I have a friend who has reminded me consistently over the years to take care of myself. By that, he means not to get entangled with crazy people and their drama. He has succumbed to craziness himself, mainly because he has a good heart even if not the best judgment. And, as we all know, it is easier to diagnose other people’s problems than our own, even when they are the same problems.
There exists a physical aspect of self care that can lead to two extremes. In the first, many people become fitness fanatics, working out several times a week if not every day and following strict eating regimens, which include anything from vegetarian to paleo diets. I see a lot of this on social media where a fitness-health-beauty cult has emerged. Like other cults, this one has its own jargon, worldview, and expert caste. Unlike other cults, it is a multibillion-dollar industry, which ain’t chicken feed, even if some of the stuff being peddled tastes like it. Then there is a very practical consideration that baffles me. How do people have all that time in the day and week to devote to lifting weights? And, if you’re not a professional bodybuilder, toward what end?
The other extreme consists of people who couldn’t care less about fitness, health, or beauty and live their lives in defiance of the potentially dangerous consequences. These are not necessarily people in lower, socio-economic classes or with less education, although the CrossFit crowd would have you think so. After all, the French eat foie gras, Christopher Hitchens told Charlie Rose that he couldn’t live without a “second drink” (and didn’t), and the popular, Brazilian philosopher, Olavo de Carvalho, can’t get through a five-minute YouTube video without lighting up a few cigarettes. He’s got a snazzy, silver lighter.
Like any self-respecting neo-Aristotelian, when it comes to self care, I am in the middle. Or, you could put it in Shakespearean terms and say that neither a borrower nor lender am I. I like to walk, stretch, and eat bananas, which makes me more of a monkey, but I also like to smoke Turkish cigarettes with a martini. So, when another friend suggested that we have a Vietnamese dinner in San Jose, hit the steam room, and then get a massage, I knew it was just the thing I needed for self care.
When the masseuse asked me if I wanted a “medium” massage or a “deep one,” I went with the deep one. To me, it was like asking if I wanted a hundred dollars or ten. As it turns out, deep tissue massage is what you get when you cross a chiropractor with a ninja lumberjack. It’s all thumbs, palms, elbows, and knees digging into layers of muscle and bone that, in my case at least, have been left untouched for decades. I didn’t know my neck could snap, crackle, and pop like a breakfast cereal. I wouldn’t say the experience was relaxing as much as it was abusive, which was just what I needed. It included the masseuse, who was short on English, not getting my response to her reference to tissue.
“Tissue?” I repeated. “I hardly know you.” Aside: I have grown used to playing to an audience of one, but in a massage parlor?
Here’s the fundamental point about self care: it’s not about the self. If it hadn’t been for my friend and his suggestion that we spend Friday night at a spa, I wouldn’t have experienced the physical abuse that woke me up. I would not have taken the time to care for myself physically. It’s possible that I am alone in this regard, but I don’t think so. I believe there are a lot of people who know what they should do to take care of themselves but don’t do it for a number of reasons. Some of those may be legitimate, others, no doubt, are excuses. Still, what’s needed in both cases is someone who can force you to stop, desist, and do unto yourself what you would do for others. Self care, like so many other things in life, can’t be done alone.
Of course, true to my Aristotelian nature, when the session was over and we left the spa, I had to have a martini and cigarette.
Self care comes in many forms.