What if we took care of ourselves like we do our friends?

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I’m in the middle of two days of international travel, in route to take care of a dear friend following a cancer diagnosis and major surgery. She’s the kind of friend that doesn’t ask for much, but when she says she needs me to come, I will drop everything to be there. I didn’t hesitate for a second, even though it means traveling for two full days, one of which is my birthday.

To help my friend, I’ve put everything on hold, spent a lot of money, and left everything in my life behind for someone else to take care of. I can’t help but think, would I do all of this to take care of myself? What would I do when that voice deep inside up wells, saying it needs a break, it needs the ocean, it needs time in a hammock with a good book? Or even if I needed a medical treatment that wasn’t accessible unless I traveled? I am not exaggerating when I say that I doubt I would prioritize myself enough to drop everything and go. Sure, I may start planning a vacation for next winter, or plan to go to the yoga studio more, but what about showing up for myself right here and now?

Tara Brach, American psychologist and Buddhist teacher, writes about the phenomenon of taking better care of our friends and family members than ourselves in her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha. She points out the irony in how we show up for friends more often and with less guilt than we do ourselves. I know a lot of mothers that fit that bill. Mothers who would get their children the best medical treatment available, even if it means flying to the opposite coast, yet who would resist any idea of doing that for themselves. When a woman learns she is pregnant, she immediately starts taking vitamins, researches healthy foods, prioritizes exercise, and becomes concerned about exposure to environmental toxins. These are all great practices, but why does it take caring for another (in this case a developing baby), for us to take our health seriously? Shouldn’t we love ourselves enough to strive for optimal health daily? In some places, people worry about having enough food for their families, or do not have access to quality health care. But for those of us who are fortunate enough to have the resources, we are squandering our gifts if we do not strive to live our best, healthiest lives.

So, while spending the evening of my birthday alone in a hostel in Cancun, a layover in my journey to care for my dear friend, I made a promise to myself. I will put nutritious, whole foods in my body. I will avoid toxic cleaners and cosmetics. I will let myself take a day (or more) off when I feel tired from the inside out. I will listen to and honor to the voice inside, even when what it tells me requires work, effort, or travel. I will show up for myself like I am showing up for my friend. I am worth it.

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