A View From the Watchroom
Barry K. Wyrick, MS, MBA
Chief Operating Officer
Below is the first of three posts that were written while I was recently on vacation in the Florida Keys. I hope that you enjoy them.
As I start to write this post, I am sitting in the Cracked Conch Cafe in Marathon, Florida. The windows are open, the ceiling fans spinning, and a delightful breeze off the ocean moves through the room. Today is my birthday and the beginning of what I am calling my “Hemingway Weekend.” For the next five days, I am staying at the Yellowtail Inn in Marathon, a funky little seaside inn, that will never get five stars, but is perfect for an absolute escape. I am looking forward to some relaxation, some commune with nature, and sitting on the back porch and writing. I find that sometimes I have to get away from the rush of my typical life in order to open my mind and let the words flow off my pen.
As I start my time away, I want to write about what motivated this trip—taking care of ourselves. Far too often we allow the everyday demands to distract us from the one thing that should be an everyday priority—taking care of ourselves. When I think about this idea, I am drawn to three areas—physical, mental, and spiritual. I became aware a couple of months ago that I was exhausted. I was finding myself coming home in the evening, collapsing in my recliner, and having to struggle just to get up to make something for myself to eat. I would wake up in the morning and just sit in my recliner and stare at the news on television. It seemed to take a Herculean effort to get up to take a shower. I realized that I was not taking care of myself in any of these areas—so I started planning my trip.
Our bodies are truly a marvel. They will tell us what we need—if we take the time to listen. We all know that we need to eat well, get an appropriate amount of rest, and do some moderate exercise. We can hardly open a newspaper or a magazine (am I showing my age?) without having these words pounded into us. And like most things that others preach to us that we should do, we ignore it. My admonition to myself (that I am willing to share with you) is to listen to my body—it will tell me what I need. If I feel tired, I know that my body is telling me that it needs something stimulating. If I feel sleepy (which is way different than tired), I know that I need to rest. If I feel hungry two hours after eating, I can hear my body say that the food that I ate was not what it needed. If I have a headache, I know my body is telling me to remove stress. And if I have aches and pains—well, that comes with age, and I think my body is telling me that I am still alive. Somewhere we have forgotten how to listen to ourselves. We will listen to every hack hawking something on TV that will cure all of our ills, but we don’t listen to our own bodies. I believe that one of the miracles of the human body is that it is self-maintaining—if we will listen.
Taking care of ourselves mentally may be a far more monumental task than dealing with our physical selves. Our human minds can do so much to benefit us, but it can defeat and destroy us as well. We must be constantly on guard with our thoughts—as they define our reality, and through our actions, they define us. If I believe that the sole purpose of the Universe is to piss me off, then I will perceive every event as an attack or a threat. Because I expect the world to piss me off, I will act in ways that frustrate and intimidate others, so that I can be pissed off. If I believe that the Universe is there for me to use to satisfy my needs and wants, then I will perceive every event as an opportunity. Because I expect the world to satisfy me, I will act in ways that invite and engage others, so that I can be satisfied.
Two more things I would like to say about taking care of ourselves mentally. First, I want to quote my mother, who always told me that the day that I didn’t learn anything is the day that I die. I’m not sure if she meant physically, but I know that when we stop learning, we die mentally. Part of taking care of our minds is to challenge ourselves. Just like a muscle needs exercise to get stronger, our minds need challenges in order to grow. When we become complacent with where we are and what we know and believe, we die mentally. We grow wiser and mentally stronger when we constantly challenge ourselves, put complacency behind us, and reach for where we want to be.
Second, we need to constantly be working on our level of acceptance of the Universe. I have previously written about the power of acceptance in our relationships, but I would like to briefly describe its power in taking care of ourselves mentally. If I can learn to accept the way that the word is (including the people in it), then I can begin to experience peace. If I can’t accept the world, I will constantly be at war. I do not like the fact that beautiful lions kill beautiful antelopes. I do not like the fact that hurricanes, tornados, and persistent rain kill people. I do not like the fact that others will disappoint and frustrate me. Yet each of these is a reality in the Universe, and there is nothing that I, or anyone else, can do to change them. I can don my Don Quixote hat and lance and charge at windmills, but the windmills will always win. If I can learn to accept the Universe the way it is, then I also have a chance to learn to accept myself the way I am. So much of our mental activity is filled with self-criticism and self-blame. These thoughts at best hamstring us in our daily endeavors, and at worst castrate us into an entirely impotent life position. When I can accept myself, bald head and all, then I can create the confidence to take risks, because regardless of how things turn out, I am still OK.
Finally, we also must take care of ourselves spiritually. When I say spiritually, I do not necessarily mean religiously. Certainly our faith position and our relationship with That Which Is Divine can nurture and take care of our spiritual selves—but only when that faith position focuses on the relationship and not on rules and condemnations that cause us to judge and criticize ourselves and others (I promise that I will have far more to write about this in a later post). When I think of spiritual self-care, I think of three things—humility, meaning, and purpose.
The simple appreciation of the majesty of the Universe must give us a humble pause. A recognition of the Mystery of the Universe, That Which Is Divine, and that which reaches out to us to nurture us, must bring us to our knees. The understanding that we are not the most powerful force in the Universe leads us to a humility of our existence that soothes that part of us that is driven to reach out to the gods. And humility also places us in our appropriate position in the paradox of insignificance (again, a later post).
As our thoughts and actions define our reality, our spiritual self must define our meaning. While we as humans have a magnificent set of perceptual tools to experience the Universe, the creative force of our minds attaches meaning to every event in our lives. And our hearts cry out for something more than just the day to day drudgery. Each of us is given the personal responsibility of finding meaning in life. And finding that meaning takes care of our spiritual self.
Finally, once we have attached a meaning to our lives, we can tackle the task of defining a purpose for what we do. Have you ever looked hard at yourself in the mirror in the morning and found yourself asking, “Why do I even bother to get up?” I believe that this existential emptiness is growing in our ever increasingly hedonistic and self-centered social experience. The spiritual vacuum of purposelessness is soul-sucking and paralyzing. If all I do is get up every day to do the same meaningless things that I did yesterday, then I will find it harder to get up every day. When I am confident that I have a purpose, a job to be done, a task that only I can do today, then my spiritual circle is closed. We are not all tasked with the responsibility of changing the world, but we are all tasked to change our world—no matter how big or how small. Recognition of our own purpose, why we do what we do, causes us to leap from the bed each day, and it fills our souls.
Thank you for bearing with me, as I know that this post is longer than most that I write. The message here today may have been more for me than any of my readers. I am starting my retreat—to heal myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Being able to write challenges me mentally to develop and grow my thoughts. Being able to write and to share my writing with my readers gives meaning to my life and fills a purpose for me. It also brings me great humility to think that others might care to ready my rambling thoughts. Thank you for the opportunity, and take care of yourselves.