Friday, May 30, 2008

Think “Yellow Oxygen Mask”

You know when you're on an airplane and the flight attendant gives the requisite safety spiel, something about a "rapid change in cabin pressure" and yellow oxygen masks falling from the ceiling? They always remind us to "please secure your own mask first" before assisting small children or anyone else? I'm convinced that's a metaphor for a figurative lifeline -- a true principle (although I can't think of a scripture to back it up--oh wait, yes I can) that applies especially to mothers: When we take care of ourselves first (which is rare) we are better equipped to help other people -- happier, healthier, and with more positive energy.

In the past 24 hours I've had 3 friends tell me they have no time to take care of themselves. Sandwiched between caring for their aging parents and their own small children, these women are truly spent. And to me, in retrospect, the need for some self-care is clear-cut in every single case. Think "yellow oxygen mask" and breathe deeply.

I didn't always see it that way. Self-sacrifice (with pretended alacrity) seemed like the higher road. But I realize now it's often just the path of least resistance. Fighting for some time for ourselves, to take care of ourselves, isn't a self-indulgent luxury. It keeps us sane, keeps us whole, reminds us who we are. It allows us to offer our very best to those we love. It's actually indirect service.

In a song she wrote about going to therapy, called “What Do You Hear in These Sounds”, folk singer Dar Williams describes this principle:
“But oh how I loved everybody else
when I finally got to talk so much about myself.”
Blogging fulfills that need for a lot of us. And we discover a lot of love in the process. New friends, new ideas. More to share.

Exercise is a big one. I notice I'm more patient with the kids, have more energy, am happier...after I work out.

One of my lifelines is music. When they delivered my grand piano to our second apartment after we were married, my dad told me how glad he was that I had my piano back because he knew it was my therapy. Father knows best. I can totally lose myself in a beautiful piece of music. Unleash passion (like Lucy Honeychurch). Pour out peace. Another, not surprisingly, is writing. (Actually, I crave word-crunching in all its many forms -- including late-night Scrabble.) My best poetry often arises on the cusp of personal crisis. Journaling is its own form of healing. And last (but not least) is painting. Watercolor stirs my passions like little else. Just watching the colors run together in unpredictably beautiful patterns makes it worth getting up in the morning. And the luminosity is, well, illuminating.

So what’s your yellow oxygen mask?
What’s the single most important thing you do for yourself that then increases your capacity to love, appreciate and care for everybody else?

9 comments:

Brillig said...

Blogging definitely fills that need for me, along with writing in general. These days, my yellow oxygen masks (LOVE this analogy, by the way) are few and far between, so I have to make them count. It can be as simple as spending a few moments in a book (better yet if it's one you stole from your neighbor). I also think I'm definitely a better mom to my crew after I've spent a night out at a friend's house discussing intellectually stimulating topics until the wee hours of the morning... But you wouldn't have any idea what I'm talking about, would you?

Kimberly said...

Brilliant post! I've pondered on this topic a lot over the last year or so, and it's become one of my "soap box" issues. We really are better able to serve others when we serve ourselves as well.

For me, it's taking time to do little things to improve my apperance that helps most. I feel more confident and resourceful when my eyebrows are plucked, my hands moisturized, my legs shaved...that sort of thing. I often find myself putting off doing those things despite how good they make me feel.

I also blog every other day and take a "Ladies Night Out" at least once a month. Keeps me sane. And a sane mummy is a good mummy, right?

charrette said...

I thought of two more HUGE ones for me (Don't know how I forgot these the first time around): 1. Reading. (You should SEE the stack of books on my night stand. Fiction. Non-fiction. Spiritual reading. I love digesting all those great ideas, and forming my own connections in the process.)
2. Hiking. (It's the best of both worlds because not only is it a great workout, you are also a spectator of some of the greatest wonders and beauties on earth, a vista that changes with practically every step. Positively therapeutic. I used to go once a week, RELIGIOUSLY.)

Allison said...

Really good sex.

I love that I get to say that now!

charrette said...

I KNEW Allison would say that! :)

breckster said...

I'd have to agree with all of those oxygen masks, and add photography, quilting, knitting, long walks in art museums, and even longer walks in parks where I can't tell where I am surrounded by the very little "nature" left in the city. I'd have a longer list if I had a bigger living space, but those are the things that are getting me through.

I often spend days grateful for the wisdom I find in Dar Williams songs.

Cari said...

I love that you comment on your own post.

Maybe Allison could take a cue from that--it'd be yet another yellow oxygen mask for her...

Hailey said...

Improv, acting, and TIVO. None of them practical, all of them NECESSARY!

Jessica said...

i can't tell you how perfect this post is! . . .. and i really cant because the baby is screaming in my ear! ,ore later!