Playing Our Best Hand
The meaning and purpose we derive from loving self-care are especially important for those of us who have been dealt a bad hand. Some people are luckier in life than others, some born with terrible genetics while others inherit outstanding genes. But genetics is only one factor. In most cases, the ways in which we live our lives are exponentially more important than our genes.
Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those we do hold well.
When you live with any type of debilitating medical condition, it can often seem like you have to focus far too much on self-care—all day, every day. Many people in support groups I’ve facilitated have expressed how depressed they feel that so much of their time is spent going to medical appointments: events that often entail fear and discomfort. But when you add the mindfulness component to all of this very necessary self-care activity, you can use it as a means to achieve a sense of mastery of your life.
Want and Need
Often, we can improve our health by acting in accordance with what we need rather than what we want. For example, I often want chocolate, pie, cake, or ice cream when people around me are eating them. But I almost never eat more than one bite because I know I don’t need any of them. I live with a severe malabsorption syndrome, which means I don’t absorb all the nutrients in the food I eat. This is a serious condition because the nutrients in food make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which allows the mitochondria in our cells to make the energy that keeps all our cells functioning. One of the ways I practice loving self-care is to remind myself that eating more than one bite of any foods that lack nutrients—like sugary treats—is equivalent to scratching an itch for five minutes straight; in both cases, it will do more harm than good. On those very rare occasions when I eat an entire piece of cake or pie and ice cream, I practice loving self-care by eating mindfully, focusing all my attention on savoring every moment.
Without mindfulness, we end up attending to our wants instead of our needs. It’s important to learn to clearly discern the difference:
- Wants are those things we think will bring us comfort or pleasure.
- Needs relate to an inner knowing of what the body requires for health in terms of nutrition, sleep, exercise, and stress management.