Filling the cup

Photo by Dennis Skley, via Flickr’s Creative Commons License

This past weekend I’d planned to start a “40 Days of Giving” adventure leading up to my 40th birthday on March 15th. Then I realized that even though I loved the idea of it, adding it to my daily life at this point felt terrible. I let it go, with only a twinge of disappointment. At one point I was planning to organize an Empty Bowls event here in Ventura as a way of celebrating my birthday. Again, I loved the idea of it – building community, raising money and awareness about food insecurity, having the opportunity to plan a fun, meaningful event. But when I listened deeply to my body, the thought of it made me physically exhausted. I filed it away for another day and decided to go low-key for my birthday. After all, if I wasn’t going to make some grand gesture of giving, I probably shouldn’t do much at all. I invited three couples that I adore to a small dinner party, which sounded lovely and made me incredibly sad.

I want a party. I want to celebrate. Not only is it my word for the year but I’m excited to be turning 40 and I want to begin this decade in the style I hope will carry me through. Celebration. Abundance. Play. Community. I want a new dress to show off the body that is 60 pounds lighter and feels great. I want to be surrounded by people I love to spend time with, talking and laughing and watching the sun set over the ocean. I want to feel full and happy and like my cup is overflowing.

Right there is the key.

I’d heard the expression Serve from the overflow and could pay it lip service, but I didn’t fully get it. One day when I was pregnant with Ben, during those miraculous two months when I wasn’t bleeding and thought I’d make it through the pregnancy in one piece, I listened to an interview with Lisa Nichols. I could sense her energy vibrating over the phone line and I finally understood, on a visceral level, what was meant. Taking it from a mental concept to something I could feel in my body was a radical move. Then Ben died, life upended and I was adrift. Somehow in my grief process, I allowed myself to fill my cup more than I ever had as an adult, learning slowly and painfully, that to take care of myself was also taking care of others, particularly my family.

Despite my new-found skills, something hasn’t felt quite right recently and I’ve been struggling to figure it out. The other day, in a flash of insight, I understood. I saw an image of a cup and saucer, white with simple curved lines, the liquid inside beginning to drip and splash over the edges. As I looked more closely, I saw that it was splashing unevenly and when I glanced in, there was a yawning white space at the back. My liquid was lopsided.

“But…but…” I sputtered to myself, “I meditate every day and I do yoga and I hike and have wonderful friends and I sit by the ocean when I need to and I’m trying to get to bed earlier…”

“Yes, this is true,” I heard my wise, intuitive voice answer, “but you’ve been wanting to paint, and you haven’t. You’ve been needing a massage and you haven’t scheduled one. Your self-care is out of balance and you still don’t feel totally worthy of receiving what you deserve.”

Worthy of receiving. I wonder how many of us struggle with that?

I made a list of all the ways I can take care of myself, no matter how impractical or expensive or small. It’s long –  more than three pages in my journal. A lot of it I incorporate into my life already but there are a few key areas where I see, very clearly, that I am not honoring my needs. Those areas are the hole in my cup. They are also the places where I still feel shame, where I continue to play small. My friend Christa wrote a beautiful post the other day about the shift in her life and her creativity, about not giving up, about creating space for ourselves. It is then, when we’ve breathed life into our dreams, when we’ve said I am important enough to…, that our cups really fill. It seems to me that it’s when we are able to give ourselves what we need to feel alive, to feel good more often than we are in pain, that we begin to recognize our inherent worthiness.

Every now and then when I’m feeling sad, Ada will do a little song and dance in an attempt to cheer me up. While she never fails to make me smile, I always let her know that it is not her job to take care of me. It’s not her daddy’s job to take care of me. It’s my job and mine alone. My hope is that it won’t take her half a lifetime to learn that lesson. I want to model self-care in such a way that it becomes as natural to her as breathing. I don’t do it perfectly, I don’t always do it gracefully, but I am learning to be the caretaker of my own soul.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a birthday party to plan.

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7 Responses to Filling the cup

  1. Lindsey says:

    Oh, this last paragraph makes me gasp. I see Grace doing this, trying to make me laugh and smile, and I feel a slicing physical pain, because I spent my childhood trying to make my often-gloomy father happy. I tell her the same thing you tell Ada, and, like you, hope it doesn’t take her as long as it did me to figure it out. I can’t wait to hear about your birthday party. xox

  2. Roos says:

    Your post made me think… because “worth of receiving” sounds sooo familiar here. This morning I sat down for a coffee with a new friend and I remember literally saying “what did I do to deserve this?” (meaning the kindness of strangers, not how life tumbled all over me the past year).

    Your three page long list made me think too. And the first thing that came into mind was a question: do you need all those things to make you cup full? I’m very much for honoring your needs – yet at the same time also for honoring the life you have right in front of you. Please don’t get me wrong here, but I won’t want you to enter the big four-oh feeling like something is missing in your life and struggling to make it complete. I believe you are a master in taking care of yourself!

  3. amanda says:

    What a great post! It really hit home for me, and you’re so right – by taking care of ourselves, we are giving a great example for those around us – and no one else can do it for us. I need to live by this idea more. I hope you have an absolutely wonderful party!!

  4. Louise Gray says:

    Alana – thank you so much for your insights. ‘Worthy of receiving’ – such a critical aspect of an abundant life, yet so hard to achieve. Your story of listening to YOU is very powerful. I am very glad you have chosen to share it.

  5. Pamela says:

    Wow. I am still not great at taking care of myself and your post made me see why. What a luxury to take care of others from my overflow and not my essentials. Definitely a paradigm shift for me. Have a wonderful birthday!!

  6. Christa says:

    Oh, this makes me so very happy!

    Beautifully said, as always, and inspiring to us all. From ten years down the road (or maybe closer to eleven, hmmm), you won’t ever regret choosing this direction.

    Love to you, and thanks.

  7. jojo says:

    a party is perfect. and i love the phrase ‘caretaker of our (own) soul!’ it embodies it all so perfectly. thank you for your wise words!

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