experiences. Contemplative neuroscience would suggest such conscious experience is responsible for our sense of selfhood. Contemplative practices are self- oriented in that they provide practical means to promote human thriving and flourishing by training attention in the domains of self-regulation, self-inquiry and self-awareness. So, this month let’s direct our self-care practice to exploration of who are you?

For many of us, our notion of selfhood tends to be enabled by our embodiment and all of the sensory machinery that comes with the package. Having continual somatic and visceral inputs to our nervous systems provides the primary reinforcement of our sense of I, me, mine selfhood. I am walking, those are my feet, wearing my favorite shoes. Contemplative neuroscience studies the nervous system mechanisms that are active when we engage in reflection, while contemplative practices map out an experiential path of inquiry into the nature of the self. So, as you reflect upon the question Who am I?, does your sense of self extend beyond your body?

As you reflect, it may be useful to take yourself through a process that allows you to arrive at a sense of selfhood by sorting out who you are not. When the activity is complete, rest assured you can reintegrate all you have sorted out. Begin by standing in a posture that embodies dignity. Take a moment to experience the feeling of the posture and its influence upon your breath. Spend a few minutes just standing there in an embodied experience of dignity. Notice if it feels familiar or unfamiliar. Next, imagine you are standing before a shelf on which you will now set all object forms of your societal identification- driver’s license, voter registration, passport, etc. Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I? Next, imagine you place all subject ways you identify yourself up there too; child, parent, partner or spouse, sibling, health professional, athlete, artist, writer, even down to your gender identity. Put all of it on the shelf, then repeat who am I? Now add your five senses and the sixth, your mind as the meaning maker of your sensory experiences. Lastly, appreciating the body as the impermanent material form that it is, tenderly place your body with everything else on the self. There remains a faculty of awareness or consciousness unconnected to the senses, mental machinations and form just placed upon the shelf. Again, inquire who am I? I would not presume to offer an answer to this question other than to pass on the typical phrase from this yoga-based practice that invites a next level of reflection and contemplation, which is I am the one who knows or I am that (not subject to name or form).

This type of practice invites a consideration of extending self-care beyond supporting our body-mind tissue-based systems to other powerful, yet presently immeasurable, domains of healing that support our vitality, our life force. Whatever those domains are for you also, the point of this month’s writing is to call for the necessity of (its /that) inclusion in your self-care. An experience with that nature or essence of the self is likely to be the source of compassion and motivation to take whatever time is necessary for right action in your self-care.