Recently on the forum, we had a discussion in which the topic of self-care came up -- although without looking back at the thread, I'm not certain we ever talked about it using those particular words. You may already know what I'm talking about. I am not alone in my belief that the Jedi Path is one of service. But we can so easily serve too much, give too much.
For extra credit, I'm going to try to get through this talk without using the word "balance." Some think we throw that word around in the Jedi Community entirely too much these days.
I've often heard Wescli wisely say that we have a responsibility to be "self-concerned without being selfish." That for me is key to how this concept of self-care works. You do exactly what you have to do to maintain your physical health, your mental and emotional health, and your energetic reserves. Then, and only then, will you have something to share, and you give it freely in the service of others as our Doctrine teaches.
But there is something in us as Jedi that is resistant to that idea, isn't there? We view ourselves, or at least want to view ourselves, as selfless, placing the safety and security of others before our own. Taking time or energy to care for ourselves
I understand that impulse. Actually, I don't think it's really confined to those on the Jedi Path. There's a story I used to tell to illustrate this when I would teach back in my EMS days:
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve heard the cabin crew give the lecture about what to do if the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. More specifically, they always tell you that if you are traveling with a child, you have to put on your own mask first, then your child’s. And you can tell, every time you hear this, that most of the people around you seem to feel that it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of the child before their own. This is a well-meaning and heroic sentiment, and also the biggest mistake one could make in such a situation. Because here’s the reality: if cabin pressure is dropping rapidly, you may only have a few moments to make the right action before oxygen deprivation makes you black out. You can put your own oxygen mask on first, ensuring you stay conscious long enough to help the child with hers, or you can try to put hers on first and fail to accomplish either.
Now, I actually don't use this story to illustrate self-care; I use it when I'm talking about scene safety. I used to work with firefighters and EMTs, who have a reputation for being the "first-through-the-door" hero types, on the TV every night risking their own safety to help others, yeah? Except that nothing could be further from the truth. Every rookie EMT knows -- or had better know before he gets onto my bus -- that you can’t help anyone if you turn yourself into the next victim, and a first responder who won’t pay attention to the basics of safety can turn a simple EMS call into a mass casualty incident.
Self-care works exactly like that. You can't give what you ain't got.
So I said earlier that you do what you to do to take care of your needs. No matter how strong our connection to the Force, we are most of us still human beings. We need rest, food, shelter, and the reproductive act, and we need all these things on the regular. That's Muladhara 101: if the root chakra ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
But we also have to remain cognizant of our non-physical needs. We have to watch for emotional responses so they don't end up in the driver's seat. We have to ensure that we're getting social stimuli when we need it, and alone time to regenerate when we need that. We can't stay focused on Muladhara; we have to keep an eye on what Anahata needs, and what Ajna needs.
And we have to learn to appreciate the cumulative effects of skimping on our self-care, because stressors build on themselves over time. Bad thing happens once, I can deal with that; years of it, over and over, and the repeated stressors begin to exert a slow grinding effect that wears down your ability to cope properly. I learned recently about something called the spoon theory, which is a way to illustrate the energetic and emotional costs of even normal daily events. (Google it, if you haven't already heard of it, it's worth a read for Jedi and non- alike.) If you're already starting off a few spoons short because you're not taking proper care of yourself, you don't have enough left to handle what the day may throw at you. If you're not properly processing stressors and patterns of stressors, the per-spoon cost of even a normal interaction is too high for you to be able to afford.
My teaching master said recently, "[U]nless our respect for the Force extends to respect for ourselves and our own lives . . . it is incomplete."
Care for others, but care for yourself.
Put your own mask on first.