At the beginning of the year – so long ago now – and for some time afterwards, a lot of my text messages began with ‘Happy New Year.’ But one such message began, ‘Gappy New Year.’ It was a hot day, letters swirled and jumbled and before I knew it I had a reason for a little article about giving yourself permission to take time out this year to smell the roses, or the Tanqueray, or to have a magnificent Mad Men boxed set weekend. And by now, you’ve forgotten your New Year’s Resolutions, so try this instead, because…
Here’s the thing: gaps are good, gaps are you being generous towards the most important entity in your life: you. Think about it – without you – functional, healthy, purposeful or purposeless, charming you – where are you? Hmm? Answer me that, grasshopper. And no, it isn’t selfish to practise self care. It’s essential.
So enjoy a Gappy New Year with some of these self care activities:
.Meditation – 5 minutes twice a day at a time and place of your choosing, although if you have a house full of small people, or furry animals, or highly attentive (read high maintenance) spouses, you may have to be a bit sneaky. Get up just a little earlier, sit quietly somewhere and focus on your breath; drive to the station 5 minutes sooner and sit in the car – breathe; get an mp3 player, save some whalesong onto it and listen to it while travelling on your public transport limo, whatever it may be. When intrusive thoughts arise, or even timid ones, say hi to them and then let them drift off like Grandma on the ice floe, as you refocus on your breathing and those darling Southern Rights. You know the drill.
- Meditate and create a little gap of quiet spaciousness.
. Gratitude – some people I know keep a gratitude journal in which they write down a few things they’re thankful for from the day just spent before they retire for the night. They’re not elaborate, but rather simple acknowledgements of positive experiences or valuable relationships. I don’t keep a gratitude journal but I try to remember on most days how lucky I am to live in a democracy, for instance, where blue skies are the norm rather than the exception, and where I can smell freshly mown grass most days of the week, listen to beautiful music whenever I choose to, and enjoy the company and love of my most beloved partner every day. Also, I have the fixings for chicken enchiladas in my freezer and pantry, right here, right now. Oh, frabjous day.
- Be grateful for the things that count and create a cheerful gap of warm and fuzzy facts.
. Reflection – what I said about meditation, only add deliberate thought about specific subjects instead of letting said thoughts drift off on the mental ice floe with Granny. This is a way to consider what you’re doing and what you’re planning to do – perhaps we should name the forward reflection, projection. In both cases, you’re creating a little gap where you get to contemplate important issues and, with any luck, make worthy decisions about them, or defer decisions until a more fortuitous moment.
- Do some reflection and create a gap of thoughtful, unhurried clarity.
. Distance – sometimes it’s best to simply get away from whatever it is that annoys, frustrates, irritates or otherwise aggravates you. Go for a walk, a run, a beer, a musical interlude, a dinner or breakfast, a visit to the art gallery, the museum, join a bank robbery in progress (if that’s what turns your widget, but keep your head down), the beach, a seat on the back steps where you can sip your tea or tequila and nibble your raisin toast, without the benefit of digital technology.
- Keep your distance and create a gap of literal and/or metaphorical breaks in which to lose and calm yourself.
. Read – something new, or re-read a faithful old friend. I return to several books every couple of years to rediscover their gems. I’m never disappointed and I always find something new to consider. Here are a few I highly recommend: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Reaching Tin River by Thea Astley (an absolute disgrace to Australian publishing that so many of her titles are out of print or hard to source, or even sauce); The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (come on, Anne, you can do it – just one more for the Tyler Trippers, pleeeeeese).
- Read up a paper chase and create a narrative gap, or three.
So, grasshopper, how do you practice self care? Whatever you do, do it mindfully and with sincerity: the sense of calmness alone is a worthy reward.