Since the beginning of September, I have had the opportunity to speak about Putting the Oxygen Mask on yourself first for quite a number of audiences. These varied from parents groups to small business owners and most recently to a group of single parents (mostly moms, and 1 dad!) who are trying to elevate themselves and their families out of poverty through education.
This is something that is so dear to my heart on so many levels. As someone who was born and bred in India till age 21, I recognize first hand the impact of education on someone’s life. My earliest exposure to the power of education was at 12 when for community service, I worked with a nonprofit that provided education to slum children. We would go into the slums to extricate the kids, some as young as 5 – whose parents would rather have them working/washing dishes/cleaning than send them to school for a few hours. My favorite memory of that time is this young girl who curled up in my lap to study. She wouldn’t sit in a chair. She had to sit in my lap. But when the words made sense and she could read a sentence; the joy in her eyes and her face brought tears to my own.
Education is a powerful tool. It is THE ONLY tool to fight prejudice, disease or ignorance.
But I digress…so – a couple weeks ago, I spoke to this group of single parents. The thing that struck me as a shortcoming in my presentation as I reflected later was that of the 2 hours that I had with them, I spent more than 1/2 that time setting the stage about the things we DO to ourselves right now; how we only take the dregs of the day, how we put the needs of everyone in our lives before our own and this includes community and volunteer service too, how we don’t think of our own needs to rest, restore, repair, but would never dream of running our kids ragged the way we run ourselves ragged. I spent so much time articulating the things that we do that we must strive to change, that I feel like I shortchanged them on the tools to actually implement that change amidst a hectic schedule like theirs – kids, work, full load of college classes.
As always, I stuck around after the class to see if anyone wanted to share, ask suggestions for implementing mindful moments or anything else we had covered during the class. Two women came up to me, one at a time. One, from Mississippi said that she was on her own journey of change and could totally relate to everything I had said. She was hesitant to ask, but then took a deep breath and asked if she could reach out to me afterward to share more with me. I couldn’t whip out a pen fast enough for her. I have had so many people give me that time in my own life, lend me an ear, a shoulder, a kind word, that it is my honor and privilege to pay that forward when I have the opportunity. We ended in a hug that was so meaningful to both of us; we stood in the embrace a lot longer than the average 2 seconds and what was powerful was that, while I am sure it was good for her – it was incredible for me. My body settled, I could feel the blood coursing through me and it’s a little hard to describe – but I just felt like I was floating.
The second lady came up to me a few minutes later. She shared that she had not planned to attend class today because she was so tired all the time. But, something made her come and that she is glad she did. She wouldn’t share what, but the emotions in her voice told me that it really resonated with her. She just kept saying that everything I said resonated, she just felt her shoulders fall away from her ears when I put them through the 3-minute box breathing and meditation. And then I was again struck by the urge to hug her. So I did. Now here’s what’s interesting – she tried to ‘complete the hug’ on a couple of occasions – that is, move away after the cursory 2 seconds, she even was patting my back the way you would pat a child’s back, and she kept ‘fidgeting.’ I found myself just standing there in an embrace with her that would not quit. I found myself really grounded, at such peace. And then the dam burst. And everything that she had been holding in released and she sobbed, and THEN she finally settled down and allowed her body to be still.
Truly and completely still.
That’s when we knew it was time to break the embrace.
It was probably cathartic for her, but oh so powerful for me. It appeared that my body and mind were acting in tandem, but without me. I wasn’t driving this. I didn’t make an active decision to hug either of the two women. I feel like my soul responded to their souls because somehow the combination of words that flowed through me that morning resonated with them deeper than they expected.
On a whim, I just looked up the word Resonance. I am not sure why I chose this to be the title of this blog post. But – apparently it is perfect for what I want to share.
res·o·nance: PHYSICS the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.
I realized in that moment that I had shared exactly the way this group needed to hear. That in order to implement any of the tools, they had to understand that I understood them, that I may not be a single parent, but I too have worked myself to the bone.
I too have worked so much and so hard that when I could finally take a small breather, I fell sick. And that this happened over and over again for years.
I too have put the needs of everyone around me first, because that is what I was programmed to do.
I too have felt the guilt of taking time for myself.
I too have worked harder than needed, just because I thought I had to prove myself, but then never just worked hard. Continued to give 200% even when there was nothing left in me and I was making myself sick. There is something to be said about doing an excellent job, but doing it in balance.
I realized that in just sharing my story, my story of how I got here in the first place; being an immigrant myself, knowing no one, not ever having lived alone, working 3 jobs, studying by night (albeit, no kids at the time)…all this was necessary to give me the credibility, that I had walked in their shoes, that I knew what it felt like to be bone tired and still have to keep going, that I knew what it felt like to work through illness not because I wanted to, but because if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t get paid. That I knew what it felt like to feel like I had my back up against a wall with no way out.
I had been there.
And now I am here.
I work hard, but I don’t kill myself.
I take time to care for myself.
If my body needs rest.
I am more present, more joyful, more grounded as a result, and this makes me a better woman, wife, mom, professional and community leader. I work smarter and produce better results.
I am never busy, but always productive (this is just a choice of language…and this choice DOES actually make it so that I have stopped feeling like I am on a hamster wheel accomplishing nothing, but being busy all the time!) I did a short video years ago to share what I mean.
I feel so grateful to be able to share on a topic that I love and have come to deeply appreciate as a result of my own journey with self-care and self-awareness.
It is always interesting then, when the Universe gives you an opportunity to practice what you preach. More on this later.
If you have a story about how you started to embrace putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, I would love to hear about it. Please comment below or send me a private message.
Remember to be kind to yourself.