Finding Renewal, or, "Self Care 101"

My tools for self-care Self-care. The word sounds a bit stiff, as if someone who liked the meaning of the two words separately, put them together and ended up with less than when they began.

Many times, this essential, bottom line topic is trivialized and minimized so that we keep it at a distance. Frequently, at a healthcare conference, it is the last topic of the day. You are filled to the brim with useful information and ideas, you’re ready to call it a day, and with a scant half hour to go, the moderator gets up to speak on self-care.

The advice is boiled down, then offered up like overcooked vegetables: Remember to breathe. Eat well. Sleep. Rest-- and of course, exercise. All good advice, but how many of us are listening?

We need to be more resourceful in how we look at self-care. It is, in fact, a form of treatment. Vital word: as in therapy, remedy, cure, to care for. Rather than leaving it to chance and the final scraps of the day, I propose that we look at caring for ourselves as if we were a patient or client under our own care. We need to assess ourselves as carefully as we would that patient.

I like to remember quotations I learned in college. One that stands out is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all… To thine own self be true.”

I understand Shakespeare's words to mean, in this context, that each of us finds unique ways of getting whatever we need to redeem ourselves. Those ways are going to be different for each person, just as the course of treatment for the same disease can be different for each patient enduring it.

As I thought about it, I realized there were at least two levels of need for self-care—immediate response to a potentially overwhelming crisis and those activities that we can pursue in abundance, say when on vacation.

One of my tried and true "emergency" treatments is to resuscitate myself with a cup of tea. Taking those few minutes allows my thoughts to settle and often, I regain the clarity and energy I need to meet the next wave of challenges.

If each person reading this blog wrote down all the things they do to care for themselves when they do have time, the list might be very long: making art, running, yoga, getting together with friends, reading, rock climbing, going to a movie, listening to music, swimming, dancing, hiking, hitting the beach, etc.

There may also be an intermediate level of self-care. We want to create ways to sustain ourselves while at, or after work, --an ongoing renewal-- when we don’t have the opportunity to travel to our favorite get away or sanctuary for a few days.


Recently, I presented a workshop on self-care to our Child Life Specialists Network of Sacramento, in which I shared many of these ideas with them.

Afterwards, I introduced and led them through a SoulCollage® workshop; a wonderful and pretty quick route to renewal. We looked right into the heart of the matter: “What sustains me? What nourishes me?”

The results were astonishing. Many participant's artwork revealed aspects of themselves not readily seen. Many uncovered feelings that may have lain hidden, unexplored or simply forgotten.

One of the most surprising results was my own collage. Initially I thought it must have come from my silly side, the side that remembers the theme music from Captain Kangaroo, or spontaneously makes up nonsensical songs. What I realized the next day though, was that in fact, the dancers in their rabbit costumes extolled the power of partnership as a means to self-care. For those introverts among us, we sometimes forget that a powerful form of renewal is to share the company of others.


Open the Doors to Healing

©2011, H. Hunter, Desert Renewal, SoulCollage®

The title of last week's SoulCollage® workshop at the UC Davis Cancer Center was "Renewal; Exploring the the way archetypes can help us to find renewal in the midst of our daily lives." Without knowing it, I was practically begging several archetypes to enter my own life.

I showed up promptly at nine filled with the news of Japan; its cumulative disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear uncertainty. I walked up to the door and it was locked.
I wanted to wilt like a flower and go home. (But what had I experienced so far? An insurmountable barrier?) Instead, I called Plant Operation and Management.
As if by magic, a white truck drove right up the sidewalk toward me and a smiling women in a navy overall got out and opened up the building. "Did you get the call?" I asked her. "No, but I saw you standing there," she replied. My world was restored.
In order to get the group together quickly, I asked for help; putting participants to work unwrapping fresh pairs of scissors, cutting boards and x-acto knives.  Even though I felt tongue tied by world events, I needed to keep going and talk about finding linkages in the heady and ineffable subject matter of archetypes. (Could you get a better set up for a trickster archetype to stick out its foot?)
We introduced ourselves by selecting an image that signified renewal. When one person showed a photograph of a red maple against what looked to be a Japanese garden, I commented how much that reminded me of her hometown, San Francisco, a place of renewal for her.
Unexpectedly, the whole group began to laugh. "Hannah--can you see--those are the red rock walls of a canyon!" The gods were definitely playing with me today: A locked door, mistaking a canyon for the Japanese Tea Garden.
©2011, A. McSweeny, Cat Love, SoulCollage®

The women were game to explore the notion of how archetypes might play out in their lives to bring renewal. As they searched the table for compelling images, quiet took over the room,which deepened to an engaged silence as the work progressed. 

We arranged the finished cards in a circle and walked clockwise around the table, readying ourselves for sharing. One woman commented that, "I can't believe it--all those pictures, just laid out on the table in no particular order--and out of that chaos, come these perfect cards that carry so much meaning."  

It is my prayer that amongst the chaos of disaster in Japan, the people continue to recover pieces of their lives, bring them together and that healing becomes the order of the land.

Allies in January

Let Us Eat Art, ©2010, Hannah Hunter

I am a worrier. It's true. And when I found out that my SoulCollage®

workshop for the UC Davis Cancer Center had 35 people enrolled, I panicked. I thought that 15 people would be a great success. But then, I'm also a risk taker.

In offering the workshop, I was taking on a new population, cancer patients and their navigators (cancer survivors who have gone through treatment and volunteer to help patients with the same cancer navigate the labyrinth of treatment).

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that I taught a similar class for the Cancer Center last spring, only that time, none of the cancer patients signed up. This time, it was different.

I had agreed to provide art supplies at no cost for participants and so, as I flew back from vacation, I tried to calculate what my out-of-pocket costs would be as the plane flew over the Pacific. Most of the turbulence of that flight was internal.

Amma Mama, © 2008, Hannah Hunter
Back on land again, I took matters in hand. I counted up my x-acto knives and cutting boards. I raided the supplies at UC Davis Hospice, and I still came up short. My friend Sara offered me her collection of boards and x-acto knives, I collected scrap matte board and in the end, spent nothing on supplies, a testament to the generosity of my community.

But what about the workshop? The women came in, one after another. The Cancer Center provided excellent spreads and my worries melted as the day unfolded. These women, and one man, were some of the most receptive people (in the adult population) with whom I've had the good fortune to work.

There is something about this illness, cancer, that makes one willing to dig deeper, a feeling that there is nothing to lose, and often pride over outer appearances takes a back seat to the need for authenticity. Our focus for the day was allies: those people or beings who act as guides, challengers, mentors and friends as we move through illness, or simply through life.

Whatever the case, this group of souls opened themselves to the process of searching through images, looking for the ones that conjured up the supporters, guides and all around lovers who are in their lives.

Group Member working on her card.

As they shared their cards, I felt I was seeing the nuggets of gold in each of their lives. I saw constellations of flowers, dogs, cats, children, mothers, fathers, husbands and even the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the end, my friend Terri, an oncology nurse, noted that programs like this one are as important to healing cancer as the the clinical interventions of medication, chemotherapy and radiation.

While she may have overstated the case a little, I do believe that this need to relate, to come together and to make something tangible and visible out of our challenges is what, in part, makes us human.
I met this morning with the director of the education and outreach program at the center and we are planing to offer 4 of these programs throughout the year. I'm looking forward to seeing how as a university community, we can create a climate of healing, nurturance and deep self-discovery in our lives.