Nurturing ourselves is not selfish, it is simply intelligent stewardship.
This means, we manage ourselves respectfully, in a way not too lax, but not dictatorial either. We create a routine of manageable tasks, so we don’t feel the need to escape all the time. Especially if you’re prone to anxiety like me, soothing rituals and routines can be a lifesaver. It can’t be all just predictability, however, or we lose our spontenaity.
Our minds and bodies are our instruments in this lifetime and should serve us, not be our masters. However, only we can judge best when to cut them slack and when to crank it up a notch. Incidentally, while there are bosses and clients breathing down our neck when we aren’t working hard enough, nobody stops us from diminishing ourselves or from working harder than necessary. That’s solely our responsibility.
I realized this when I picked up my kids from school one afternoon in my landscaping bakkie, covered in mud (both bakkie and I that is), waiting in the carpark amongst the shiny luxury SUV’s and their elegantly dressed occupants, feeling suddenly painfully out of place. I had just completed yet another job up to standard and on time – which is the way I like to run my business, but that only because I got stuck in alongside my workers with a spade yet again.
‘I seem to be an expert at making life hard for myself’, I thought. ‘Who looks out for me that I don’t crack under the self-induced pressure? Who reminds me to be careful that I don’t put my back out yet again loading fertilizer bags and 20l trees? No-one.’ (Actually, to be honest, I wouldn’t have listened anyway. We’re talking about the pick-wielding ‘Conina’ from the earlier shale bed episode here, remember?) I realized, only I had brought this on myself and only I could decide to change it. And eventually I did.
Intelligent stewardship is maintaining our minds, bodies and souls in a fit and healthy state. As adults, we have to keep growing and expanding our world to stay capable, confident and resilient. Especially as we get older, life tends to shrink or expand in proportion to our courage.
It’s hard to go against the grain. It takes sustained effort to push against the boundaries of our comfort zones. To be vigilant of areas where we have become complacent or where we draw back in unfounded fear. I have found that as people get older, they tend to become polarized in their attitude to life. There are those whose lives have become so small that if the newspaper arrives late in the morning, their whole day is ruined. Then there are those who have been through so much, nothing seems to get them down anymore.
I had the privilege to be part of the Johannesburg Hiking Club. The fitness levels and determination of the senior portion of the membership was always such an inspiration for me. When I asked how they managed to climb around in the Magalieberg at close to eighty years every Sunday, they replied: ‘The secret is not to stop. Once you stop, you’re done for.’ I want to climb up vertical mountain chain ladders at age 80 too. That’s how I want to grow old.
I don’t like exercise, but I know that If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it. Since I don’t hang upside down on climbing frames anymore or spend whole afternoons perfecting my jump rope skils, I have to consciously add exercise to my day. My slightly painful daily yoga stretching routine ensures that I can still reverse my car looking out of the rear window or catch myself with some fancy footwork when I stumble so I don’t fall flat on my face. It’s more than just physical fitness, however. In order to keep my options open, I have to stay flexible in mind and spirit as well. Otherwise, my comfort zone becomes so limiting that I have very little choice in anything. My movement becomes restricted on all levels.
I rate we all know someone, for whom everything needs to be just so, before they can enjoy themselves and we find it irritating. Imagine, though, what it must be like for them. How little opportunity for feel-good there is, if conditions have to be perfect before you can do so. You deprive yourself of so much in the process.
Our development should be multifaceted. We need to ‘live in all rooms of our house’, to engage and grow in all spheres of our lives: socially, mentally, emotionally and physically. This prevents us from, for instance, becoming so spiritually minded that we are of no earthly good.
We need to wake up and grow up – Ken Wilber
Coming back to my theme of ego versus Self: Ego-mind wants to be the best (and projects that forward in time). In Self, we work at our own level of proficiency (in the now). In American-Indian terminology:
The average man seeks certainty in the eyes of the onlooker. The warrior seeks impeccability in his own eyes. – Don Juan
For all this, we need Self-discipline. It is a form of self-love and sometimes we have to practice ‘tough love’ on ourselves.
Self-love isn’t always so poetic; it’s a nice big triple back flip kick in the ass. You’ve got to call yourself on your own nonsense, on the incredibly efficient way in which you can be self-destructive – Steve Maraboli
Without self-discipline, we won’t get anywhere. Our path will stay in our heads. The difference between who we are and who we want to be, is what we do, not what we say we’ll do.
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Self-discipline gives us freedom. Disciplining the ego is much easier than trying to keep it satisfied. When we can say no to ego, we have so much more choice. There is congruency between word and deed. We are able to follow through on our promises to ourselves.
Being able to rely on myself, gives me internal stability.