“…From this day forward we shall knowWilliam Wordsworth, 1806, November
That in ourselves our safety must be sought;
That by our own right hands it must be wrought;
That we must stand unpropped, or be laid low.”
There’s no doubt that life is difficult.
We’re constantly presented with challenges and hardships which we’re expected to overcome and endure. No matter how well situated or how well prepared we seem, life can always knock our socks off. In acknowledgement of the usual ebbs and flows, as well as the more recent pressures of modern-day life, the concept of self-care has become increasingly popular.
What does self-care mean?
It could be a very dynamic and intricate concept, but instead, a very simplistic version has come to the fore. We are told that to practice self-care is to be ‘kind’ to ourselves. We’re encouraged to have a gentle inner dialogue, to be lenient with the standards and expectations we set for ourselves. Some top tips to practice self-care include to indulge in a pampering session, lighting a candle, and buying something you have wanted for a while.
“The merit of all things lies in their difficulty.”Alexandre Dumas, 1844, The Three Musketeers
So how valuable is this advice? Well, it depends.
This isn’t bad advice for someone who, by and large, has their life together. From time to time, it’s good to cut yourself some slack, when, for the most part, you practice a lot of self-discipline. It’s good to put aside some time for yourself to enjoy and unwind when, usually, you are busy fulfilling your roles and responsibilities. The trouble is however, that a lot of people advocating for this kind of self-care, serve it as a dish to heal the broken.
“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”Stanisław Lem, 1961, Solaris
Firstly, we must agree upon what self-care really means.
Is it solely concerned with self-compassion and how to make the difficulties we face in life temporarily more palatable? Or, is it a long-term commitment to the development and success of the various elements which contribute to our persons as a whole? To take care of oneself, in a real sense, can often be difficult. We might have to tell ourselves some ugly truths, and delve into the underground to face our demons. We might have to deconstruct our whole being and allow what no longer serves us to burn away, which could turn out to be everything we ever knew.
It will probably take a lot of time, a lot of pain and a lot of commitment. We willingly go down this road because we know that with every step, we become better and ultimately, get closer to real strength and genuine contentment. Not perfection, not absolute serenity or unrelenting joy, but a concrete foundation which will allow us to cope with the difficulties we will undoubtedly still have to face.
“We shall not cease from explorationT. S. Eliot, 1942, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
To tell people that going for a walk, having a bath or gentle consolations will alleviate anxiety, self-loathing, depression or any other severe concern, is disingenuous.
Most of the time, there is a lot more needed and it’s usually not very pretty. These self-indulgent exercises are not going to fix anything in the long term. If, for the most part, you’re feeling good and just suffering from the usual stresses and strains, then by all means go for it; it may very well do the job. But be aware, that when our problems run deeper- a deeper solution is also needed.
“That something is difficult should be one more reason to do it.”Rainer Maria Rilke, 1904, Letters to a Young Poet, #8