Turning our well-acculturated sensitivities and sense of responsibility for the caretaking of others toward our very own selves.
Our First Responsibility
Your first responsibility to all the beings on our planet is to take the very best care of your very own self!
I'm always moved by the safety instruction programs at the beginning of airline flights. The ones emphasizing that adults (always pictured as female) traveling with small children should adjust and secure their own oxygen mask before tending to the child's mask. I feel moved because these programs are the only place in all of ordinary life where women are encouraged, in any way, to put taking care of our selves ahead of taking care of anyone else.
For many years of my life I, like most well acculturated women, felt responsible for the emotional and physical well being of everyone around me. I'd need to feel that everyone else was taken care of – feeling comfortable, happy, entertained, engrossed in something enjoyable, etc. – before I could begin to think or feel my way into what I might need or want for my self. It was only rarely that I got to my self. Even more rarely that I got to my self with enough energy to actually explore me. And, since I'd neither birthed nor raised children (toward whom some of this kind of responsibility might be appropriate), everyone-else was most often a reasonably competent being of at least my own age.
Many times I'd remain in conscious oblivion about needs I know that I had in order not to have them get in the way of my caretaking commitment. I lived in fear of being seen as selfish. That is, as wanting to do or not do something, to be or not be some way that, while it might please my self, wouldn't also please whoever was around me.
My devotion to this impossible agenda left me quite depleted, often frustrated and, as well, resentful if my efforts seemed to no avail. More often than not, I was uncomfortable, unhappy, un-engrossed in anything other than trying – with varying degrees of success – to take care of everyone else. Or, I'd be trying, at the very least, not to displease anyone else.
In my early thirties, I felt a welling up of despair, a fear that I might never feel good about or at peace with my self. This, despite all I was doing and being for and with the others about whom I cared and despite all the external trappings of my outward successes. It was a critical time of turning inward, the beginning of a conscious journey to both uncover and discover my own self: What I might think, feel, need or want at any given moment.
In the almost forty years since that turning, I've chosen more and more to risk exploring my self instead of trying to disappear my self into the selflessness I was taught was praiseworthy in women. I've gone inward to listen to and come to know my own self. As I've traveled inward, I've gradually become quite adept at taking good care of my self. I discover that I am quite capable of providing comfort, happiness, entertainment and engrossing enjoyment for my self. And, what I can provide for my self is deeper and more lasting nourishment than either that which I could provide for someone else or that which they could provide for me.
As I do better at this, I understand how much of it is something we can do best for our selves. Much of comfort, happiness and feeling enlivened, entertained or engrossed enjoyably is basically an inside job: Not something you can create in someone outside of your self or that someone outside of you can create in you.
As we get better at knowing and taking good care of our selves, there is an overflowing of our well-nourished energy that spreads out into the world. Our giving comes from fullness rather than our need to feel okay about our selves. This brings loving support to other beings as they themselves do their own work of becoming responsible for knowing and taking exquisitely good care of themselves.
Consider spending some time turning the light of your finely tuned sensitivity toward your very own self. Then, practice taking the very best care of your very own self. It's the greatest gift you can give to all beings on this planet.