Helping Hands

“As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others”.

This quotation, attributed to Maya Angelou, is the foundation on which this blog post grew.  I came across it earlier this week and I’ve thought a lot since, about what it means. So much so that I’m writing about it now.

Do you ever read something and wonder what the inspiration was behind somebody’s words? Quotations sometimes feel like they’re talking to me and were written for me (of course they weren’t but when words really resonate, it can feel like that. Or at least that’s how I see it).

It’s the intentional nuance implied, by saying ‘one for helping yourself’, followed by, ‘the other for helping others’. Why wasn’t it said the other way round, ‘one for helping others’ and ‘the other for helping yourself’? And therein lies the hidden message within that clever little package of words. This quote is years old but when it was said doesn’t matter.  What matters is its relevance when we read it today. Its message to me is subtle yet very clear; it’s talking to me about self-care, albeit it was said a long time before self-care was A Thing that people talked about.

If you were to score your self-care from 1-10, where would you be, 1 being poor and 10 being excellent? And remember, the concept of self-care isn’t just about how you physically take care of yourself; it’s got as much to do with the emotional aspect of how you care for yourself. Considering this might alter your score because many of us are quite good at incorporating physical exercise into our lives but what about our emotional needs? How are they cared for? What does our internal landscape look like? Is it calm and settled or does it have an element of negativity to it, that makes it look a little rough and choppy? Most of us will have an internal terrain that has both elements to it because we’re human, and part of being human is the tendency that our internal wiring has to veer towards the negative bias; that inbuilt mechanism that evolved during a time when we wore next to nothing and were being hunted by scary, sharp-toothed animals.

Our brains have developed over thousands of years to the point where our intellect and knowledge allow us to send people to the moon but that ability to seek out the negative around us and look for things that might eat us still remains as it was back then.

The general message that neuroscientists are now able to tell us about this concept is that being human means we have to actively work on steering our natural negative bias in the opposite direction. Last time I looked at a cat, it possessed that air of “I don’t care what you think of me.  I’m going to lick myself clean whether you’re looking or not”. See the difference? The animal brain equals, “couldn’t give a monkey what you think”, versus the human brain that cares a lot about what others think of us, wondering and twisting those thoughts to a negative spin, very easily.

And back we come (in a fashion) to the order of our helping hands. Putting one out to help ourselves first has a bit of an uncomfortable feel to it because doesn’t that mean we’re being selfish (note the negative slant creeping in)?  Look at your own hands now. Which one do you comfortably put forward first without feeling guilty?

Harmony in our lives is very much linked to balance and when I read those words this week, I was reminded about life balance and the ever so important aspect of self-care. It struck me that it took a set of hands to remind me of this.

Looking after ourselves emotionally and physically isn’t selfish, it’s crucial to be able to effectively look after others. Giving out all of the time, without checking in on ourselves first to see if we’ve got something to give is self-care. Tending to our inner landscape is part of that. We are worthy of self-care and the point where we forget that is when we need it most.

In the next week, I’m going to practice looking at my hands. I invite you to join me. I’m left-handed but you might be right. It’s our external physical differences that make us who we are. Internally, we’re all pretty much the same. Being human took care of that. Our shared negative bias often makes us forget to take a step back to look at our hands and realign their balance.

It’s a fact of life that as we grow older our hands’ age. This is something beyond our control. What we can control, is ensuring they age at the same time.

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