Guilt. It’s been a dominant narrative in my life. I recently noticed guilt gnawing at me during an activity I do semi-frequently and, as a personal trainer, encourage others to do often: engaging in self-care. I noticed myself feeling wrong about napping in the afternoon, taking 30 minutes for stretching and meditation - even working out!
How is it I can feel guilty about a behavior that hurts no one and actually helps me? When I began to question why I feel guilty in these situations, I recognized that throughout life I have always felt an underlying, yet overwhelming pressure to be productive. I can certainly trace this pattern to my childhood upbringing, but it seems to be a prevailing thought pattern that my friends and clients struggle with as well. So how did so many of us end up with a strong aversion to taking time out to care for ourselves?
The context of our society shapes who we are, what we value, and how we see the world. So if this is an overarching belief for so many of us, that would lead me to believe there is an overarching structure that created this narrative. And my best guess at what that structure is would be… capitalism.
We are products of a capitalist society that views humans as capital and teaches us to view ourselves the same way. Therefore, it has perfectly productive humans like me feeling guilty for resting on the couch, taking time for meditation or having a “lazy” day to reconnect with my husband.
I’ve been thinking about this Audre Lorde quote for some time now - “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Humans, like water, take the shape of whatever container they’re put into. The context of our container shapes who we become. Every piece of our being is not without the context in which we live. Capitalism has bred a way of being in each of us in which we’ve had little choice. Until now. When we lift the curtain and see the context behind it, we have access to intentional actions that balance that way of being.
If we are to preserve the “self”, we must connect with it in the deep way that only true self-care provides. When the self is preserved, we less often ascribe our value to how many hours we work, how fancy our possessions are, how many likes our latest social media post received. The things capitalism tells us as a culture are ideal: beauty, wealth, whiteness, thinness, popularity, power, lose their hold on us. And the less we care about the external, the material, the more time and energy we have to truly BE with others. When we care for ourselves, we are better equipped to care for everything and everyone around us. And when we see our value irrespective of our status as human capital, we start seeing the value in others for nothing more than their unique spirit.
I claim to be a rebel in this world, but if I keep ignoring my essential worth and value, I am nothing more than a prisoner to society’s conditioning. Let’s all hold each other to account. Instead of ignoring the deep yearnings of our bodies and spirit, let us rebel and answer them. We can follow the natural flow of our desires and inspirations and be perfectly productive, and in just the right time.
In one of my favorite tarot decks, there is a card called The Rebel. It says of The Rebel, “Every genius who has known something of the inner is bound to be an upsetting force. His way of being is rebellious - not because he is fighting against anybody or anything, but he has discovered his own true nature and is determined to live in accordance with it.”
So the next time you make room for self-care and feel that guilt creeping up, remember, you are actually undertaking the work of dismantling a soulless system. And there’s nothing lazy about that.