“You need to hold yourself like a baby.”
My friend J and I were sitting on the side of a hiking trail on the eastern edge of Taos, eating cheese wrapped in red wax and examining white wildflowers and talking about what will happen when we leave.
She has some flux in her life as well, but more certainty than I. During my three months in Taos I’ve managed to upend just about everything that was stable when I arrived: my apartment, my relationship. Even my connections with family feel shifted—hurled into a different light by the (abrupt) process of change.
J turned to look at me as she held her arms out in the shape of a cradle. “Just imagine that you’re holding yourself like a child. Just imagine you need to give yourself that kind of care.”
Self-care is one of those wiggly terms whose meaning never seems to cease sliding. What does it mean to be good to yourself? It depends on what it is you need—and knowing that, it turns out, is the hard part. More and more I’m realizing how deeply, frighteningly difficult it is to know what we want: in relationships, in people, in place, in nurture. It’s easy to mistake proximity for understanding; learning our own needs takes as much work as learning those of others’. Maybe even more.
Eventually, the work I’ll be returning to is figuring out my needs in the long term. But right now, as one transition glides into another, I’ve got to focus on the immediate ones: the urgent care that I can give myself.
Which has meant, mostly, a lot of touch.
“I kind of can’t be alone,” I told A over the phone, explaining how I had spent the last couple of weeks bouncing between friends and visiting family, heaving myself into their arms, emotionally and physically. “Do you think that’s strange?”
“Are you kidding?” she laughed. “Of course you can’t be alone. Don’t.”
I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of time lying prone on friends’ floors. Draping my legs across laps. Going for hikes and walks with my arms stitched through another’s. Cuddling in a king size hotel bed with my ten-year old niece (who managed to take up a shocking amount of it). The little time I’ve found myself without company I’ve filled with baths and melancholy folk songs: Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch. Some writing. A lot of herbal tea.
“Your pulse feels homeless.”
I also spent a few hours with a woman who does Ayurvedic healing: tall and regal with a heavy French accent and penetrating green eyes, she recoiled when she saw my tongue (“It could be the poster child for anxiety!”) and paused when she held onto my wrist.
She nodded: empathic, but not exactly alarmed.
She left me with a Ziploc bag of an unpleasant-tasting wheat-colored powder. A list of foods to favor and others to avoid. Shockingly accurate insights into my restless soul.
Also, a few pieces of rather significant wisdom.
“You need to be your own mother,” she said. “You will become a mother later. But you can begin now by becoming a mother to yourself.”
In her opinion, this would mean feeding myself with more regularity and better nutrition. Taking the time to sit still each day. Learning to quiet the deep, fiery panic that resides within me and trust that regardless of where or with whom I end up, I will be alright.
In other words: cradling myself like a child.
I’m going to try it out. I’m going to keep seeking what kind of self-care will serve me best in the future. And for the moment, before I leave Taos and pack boxes and resolve loose ends and begin to make yet another round of Big Decisions, I’m going to give myself permission to lie on the floor and hold on tight to all the warm people in my path.