By Blanche Herring Scharf
Parker Palmer says, “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”
Many years ago, when I was still teaching severely emotionally handicapped adolescents, I had a troubling dream. In my dream, my entire body was covered with pieces of buttered toast. Students, friends, colleagues were all grabbing hungrily at me, taking toast from me, leaving me empty, angry, uncovered. I awoke visibly disturbed, shaken. It was the first time I can remember being made so aware that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I thought I had been giving to all those people willingly, joyfully until I was informed by my subconscious that I needed what little I had left.
My mood, attitude, tiredness, negativism, depression and despair taught me the impossibility to give the gift of myself if I didn’t protect and preserve it.
In June, I was sitting among a thousand or so other women in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. We were gathered there to share an experience of women’s spirituality called “Sacred Circles.” A petite woman with light, shining, wavy, shoulder-length hair approached the lectern. She wore a pink hibiscus blossom over her right ear. Dawna Markova was the keynote speaker. Until that time, I knew nothing of this remarkable woman. During the weekend conference, she spoke several times to the crowd of us in the cathedral.
Her warmth struck me first. She has one of those faces, round and beaming, that invites me to listen. She was at ease as she spoke, looking left, right and center to hold each of us in her gaze. I couldn’t resist the desire to know her. As she spoke, she paused to make sure we had time to hear what she’d said and turn it over in our brains—make sense of it, relate it to our own reality. This wise woman is a teacher, a nurturer. Each of us was held closely to her bosom as she spoke. She obviously knew us and our stories. Every woman was still, listening. At times, tears betrayed silent crying. She knew me.
Dawna Markova knows she must take care of her gift. She has found spaces to do that in Buddhist meditation retreats, studying with Thich Nhat Hanh, and spending time in solitude in a mountain cabin with her favorite authors to inspire her. She teaches many of the lessons she’s discovered about her Self and her Spirit in I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion. Markova says, “…while purpose has to be found in solitude, it has to be lived in community.” It’s during those times that we must know our own needs, the necessity of being true to ourselves and caring for our Spirit. We can’t give of ourselves without being used up unless we give ourselves the time to care for ourselves.
Iyanla VanZant uses a hot soak in the bath to explore and evaluate events of her past and how they still hold her captive as the child she was. VanZant has come to realize that she is “not who I used to be but I am all of who I used to be.” She has two names to identify her pre-enlightenment (Rhonda) and post-enlightenment (Iyanla) conflict. Although it’s difficult, she knows the necessity to acknowledge and identify when our past is influencing our present.
Unlike the horrendous struggles experienced by many of our latest and best
women seekers and writers, I have had an ordinary life. I had caring parents
who tried hard to be good parents and understood me as little as I understood
them. I grew and changed and am still trying to reconcile who I was with
who I am.
I have a philosophy—not my own but culled from much reading of many authors of varying beliefs and persuasions and from living. Yes, life teaches us many things and reading and understanding other peoples’ interpretations of life helps us make sense of our own experiences. At some level, we are all trying to understand our place and purpose in the universe.
It’s my purpose, in this series, to share my thoughts and exploration. It is my hope that some of what I’ve experienced, learned or posited will be interesting to you.
Although many of us feel like that person being robbed of her last crust of bread, haven’t read yesterday’s paper or last month’s magazines, here’s the lesson: We must take the time necessary to nourish and replenish our stores. How can we be at our best with other people and all our responsibilities if we’re depleted of strength and spirit?
So, take that walk early in the morning before the rest of the family is awake. Read a daily meditation. Give yourself time to write in your journal. Pray. Read other people’s stories.
“For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell. It’s the only light we have in all this darkness.” James Baldwin.
© 2001 Blanche Herring Scharf, All Rights Reserved.
Markova, Dawna, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion, 2000, Conari Press Books, www.conari.com.
VanZant, Iyanla, Yesterday, I Cried: Celebrating the Lessons of Living and Loving, 1998, A Fireside Book published by Simon & Schuster.
Quotes by Parker Palmer and James Baldwin taken from I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova.
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