I went to hike with Korra today up Silver Run Loop trail near Red Lodge. It was beautiful and put me smack dab into the kind of territory that feels familiar. It smelled like home. The sun was heating the ground and the lodgepole pine bark, and the breeze was making its way through the needles and the sage and kinnikinnick and sand. It was spectacular. It wasn’t a fancy hike, and not a very long one. We did only 5 miles (maybe even less, my AppleWatch was acting odd), but it felt so rejuvenating. It was also much cooler there than Billings, by over 10 degrees, so it reminded me of how people in the Willamette Valley escape to the coast when it’s hot.
I am so grateful to have had the time to do this. I know it sounds silly, but having some summer vacation to actually do vacationy things is a new concept for me. I have worked every single summer of my life until last summer, and still I was doing massive renovations. In my last relationship I was made to feel like teachers had it made for “having all that time off,” so it was always impossible for me to relax, anyway. Those of us in education know that the emotional tax that being a teacher puts on you, a professional in the service of people, means that you really truly need that time off to restore your soul and your balance. If you do not, you return in the fall unequipped to meet the new group of students and be there fully for them.
Enter my story from the 2017-2018 school year. It is not a story I want to repeat, but it is a story that I am excessively grateful for. It taught me a lot about who I am as a woman, mother, teacher, professional, partner. Nothing felt right, yet I learned more than I can even explain, still to this day. I learned that children adapt, which is a good and a bad thing. They adapt to the moods and exhaustion of their teacher.
In that year, I learned that self care is not an option, and that self care does not really mean getting a pedicure, eating ice cream, or drinking a beer. Those things are self luxuries that are lovely. But they aren’t the things that are going to help you live in your truth.
Self care means living life awake to your core self. Self care means being able to say “yes” or “no” because that is how you feel, and it means saying those things knowing that the other person/people involved get to have their responses as well, but their responses are not your business. It is the recognition that you need to live your truth, and that it is not your problem how other people take your truth. They can love it or hate it, but that is theirs, not yours.
Self care is excessive gratitude for everything that is going right. It is the thread of forgiveness that starts with loving yourself in all your flaws and glories and allowing them both to the table. Self care is leaving work within an hour after the paid day is over. Self care is cuddling your dog, making food from scratch, getting sleep. Self care is radical and honest. It is the bravery to look yourself in the mirror in the morning like my friend Angie told me to do, and to say “I LOVE YOU” until you believe it. Self care is not looking at your phone or other electronics before you leave the bed when you wake up. It is saying hello to your significant other if you have one first. It is sex, it is love. Self care is trusting your intuition and believing in your own power while also having the humility to know that you still have so much to learn. It is the recognition of our soul as part of the world, and the world as part of us. Self care is acknowledging that there is more to this planet than yourself, that there is a divine force that connects things, whether to you that is God, universe, highest self, Allah, Krisna, Buddha, animals, nature, Mohammed, Yahweh, Goddesses and on and on. Walking in nature reminds us pretty quickly how damn lucky we are to be alive, and that we were chosen to be here, every single one of us-every single creature down to the flying grasshoppers and mosquitoes.
For me, self care is believing in myself and knowing that I am not alone because I am part of the greater energy of this planet. So are you. It makes me overcome with smallness and bigness at the same time.
These are the kinds of things I thought about today.
I also remembered my friend Dave Delong. He was my teacher at the Yaak School along with Penny Bush Teague in the mid-1980’s. He was a legendary outdoorsman, and he climbed all the major peaks in the Cascades. At his funeral 3 years ago, a mourner that I think it was his brother, told a story about hiking with Dave shortly before he died at 60 of a surprise heart attack. He was the picture of health. It turns out his healthy habits had hidden a heart birth defect. His brother talked about reaching the peak of the climb, and the party just stood drinking water and taking it in. Dave said, “Look at this! Just look at what God made.” While Korra and I were looking at the creek rushing past and feeling the spray on our faces, I just said out loud, “Wow! Look at what God made.” Thanks for being in my life, Mr. Delong. You were a peach.