8 essential aspects of relationship and self-care
There is a story about a young monk who was sent down into the city from his mountain temple by his master to experience the world. Almost as soon as he arrived, he found it difficult to remain centered, and almost impossible to meditate. He would sit on the floor of his room and find himself constantly distracted by the sounds and smells outside his tiny window. Eventually, he traveled back up the mountain to speak with his master and tell him about his struggle. His master listened intently to his tale and then, poking him in the chest, said, “What are you doing out there, when you should be in here?”
We hear a lot about relationships. There are love relationships, partnerships, work relationships, friendships and even ships that have sailed. In service of all these outside relationships, we often overlook or even neglect our most important relationship—our relationship with ourselves, or self-relationship.
Just like the monk who lost himself to what was outside, we often do the same. This is sometimes by virtue of being accommodating and, at others, running all the way to the other end of the spectrum into agency and co-dependence. Whatever the case, a little bit of introspection can help bring us back to our own center by helping us discern where we are out of balance. There are eight factors essential to the makeup of a relationship and, if we look at them from an internal, rather than an external, perspective, they can provide us with an effective roadmap for self-care and self-relationship.
The Social Self
Every relationship has a social aspect. When we talk about self-relationship, we want to consider what we’re doing to support ourselves by leveraging our context. What that boils down to is thinking about where we land on the spectrum of introversion to extroversion and examining what we’re doing to support that. For instance, if you’re an introvert, are you taking time out for yourself in order to renew and recharge? If you’re an extrovert, are you establishing social connections that feed you? If you’re an ambivert—somewhere in between—what does that look like and how, or how well, is it serving you? An understanding of our interior social needs helps us to create a social context that will feed us, rather than bleed us.
The Emotional Self
How in touch are you with your actual emotional state? Not the day-to-day mindset you bring to the table, but the deeper emotions driving your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, sometimes without you even being aware of it. Have you taken a moment to genuinely unpack those emotions? Is that short temper of yours genuine frustration, or an abiding sadness that has no discernible root? Does that commitment to your career speak to your motivation to succeed or an underlying fear of failure? Establishing an authentic, transparent connection to our thoughts, feelings and emotions can bring us into an entirely new state of self-awareness, leading to a more robust fabric of emotional intelligence.
The Intellectual Self
When’s the last time you read a book simply for the joy of the subject? Do you have an interest in something that takes a backseat to what you perceive as your more immediate responsibilities? When is the last time you expanded your skill set outside of the workplace? We have the capacity to be life-long learners, and, yet, many—if not most—of us don’t take advantage of the enormous organic database we have in our heads because we are too busy updating our contacts or catching up on the latest pop culture misadventure. Staying intellectually stimulated isn’t just an exercise in self-indulgence; it will keep your brain nimble and healthy as you age.
The Physical Self
Being authentically connected to the physical self is not about being in shape. It’s about being comfortable in your body. That body you’re hanging out in as you’re reading this post is the only house you ever truly own and, frankly, even that’s something of a loaner. Why not figure out how to be in it in the best way you possibly can? Why not feed it, water it, and move it around a bit? That doesn’t mean juice fasts, no carbs and a two-hour vinyasa yoga class six days a week. It means getting connected to your body and finding a place where you are comfortable with yourself and how you move through the world.
The Sexual Self
Most of us aren’t even aware of our sexual self, or chose to ignore it because the socialization and acculturation around sexuality in our culture has so distorted that relationship. That said, have you thought about your relationship to your sexuality lately? Sex is an instinct, so, if your intuition is telling you that you’re out of balance around your sexuality, you probably are. Remember, we aren’t talking about your sex life here—we’re talking about your connection to your sexual self and what that means for you. Do you feel inhibited, or free to express yourself? Do you want more, or less? In the best of all possible worlds, what is the character of your sexual self and how does it manifest in the world? Sexuality is a natural aspect of our humanity and establishing a healthy connection to our sexual self is a milestone on our journey to authenticity.
The Financial Self
Our relationship to money and material objects can speak volumes about how we value ourselves. How do you define success? What does money mean to you in the scheme of you and your self-worth? If you lost everything tomorrow, would you be crushed under the weight of what you perceive as failure or soldier on, confident that your bank balance doesn’t define you? Most of us are so busy scrambling to make ends meet, we never even get to those questions, never mind examining what lies behind their answers. A considered examination of those answers can bring us to a deeper understanding of our material motivations and how we, as humans, define our success.
The Cultural Self
We all come from somewhere. Understanding that and honoring it within the fabric of our daily lives gives us meaning and context. Have you thought about how your culture—not just your ethnic culture, but the social milieu of your upbringing—influences you both immediately and more broadly? Does that culture cause you internal tension, or does it bring you a sense of connection and belonging? Many times our daily rituals, from how we dress to how we parent, are an expression of our culture and what we carry with us as a result.
The Spiritual Self
Even if you’re an atheist, you’ve defined spirituality for yourself. What is your definition of spirit, your relationship to it and how does it define you? These aren’t the big questions about God and grace and angels. These are the questions that lead to an understanding of what being connected—or not connected—to a sense of abiding universality means to you and how it influences your worldview. It could be something as complex as doing a close reading of the Christian Bible or Vedantic Sutras, or as simple as working in your garden. What is spirit to you, and where does it reside in your heart of hearts?
Getting back to our monk, when his master tapped him on the chest, he wasn’t just making a point. He was pointing to what in the Hindu wisdom teachings is referred to as ‘the light in the lotus’. This is the place where our ego-self—the I, me, mine of the everyday—blends with the authentic, transcendent Self that we often lose because we are so busy going outside, instead of staying in.
© 2018 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved