For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. The life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. ~Alfred D. Souza
Being in the sandwich generation isn’t easy — especially when you’ve got TWO layers of ‘bread’ on one side or the other. This week, while trying to decipher a cryptic social media post by my mother regarding the health of one of my parents (one of my daughters alerted me to it, saying, “Do you think Granddad has had another stroke?”) in the midst of getting ready to head out the door to teach a yoga class, my other daughter (a single mother currently living with me) calls me on her way home, the sound of unbridled wailing in the background, and asks if I can put her 4 year old down for a nap when they arrive, as she’s exhausted all reserves of patience trying to keep him quiet during one of her college lectures that morning . . .
I feel it, Mr. Souza. I used to tackle life as if it was a series of obstacles I needed to navigate before finally having the opportunity to live my own life. Most of my responsibilities and interactions with others became nothing more than bullet points on a checklist with the promise of taking care of myself once everything else was completed. The list was ever-growing, and I only veered from it in the event of illness.
The thing is, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Obstacles don’t have to consume me. They are here and I constantly fine-tune the delicate dance of being an engaged wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, and friend while remembering to care for myself in the process. Otherwise, how does one ever have opportunity to savor life? Sometimes, particular areas get a bigger piece of me than others, but the one I absolutely cannot shirk on is how I care for me.
When I attended nutrition school, one of the lecturers gave a list of what he termed DMRs — Daily Minimum Requirements — as a means of checking in with ourselves to see how we are doing with balancing the obstacles and our own self-care:
Without ________, I lose myself (quiet time, gardening, yoga practice, etc.) .
When I feel most connected to my center, I am (doing/experiencing) __________ (meditating, walking in the woods, journaling, etc.).
When I feel most connected to something larger than myself, I am (doing/experiencing) __________ (spiritual service, prayer, service project, etc.).
I could live without _________, but not for long (time on my yoga mat, time with my grandkids, exploring nature, travel, massage).*
These are not meant to be part of another “to-do” list. Rather, when I start to feel frazzled, it’s a great place to check in and see what I might be lacking; where I might have a deficiency. And just like taking vitamins can become habit, fortifying myself in these ways becomes more and more automatic, lessening the chance that I’ll burn out. These DMRs are my lifeline, sometimes lifting me over or pulling me through obstacles I never imagined I could traverse.
*From lecture by Joshua Rosenthal at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, NY, NY 2009