Self-Care at Swat: Spirituality and Centering the Self

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On my self-care journey, I have read many books and articles, and I’ve talked to many people. A recurring message from those who have figured this stuff out is that a daily practice of centering yourself is necessary to be able to enter into places of struggle day after day. This could take the form of prayer, meditation, or any number of other practices.

While at first I thought that this advice was only for therapists and EMTs, I soon realized that we all enter into some form of struggle on a daily basis. Sometimes my struggle is as simple as choosing between homework and Facebook, and sometimes it includes tending to multiple friends/loved ones with anxiety and depression and wondering if anyone can ever heal all the pain in the world. Regardless, I try to remind myself that all struggles are valid and that I need to honor the effort it takes to successfully work through them. If that means a daily centering practice is in order, so be it. But how do I achieve that?

Growing up, I was never very religious — the only time I remember praying was once during hide and seek when I didn’t want to be found. As soon as I could read, my mom tried to get me into meditation and yoga, but I found them both infinitely boring. I was pretty sure that any energetic healing with crystals or chakras was witchcraft (which was kind of cool, but obviously fake). It wasn’t until I began to go to church and pray regularly during high school that I discovered the refreshing feeling that can come from a Sunday church service or a bedtime prayer.

As I grew older and realized that some of the central beliefs of Christianity were not for me, I worried that losing my faith meant losing my ability to stay centered. Over time, I began to explore other options. I went to a few yoga classes, but I always left feeling sore and frustrated instead of rejuvenated. I tried Zen Buddhist meditation and alternately felt relaxed and miserable (although I hear enlightenment doesn’t come overnight). I began to journal every night (which always goes well for about a month and then inevitably comes to an end). At the suggestion of Satya Nelms, former Wellness Coordinator at Swarthmore, I visited both a massage therapist and an energy medicine practitioner in the Ville (at a delightful place called “Wellness on Park,” which I highly recommend). The first visit to each was incredible, but I began to get less and less out of each subsequent visit. I’ve learned a lot over the years but I’ve never been able to maintain a daily practice of relaxation or centering.

Today, my spirituality/centering practices include an odd amalgam of all the things I’ve tried. On mornings when I feel groggy and stiff, I do a few modified sun salutations from what I remember of yoga. When I’m running around trying to get a thousand things done and I feel myself becoming jittery and hyper-alert, I stand still, close my eyes, and take 10 deep breaths. I take up journaling and let it go again, trying not to write “sorry I haven’t journaled recently” at the beginning of every entry. Sometimes I give thanks before I eat a meal, and some nights before bed I still pray to a god-like entity. I trade massages with friends or occasionally treat myself to a professional massage, and I am learning how to connect with my body. Putting a hand to my chest can reassure me when I feel nervous or alone, and I often do the exercises I learned in my energy medicine sessions to help center myself or let go of negative energy.

While I still wish that I had an established daily meditation which always left me feeling refreshed and connected, I try to accept (and perhaps even embrace) my own hodge-podge spirituality. Like with any self-care activity, it’s about finding what is right for you, letting go of self-blame, and celebrating the small successes. Today, for instance, I have been feeling a little bleh, but I am working to forgive myself for not doing yoga this morning and to congratulate myself for the small meditation and energy exercises I did while writing this article. Maybe this is how enlightenment is supposed to come – not in one epic moment, but slowly, in little microscopic waves that I forget to notice.

Note: I thought about including a list of resources in this article for people who are interested in meditation, yoga, etc. but I realized that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for other people. That being said, I am more than happy to share resources or ideas if you want to contact me (ahender1@swarthmore.edu).

Featured image courtesy of www.metoffice.gov.uk

1 Comment

  1. These are great tips! I love that you prayed not to be found while playing hide-and-seek :-D.

    Once when I was working with a hospital group (giving a presentation on “Spirit Incorporated: How to Follow Your Spiritual Path from 9 to 5, Whatever Your Job, Faith, or Challenge”) they told me that there was no way they could do any spiritual practice while at work due to the frequent emergencies they had (literal emergencies; they were a hospital after all). I suggested a walking meditation from their cars into the hospital in the mornings or to their cars after work or on the way to lunch at the hospital cafeteria. For a walking meditation, take a deep calming breath and begin to walk slowly, repeating calming words to yourself as you walk: “Peace …. poise …. power” or “Love …. peace …. healing” or other words that calm and center you. They really liked that idea. Kathleen L. Hawkins

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