A psychotherapist shares words of wisdom with her favorite clients --other healthcare professionals!
As healthcare professionals, we are part of a worldwide collective of souls who have been called to serve the vulnerable first and gives ourselves self love last. Our work as protectors, guides and advocates is more than just a day at the office. We touch lives in a way that transforms our career from a paycheck into an expression of love.
Twenty-five years, I embarked on a search for a clearer definition of this elusive term. I felt compelled to bring a deeper meaning to my work in the community. That search led me to M. Scott Peck’s classic text, The Road Less Traveled. Dr. Peck defined love as, “extending oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Our spiritual growth is more than just memorizing text and speaking from a pulpit—it is about our connection with creation, the world, and ourselves. For many, it is also about connection to a Higher Power, or God.
The former priest and psychotherapist, Thomas Moore, wrote, “love is the impetus that propels us to our life’s work”. While many of us in this field have been able to embrace the idea of loving service to victims, we continue to struggle with the idea of loving ourselves with the same passion in which we choose to love the people who we serve. Self-love, in the form of self-care, guides us in maintaining the primary tools of our work—our bodies, minds, and spirits.
This concept of self-care is not new to many spiritual/religious traditions. The Buddha told his followers, “If your compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete.” The Prophet Muhammad once said, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord”. Many of the shamanic traditions require the healers to achieve optimum healing for themselves before they can commence the work of guiding others. The Jewish tradition of shabbos, could be considered one of the most perfect forms of self-care in any tradition—24-hours of conscious separation from the whirlwind of life for personal reflection and connection.
So what can we, the modern-day guides and healers of this fast-paced world, do to express love and care for ourselves? Where can we go to re-generate the bodies and spirits that have been drained by the daily experiences of other’s pain? What can we do to return to our essence, so that we remain effective on our life’s work? Here are a few strategies:
• Honor your humanity- While we may be experts at guiding others through extreme challenge, healers, we will also be faced with similar challenges in our lives. Expect to make mistakes. Choose to forgive yourself for errors in judgment.
• Seek personal therapy. Sharing sacred space with a non-judgmental source of support and guidance is a courageous and powerful act of self-love. Numerous studies have demonstrated that psychotherapy can actually change the neural pathways in the brain, resulting in increased self-awareness and healing.
• Practice nutritional integrity. Choose to honor the primary tools of your work by feeding it well. Those wonderful, carbohydrate and sugar-laden lunches and snacks that you are consuming are actually negatively impacting your mental and physical health. Ultimately, they also inhibit your presence and performance in the workplace. Consume the daily “rainbow” of green, red, yellow, and purple foods. Take your vitamins. Drink plenty of water. Strengthen the source of your wisdom that lies in your “second” brain—your own gut.
• Limit your alcohol intake – Alcohol is the fuel for the “car” of depression. That “Man, this was a tough day, let’s go have a drink” conversation that you have with your peers can cost you the precious gift of your mental health.
• Move!! You want to really get high? Take that priceless body of yours to a place of euphoria through the natural release of endorphins. While it may feel like torture in the beginning, allow your brain a few weeks to clear out the clutter that grew in your inertia. In return, it will present you with a taste of the natural opiates that can only come from exercise.
• Take a Sacred Pause. My fantasy is to run an agency in which all employees take a mandatory nap at 3:00 pm. I live out this fantasy every day, by taking what I refer to as the “sacred pause”—a moment to slow down, close my eyes, become centered, and gather up the necessary energy for completing my day. Witnessing pain and sorrow, celebrating achievements, and even noticing our own rage, fatigue, or imbalance, can serve as wonderful opportunities to check-in with our innate wisdom.
• Pray…Meditate…Listen…Larry Dossey, physician and author of Prayer is Good Medicine, found that people who engage in the regular practice of prayer and/or meditation experience more positive outcomes when faced with surgeries and other health challenges. A consistent yoga or other meditative practice also increases emotional awareness and guides in control our reactivity. As a student of Sufism, a major requirement of my religious/spiritual lifestyle involves praying five times a day—at dawn, noon, late-afternoon, sunset, and evening. In addition to the required prayers, I also pray a minimum of 10 other times during the day—as my feet touch the ground to start my day, when my children leave for school, and before and after each of my clients.
Simply allowing ourselves a sacred moment of quiet contemplation, self- reflection, and the processing of emotions can counter-act the heartache that is the reality of our daily work with victims of trauma and abuse.
• Connect! Although we might sometimes feel that we are alone in this work, the reality is that we are deeply connected with a rope called, “Need”. Reach out to friends and colleagues daily. Check-in with your beloveds (even when you cannot provide details of your work). To choose to do this work in isolation is to choose to engage in what the Christian mystic Thomas Merton referred to as, “violence against ourselves.” Open your heart to the reality that you are never alone.
During a recent talk in Washington, DC, Buddhist psychologist Tara Brach reminded her audience that a true spiritual path is one of forgetting and remembering. When we become engrossed in the daily work of guiding the vulnerable members of society, we often forget our own needs for compassionate care. Our self-care practices serve as wonderful tools for reminding us that we are worthy of love. These practices bring us back to our essence.
I invite you continually return to your essence, and the tremendous gifts that you have been given. I invite you to remember the essential qualities that led you to this meaningful work – the kindness in your eyes, your empathic spirit, and the openness that rests in your heart. Remember that your life of service is not an accident—that you give meaning to actions and events that are often beyond comprehension. My prayer for each of you is that you embrace the deep knowing that in order to serve others, you must be equally willing to serve your own soul.
Sabrina N'Diaye, PhD (pronounced “In-Jie”), is the founder of the Heart Nest Wellness Center in Baltimore, Maryland. For over 25 years, she has served as a guide for trauma survivors, couples, and women in recovery, and healthcare professionals. She serves as a mentor for countless therapists and runs regular retreats for women healers.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.