5 Ways to Stay with Yourself
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
When the greedy world demands all your attention
Zora Neale Hurston taught us that "There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
Hate has an appetite for our bodies. It literally devours us from the inside.
In the midst of the chaos of recent months, I have been more conscious of my body than ever. The way my flesh gives way to the whip of tragic news.
I thought I had found strength in my keloids—the twisted tough-as-nails derma that builds and tears and recreates itself.
I would slip into sleep by the sound of CNN stories, then arise to a collection of top headlines smattered across my phone screen.
Alas, I am not alone—many move through life this way. We ignore the wounds so much that we barely notice fresh scrapes and bruises. Then, a news notification trills, and we are back in the belly of bad news.
It is cruel to spend so much time looking outside of ourselves.
This is a year for answers.
I am committed to turning inward. Resting my way through resistance—gently tending to my body and mind—tuning out negative news without guilt. I can be careful with my heart yet remain committed to social change.
The five ways I stay with myself when the world demands my attention:
There is no greater connection to body and earth than to immerse oneself in water. Sometimes I whisper “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes and imagine myself as he described
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
… I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
It is a soul-cleansing experience to bathe. This has been our practice since we arrived at this place called America and many centuries before.
Some of us bathed our last breath as we leapt from slave ships, others frolicked on the edge of the Zambezi, or floated along the Mississippi to allow gentle waves to lick fiery welts marked in human skin by braided leather whips.
Oh, never stop reading! Step into the joyful stories, seek out narratives unlike your own, dive into stories about distant lands, and laugh-out-loud tales.
I like to have several intriguing stories going at once. It sounds weird, and I’m sure it won’t work for everyone, but when you have racing thoughts like me, it’s a treat to pick up the novel that suits and soothes your specific mood at the time. There’s nothing worse than trudging through a novel just to finish it. Free yourself from feeling tied to completing a work in a set timeframe. There are novels on my shelf that I relish pulling out once or twice a year, sometimes even after I have already finished them. The slow pace gives me something to look forward to, worn pages read like a visit from an old friend.
What I’m reading right now:
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Hwang Sun-mi
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, Essays by R. Eric Thomas
The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman
The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People by Rachel Wilkerson Miller
Seek the wild and wonderful places. I saw Trevor Noah in concert a few months ago. He was hilarious and serious, and he used the N-word far too much for a non-native American. Leave that crap to us—we’re complicated.
Noah shared a story of a study he had learned about. It was essentially a survey that asked what people would do if the opposite gender were suddenly not allowed outside at night.
Men replied to the survey with varying banalities: they’d hang out with friends or work late.
Women, on the other hand, almost to a person answered that they would…
…take a walk.
Can you imagine? Women are conditioned, for good reason, to be afraid. The idea that we’d be safe in the dark of night if there were no men is our heartbreaking reality.
I pondered that notion for weeks. How could I fight it when I, too, was petrified to even stroll my own neighborhood alone at night?
I let the sun lead my way—with a pocketful of dog treats and a walking stick, my weapons of choice. I toss the victuals for pesky loose dogs to nibble, instead of my ankles. Sometimes I find a path in the woods or I drive to an unfamiliar neighborhood, park, and take to the street. There is power in walking away from your world and entering another. I breathe in the scents of the place and search for signs of people who came before me, broken pieces of sidewalk or chalk-drawn children’s games. I am appreciate every step.
Prepare or purchase and mindfully enjoy a stunning dining experience.
I’m not talking about drowning woes with a mile-high cheeseburger—though I wouldn’t judge. The key here is to make the moment special.
Cheesecake is an indulgence for me. Making it always calms me because I have to be careful. I must measure perfectly or it will fall, time it just right or it will be dry. Then, I must be patient. After baking, the pie must cool in the refrigerator for several hours. The first bite makes the entire endeavor worth it. It’s the perfect way to reset my mind.
The best part about eating for relaxation is that you don’t have to lift a finger. Once in a while, you simply must eat out. If you’re concerned about cost—like most of us—you’d be surprised how much money you can save by skipping expensive coffee on the way to work. Pack your own instead, along with lunch, and you’ll have enough for a special meal in no time.
Rest well. I believe that recovery begins with stillness and quiet. We often try to talk our way out of pain.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, try melatonin, a natural hormone that helps many people relax. Invest in a quality sound machine. Many have multiple settings from gentle waves and breezes to bird calls and crickets. If you find it keeps you awake, no worries, simply turn it on while working, exercising or tune it to the sounds of nature when you wake up.
Fall asleep imagining yourself waking up in a state of peace. We are vulnerable when we rest—open just enough to heal.
I invite you to be silent—turn off the noise and news. Tend to yourself and you will be better company for those you love. Have compassion for yourself and you will be here longer, healthier, clear-eyed and fully present to face the struggles that lie ahead.