Wellness is something that all people need, yet not all people take up the responsibility of wellness and self-care. We live in a society that looks for the fastest, most convenient way to function even at the expense of wellness.
As I have spent a good bulk of my seminary experience in pastoral care classes, I keep hearing over and over from professors that spiritual leaders are "burning out" because of lack of self-care. Wellness is a life choice. It is a life choice I have been slowly walking for more than 15 years.
Recently I had the great pleasure of attending the first session in a series of three workshops on "Wellness and Self Care for the Busy Life Style" facilitated by Maisie Sparks being held at McCormick Theological Seminary, organized by the Center for African American Ministries and Black Church Studies (CFAAM) and the Pan African Student Organization (PASO).
Wellness is something every person needs to consider, especially if in occupations serving the emotional, social, and physical needs of those hurting. If we are are depleted and dis-eased, our service will be hindered by our physical inability. Often we are juggling so many responsibilities and roles that self care becomes a last priority, but we cannot begin to love our neighbor as ourselves if we never get around to loving ourselves.
Since most of you will not have the benefit of attending these wonderful workshops led by Ms. Maisie Sparks, I would like to offer a brief recap of some of the most important affirmations and insights I have gained so far. The (4) key points tackled in the first workshop were:
One of the first major points that Sparks touched on was breathing. Often we take our breath for granted. "Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor" (Hanh Thich Nhat).
Remembering to really take the time to breath slowly, relaxing each major muscle group on purpose with purpose and learning to clear the mind is a lifestyle tool that can be practiced any time, any where to calm and center. The data on the physiological benefits of breathing practices are so far spread and accessible that I will not go into it more deeply here. In my own faith tradition, God imparts the breath of life; thus, breathing has become sacred in how I practice my faith. Wellness is a responsibility we all have to make, it is a daily personal priority. No one but you can command you to take the time to breathe healthy. Self care is key to wellness.
Next, Sparks discusses rest and being still. She noted how technologically driven our culture is and how even when we say we are "resting" we are doing something like answering emails, making phone calls, and/or watching television. Resting is countercultural, according to Sparks, because it is a complete retreat from that which is the world into the peace of the One who created the world. True rest then is a spiritual practice, cultivated through detachment from the temporal to that which is sacred.
The third major point that Sparks taught us at the workshop on wellness was the practice of silence. As a group, we the participants vowed to an hour of complete silence. We continued listening to the facilitator lecture in collective silence, and we had bathroom and snack breaks in silence, but for some to not talk was very agitating and challenging. For me, this was by far one of the most renewing activities; I adore and appreciate silence as a lifestyle practice. It is renewing to be quiet; to exercise self-control is healthy.
Finally, the last major topic that Sparks went over during this first workshop was journal writing. Journal writing is a form of expressive therapy. Journal writing is a personal space to say and feel whatever you feel and being able to express it productively without projecting it at a person. Journaling allows us to go back and see places within ourselves that more self care needs to be taken emotionally, physically and spiritually. The workshop facilitator offered some general guidelines for journal writing that I would like to leave with you. Spark's journal writing guidelines:
>get relaxed before writing
>write the date, time/place of entry
>keep your journals, utilize the lessons in them
>don't think, feel what you feel and WRITE
>start writing and keep writing
>cut to the chase, don't make excuses for your feelings, freely be yourself
>protect your journal
>be your authentic self
Wellness really does begin with something so simple as a single breath. Self care really does begin with something so simple like resting our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. Wellness is actually enhanced with silence. Self care really is a personal responsibility that requires us to deal with self, and one way to see who we are and what we feel is through journaling.
These wellness lifestyle practices are not religion specific, yet are substantiated by many traditions, including Christianity. It is my hope that as we seek the divine and what is spiritual, that we not become too detached as to overlook the practical. The practical, like living well, with what we have, doing what we know to do, as to be well and optimally functioning as conduits in the earth.
Wellness is a life journey, lived every day, with moment by moment choices, breathes, moments of silence and strokes of a pen. My faith tells me to teach you, "to get up, pick up your mat and walk." Wellness is an aspect of faith lived out practically. Remember to breathe, rest, be purposefully and intentionally silent and get your feelings and thoughts out on paper, these are practices to live well.