One day this week, as part of my daily activity regime, I wandered down to the local shopping centre to pick up a few requirements for dinner. In an unexpected moment of weakness I also bought a chocolate-covered, nut-encrusted ice-cream-on-a-stick. Feeing slightly guilty, I loaded all the purchases into my little backpack and started the uphill trudge back home in the late afternoon sun. By the time I was most of the way there I was tired… and that ice cream seemed to be crying out for attention… So I found a shady spot, plonked myself down… and ate every last super tasty morsel of it!
Watching the traffic and listening to the wind in the gum trees while I nibbled the chocolate coating away and then got stuck into the ice cream was remarkably restful. For a while I was just in the moment, completely absorbed in the taste and texture, the delicious richness of the slowly melting treat. Before long, however, I found myself starting to think about how self-indulgent I was being. I hadn’t bought ice creams to share with the rest of the family – I had just bought one. For me. To compound this indulgence, I was sitting there having a rest, not thinking about work, dogs, cats, children or dinner – I was just watching the world go by and slowly consuming my treat. Definitely self-indulgent, right?
This train of thought made me start to consider the difference between self-indulgence and self-nurturing. Like many women of my generation, I come from a background where ‘self-indulgence’, i.e. greedy or selfish behaviour, was discouraged – both by example and more actively. I assume that the objective was to instil some notion of self-discipline and restraint in us as children and to make us more inclined to think of others. If so, then this was probably not a bad thing to aim for. Whether it was successful, however, is debatable.
Talking to my female contemporaries, it seems that many of us have ended up with an inculcated notion of guilt. We feel guilty when doing things for ourselves, things that don’t directly or clearly benefit others in some way. Social conditioning as to the role of females in our society – or at least the one in which I grew up – reinforces that outlook, encouraging women to put the needs of others first. It’s taken many years of introspection and self-analysis for me to get to a point where I know myself well enough to be able to figure out what my needs are – and to use this to examine and temper those notions of externally imposed guilt.
As an adult I can see the many ways in which my mother denied herself simple pleasures so that we, as a family, would benefit. She did so willingly and as a matter of course, having lived through the post-war depression years of food and employment scarcity and thus having a very clear understanding of sacrifice for the greater good. As a nurse, the greater good was the well-being of her patients. As a mother, it was that of our family.
This outlook certainly benefited both my siblings and me in diverse ways, enabling us all to got through school and into adult life largely oblivious of the sacrifices made for us. We didn’t stop to consider the impact on Mum, both mentally and physically, or to wonder who looked after her while she was looking after us. If I could reach back into that distant past I would like to tell her to be a little kinder to herself. I would like to suggest that she stopped – just sometimes – and enjoyed an ice cream in the sunshine, putting everything else aside for those few minutes. It’s not an indulgence, I would to tell her, you’d just be taking a breath and enjoying the moment for a change. Self-nurturing is simply looking after yourself, being mindful of your state of mind, your body and the world around you – and responding appropriately to ensure your continued good health.
Despite knowing this, and despite giving advice to others to take a moment, I still sometimes get glimmers of those deep-rooted twinges of guilt when I do so myself. Then I give myself a little mental shake and remind myself of the real necessity in everyday life for self-nurturing in all of us. Particularly at busy or stressful times, such as when the year is thundering to a close… and that ice cream was delicious 🙂