8 ways to look after yourself

Broccoli upright

100 Days Project: #19 Broccoli

Sometimes the nurturers have to do a little self nurturing, right?  Because if we don’t do it, nobody else will, and everything just tends to fall apart.

Self nurture is not self indulgence.  It’s a simple case of ‘put on your own oxygen mask first’.  And it’s your one way ticket out of martyrdom, possibly the least attractive state known to man or woman.

These eight ways don’t work for everybody but they are tried and tested and they do work for me.  I’d love to know what you to to shake the glums and re-energise.

  1. Eat something fresh and colourful:  Even a minor setback often has me ratting around in the cupboard for something, anything, sweet.  You know where this goes don’t you?  Sugar-based mood swings, a fatigued kind of energy drop and general self loathing.  But grab a beetroot salad, an orange, some nuts or even a boiled egg and be rewarded with an energy boost, extended satiation and a disgustingly virtuous sense of self satisfaction.
  2. Stop, breathe and feel: Check in with yourself.  Take a second away from your desk, your trolley or your two year old. Take five even breaths and identify what emotion you are feeling.  Observe your feelings accurately without judging.  Things shift.  I don’t know how it works but somehow it does.
  3. Get your hands in the ground: It’s not everybody’s idea of fun, especially in this appallingly wet winter but it’s called ‘grounding’ for a reason. My cuticles don’t like it either, but after half and hour of getting up to my elbows in the dirt, the grey clouds lift a little and I can see the sun peeking through.  What’s that feeling? Oh, it’s ‘happy’!
  4. Make something:  Anything.  A painting, a poem, a story, a gift, a meal, a promise, a commitment.  Express yourself and know you’re alive.
  5. Clear one small ‘hotspot': Don’t try and declutter your whole house (take it from me, that’s a recipe for disaster)  But we’ve all got a ‘hotspot’ or two where the keys, mail, permission slips, pins, odd shaped pieces of plastic and the dog’s lead all tend to collect.  Usually there are 15+ items on my kitchen bench which belong somewhere else.  I feel better when it’s clear.
  6. Help someone, anyone:  Lift a pram on to a bus or a walker down the stairs, help with change for the parking meter, distract the fractious toddler in the supermarket queue or ask someone ‘Are you OK?’.
  7. Walk: Just put on your coat and go.  In five minutes you’re getting light, oxygen, fresh air, movement, incidental exercise, nature, peoplewatching opportunities, community and a whole new perspective.  Just walking with a friend is lovely too.
  8. Hug someone for more than a minute: OK now I sound weird, but bear with me. Ask permission or just grab and hold!  Sons may need to be bribed, husbands, not so much.  It might sound a bit odd but sometimes it’s just what everybody needs.  Some are quietly breathing, heartbeaty hugs, sometimes they are giggly, wriggly ones.  What’s not to like?

Even in the first world, and even when we are grateful for what we have, daily life does present its share of challenges.  Facing your own reality sometimes requires identifying and calling on your own personal mood lifters to fuel up and go forth.

How do you look after yourself?

Heart of oak

Oak Leaf horizOak Leaf: 100 Days project #7

Over several years my commute required me to drive along Stanley Street, over the motorway, through the ongoing roadworks and down past the University.  Along with the tall avenue of overarching plane trees on that stretch, there are several very old oaks.  One in particular stands sentinel over the Jewish cemetery and the old brick public convenience by Grafton Bridge.

In a country dominated by evergreens, the foliage of these leafy giants defines the season.  When I see the oak branches brandishing clutches of soft, fresh new leaves in lime green, I feel a sudden lightening of spirits and I understand at an elemental level that spring has arrived.

Green Man

Green Man

There is a compelling quality to the oak tree.  The lobed shape of its leaves, the strength and arrangement of its branches, the fascinating acorns with their tiny cupped hats.  Core of many a myth and legend, the oak speaks to the pagan Green Man, to Robin Hood, clandestine meetings and Enid Blyton.

Being both beautiful and useful, the oak must surely be the epitome of William Morris‘s timeless ‘arts and crafts’ Englishness.  However, both the symbolism and timber of genus Quercus are much older and predominate in the history of shipbuilding, military strength, endurance and civic honour for more than one nation.

In a world where artisanal style is increasingly ‘referenced’ by high fashion designers, even fashionistas such as Karen Walker have taken to incorporating the imagery of oak leaves and acorns into her work.  While any self respecting magpie would swoop right on in there, that baublesque shininess just doesn’t seem quite right somehow.

Is my steadfast affection for the oak tree disloyal, unpatriotic?  It isn’t a native species, after all.  Is this simply the perpetuation of the same deep-seated cultural colonial imprint which had my father singing ‘Heart of oak are our ships, heart of oak are our men at Southland Boys High in Invercargill in the 1950s?  Certainly, the sight of these leaves recalls family trips to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens (where the first oak was planted in 1863) to walk, and identify Scarlet Oaks, Pin Oaks and to punch the slightly forgiving trunk of the Cork Oak.

Is it rather some kind of inherited soul memory?  All I know is that despite the surprising foreignness of England in arriving for the first time, I saw the softness of the trees, and something in me relaxed and luxuriated.





Rewarewa leaf: 100 Days Project #4

Rewarewa leafThis beautiful rewarewa leaf with its many imperfections was a small souvenir I picked up from the forest floor in a very special place.  Anybody who has spent time at Aio Wira near Bethells beach on the rough black sand West Coast will know why I wanted to keep a small reminder.

Some go there to meditate, some to practise yoga.  Me, I go there to get myself back. I’m not a great meditator or even a particularly spiritual person, but every now and again, I am very fortunate to spend a little time in this quiet and peaceful spot.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this place is the river which runs below the centre. River swimming is one of my ultimate pleasures.  It’s not for everybody, it’s a little rocky, a little slippery and there are definitely eels. But to lie alone, suspended on the surface of a river, gently turning in the current, you look up at a forest which appears as if it has never left its primeval state.

A few moments like this have the potential to restore a sense of perspective and balance.  I know I’ve gone too far though, when I get tears in my eyes on seeing lunch, even if it is the most gorgeously coloured vegetarian fare.

Having emphasised the peacefulness of the spot, it has to be said that one is occasionally in danger of coming upon a woofer and his gap year didgeridoo.  But the place does attract lovely people from all around the world.   On the day that I picked up my leaf I was walking with a very nice German woman who identified it for me.  It thought it might be from a lancewood and she corrected me, very nicely. It can be humbling how well informed Germans can be. How many New Zealanders or visitors alike know that there is a native crayfish, and what its Maori name is?

That feeling of being a stranger on my own ground did remind me of a time I was attempting (badly) to play tour guide to some newly arrived German friends in Wellington, helpfully pointing out the Katherine Mansfield house as we drove down Tinakori Road. ‘Oh yes’, said my friend’s partner airily ‘That is just the birth house. The living house is in Karori’.

I know that I know nothing.  Overall I find it’s it’s a safer position.