What is self-care?

Mar 10, 2022


We talk a lot about self-care, especially if we’re in the helping industries. Someone told me that they recently got an email from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office focused on self-care, addressed obviously to people who are political activists –they’re people who are helping others, right? That’s the motivation.


Basically the email said that you have to make sure you take some time out, to take care of yourself so that you’ll be able to continue the struggle, to put one foot in front of the other, and not just get completely burned out. My friend said that of course, it didn’t highlight the spiritual aspect; mostly it was like go to a spa, things like that.


Well, nothing wrong with taking a break, relaxing, is there? We all need that.


But what’s real “self-care”? What would really make the difference? What would really help us move forward on our path of helping others – whether you call it spiritual or not, that’s the path we’re on if we’re trying the make the world a better place.


Well, let’s put it this way: what’s the difference between a bodhisattva and an ordinary person, like most of us. This will show the actual point from the Buddhist perspective.


The difference is that most of us would have plenty of attachment and anxiety and anger and those other human problems. The bodhisattva, depending on their level of course, would be way beyond the influence of those states of mind. 


Of course, from the world’s point of view, this seems impossible; there’s no view like that. In other words, it’s not our compassion that causes us to burn out; not possible. It’s our neurotic states of mind.


We’ve got compassion, too – that’s why we help others. We really want that! We really want the world to be a better place! But the degree to which we still have attachment and anger and anxiety and the rest is the extent to which our compassion is dragged down, limited. And why we give up, run away.


Of course, this is clearly not the world’s point of view. We assume it’s natural to be angry and anxious when bad things happen. But the Buddhist analysis is more subtle, more precise. As we know, the Buddha has methods to get rid of attachment and anger and the rest: that’s the entire point! They are why we suffer!


This of course would not satisfy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office because it sounds cruel and mean, like we’re blaming ourselves. If we can hear the Buddha’s advice, he’s actually being kind to us by telling us, “Honey child, it’s amazing you get out there and help the world, but what drags you down, what makes you exhausted is the fact that you’ve got attachment, this bottomless pit of neediness for everything to be the way you want them. This is what pollutes your compassion, drags it down. And then when things don’t turn out the way your attachment wants, you get angry, anxious, depressed, exhausted.”


This is not our analysis!


Sure, we need sleep and rest, no question, but as long as the anxiety and anger are there, you’ll still be miserable. These are why we give up: our anxiety and fears override our compassion. This is the real self-care!


We need to learn to develop the compassion of the bodhisattvas: they never give up! And this enthusiasm sustains them.


I remember Martin Luther King. He was amazing: clearly he was a patient man, he didn’t just rant and rave and get angry. And he never stopped trying! And he’d say, “It is good to find fault, to criticize; to see the racism, the poverty, etc. But then you say, ‘What can I do to help?’” 


As we progress in our own spiritual work of lessening attachment and anger and the rest and growing our compassion and love and wish to help, we’ll keep going, we’ll be enthusiastic. And it’ll satisfy us, and give us courage.

More blog posts

The buddhas and bodhisattvas come where they’re needed

A question came up recently: Since Lama Zopa passed away and there have been prayers for his swift return, is that to be taken in a literal sense? Will he only reincarnate if there's prayer? It’s a really good question, and the answer is completely logical and simple...

Big surprise! Attachment is the main source of our problems

As far as the four noble truths are concerned, the main source of our suffering is attachment: this is what we have to understand. This is surprising: we don’t think like this. This is not Jung's model of the mind, or Freud's. And you don't get attachment from your...

Neuroses are not at the core of our being and therefore can be removed

Let’s talk about the fundamental point that underpins all of Buddha’s teachings from A to Z – all of Buddha's teachings from A to zed, as we say in England and Australia. According to the Buddhist analysis, the neurotic states of mind, the unhappy states of mind, the...

Share this article