Balancing Care for Self and Care for the World

TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center

TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center

As this summer continues unfolding, it feels like wave after wave of violence keeps erupting out of every news cycle in our own nation and across the world. Yet through much of this disturbing energy I have been in a place of personal peacefulness, practicing abundant self-care, including spending today at a nurturing writing retreat: “Coming Home to Body and Earth,” facilitated by Lorraine Anderson ( Still, in the midst of my private contentment with the awareness of the depth of a world in pain, tension is brewing. I am unsettled and want to resolve the tension, knowing I have no immediate solution. I recall some wise teachings and seek answers, skimming through some books on my shelves from Irwin Kula, Parker Palmer, John O’Donohue, Rachel Naomi Ramen and more. My gaze stops at my books on reconciliation and wonder why such a beautiful theory is so hard to fulfill, until I reflect on my own life and how often I cling to my perceptions and assumptions. This tension is not going anywhere soon.

Most wisdom traditions address a need to heal the world as well as the need to journey inward and heal oneself, often seeking the guidance of the Holy for clarity and humility. Some days it can feel overwhelming to consider all that needs to be healed in our world, let alone what may need nurturing and tending in my own small self. Trying to balance my own needs, to allow for the ever present desire to heal deepening parts of myself does take intention and time and, dare I say it, a certain amount of “selfishness.” And yet if that is the only place I dwell in for an extended time, I become weary with myself.

And so, the tension between care of self and care of the world I feel serves a purpose. Here is the visual image that, after spending time connecting my body to the earth today, resonates for me: I have trekked far into the forest where the light dapples through the tall pines. Laying on the ancient moss and ferns, I feel my body relax. As the brook offers a lullaby and a soft breeze carries away any doubt that I don’t belong, I drift into liminal space where time loses meaning. The whorls on my finger tips absorb the rich loamy soil and my pores release impurities back into earth. Soon, I feel my heart space open to my own self and she is content, asking to stay longer, and at first the answer is “yes.” But the soft hum of the lullaby shifts to the call and response song of protesters, the cry of mothers, the unanswerable questions hanging from the branches and the breeze becomes a gale, thrusting me back into the rhythmic heartbeat of the world. I awake with an awareness that the healing energy offered to me, was not only for me, but to be shared. I need only find one small way to offer my healing energy this day. And then tomorrow, I will find another. I will return to the moss and ferns, the pines and brook regularly. You will come too. Together we will learn how to heal—each other, ourselves, the world.

Do you struggle with offering yourself space for self care? Or when you are content, do you feel “guilty” for feeling joy and happiness when there is so much trauma unfolding in the world? How do you honor the tension and invite yourself to explore healthy ways to balance care for self with care for the world?