This summer I noticed a pretty flower along the shore of Lake Superior near Munising. Soon I started noticing it in other places: in fields and roadside ditches here and there. I learned it was called Fireweed which surprised me—it’s not bright orange or red or even yellow—it doesn’t look fiery at all. It’s a tall, wispy plant with little pinkish-purple blooms.
The reason it’s called Fireweed is this: After a forest fire, it’s often the first plant to emerge from the burnt ground. As long as there is open space and light, it flourishes, growing with abandon. Fireweed is in a category of plants called pioneer plants: Hardy species that are the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, fostering a more biodiverse and stable ecosystem. Once other plants usurp the space and light, the Fireweed dies off, but that’s not the end of the story. The seeds of the Fireweed lie dormant in the ground until light reaches them once again and they germinate.
Light and space for the Fireweed is like self-care for humans. We need self-care to grow and thrive. Self-care is the nurturing and nourishment you give yourself because you know it’s important to your health and wellbeing and that it will have a positive effect on your ecosystem—your family, friends, coworkers, community and environment. In The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson, she describes self-care as “Living in a way that cultivates health and life balance to maintain energy and grow as a person. Self-care includes nurturing body, mind, spirit, relationships and the environment.”
The first step to self-care is getting over the belief that self-care is selfish. Because it’s not. Look at is this way: As an adult, you are responsible for yourself and you can’t expect anyone to take care of you but you. Of course, love and support from others is great, but it doesn’t go very far if you’re not loving and supporting yourself. And, of course, you want to love and support others but you can’t do that very well if you don’t have the energy and healthy mindset that come from loving and supporting yourself first.
When you practice self-care, you care for yourself and also plant the seeds (by role modeling) to help future generations do the same.
It’s not easy, but learning to put yourself first is the best thing you can do—for yourself and everyone else in your life.
Self-care encompasses many aspects (Richardson’s book guides you through one aspect of self care per month so you have time to practice each one and integrate them into your life over the course of a year).
Where to start? Here’s my best self-care jump-start advice:
• Make a long list of the things that make you feel good/content/happy. Strive for at least 100 items. For example, a few of the things on my list are: walking in the woods, talking with my daughter, taking a yoga class, eating oatmeal with dried cherries and walnuts, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, baking cookies or bread, and reading a page-turner by the fire.
• Now, choose several of the items on your list that take 10 minutes or less.
• In your calendar, add one of these items to each day for the next 30 days.
• Do them. Notice how you feel. Do others notice a difference in you, too?