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  • Jan Flynn

Jan Flynn’s Blog: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

I’m camped out at Gate C3 at Sea Tac airport, staring out at a dreary, rain-spattered tarmac. And I feel just great. I’m on my way home from a three-day New Year’s yoga retreat taught by my friend and inspired yoga therapist Renee Klein of Satya Yoga Therapy. For the past five years, Renee has conducted these retreats at Madrona MindBody Institute on the grounds of historic Fort Worden near her home in Port Townsend, Washington. This is the second year I’ve attended. And, baby, my chakras are aligned and glowing. My body, mind, and spirit are all playing on the same team. Bring on 2017; I’m ready. This brings me to the topic of high-value self care (check out the handy article on

(The divine Ms. Klein, in perfect balance)

Maybe you’re more evolved than I am when it comes to self-care. Maybe you are wise enough to invest in retreats and seminars and whatever other nourishment and makes your — I am entirely sincere here — precious self thrive. For me, doing stuff like this  pushes my comfort zone. I know, ironic. But I have to engage in some serious self-talk ahead of time to silence one of my more persistent and unpleasant inner voices, the one that tells me I’m being self-indulgent. If you have a similar pointy-headed little demon within, you know the drill.  It begins with the subtle: Oh, I don’t know if I’ll go . . . I mean, sure, last year it was an absolutely transformative experience, the benefits of which stayed with me and yielded inner and outer rewards all year long, but . . . I dunno. Should I spend the time/money/effort/attention this year? I mean, I don’t NEED to, really. I can get along without it. When that doesn’t work, the voice becomes more insistent: Seriously, Jan? After all the Christmas bills and travel, you’re going to treat yourself to a touchy-feely yoga retreat?? You don’t even go to yoga class regularly! Your poor husband will have to stay home alone with your poor dog, after they get up horribly early in the morning to get you to the airport so YOU can do what makes YOU feel good. Tsk. When that fails, Demon Voice resorts to shrill screaming: YOU DON’T DESERVE IT!

Ah, but this ain’t my first rodeo, pointy-headed demon. I know you all too well. I can’t count the things you have prevented me from doing, things my heart yearned toward. Things that could have enriched and enlarged my life, but that I didn’t do because I made the mistake of listening to you. I used to believe you when you told me I should spend that time/money/attention helping others rather than on my selfish little self. Guess how many people benefited thereby? Yep. Not a lot.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve accumulated a fair number of years and a dose of wisdom, and what I’ve been reminded of this weekend: you can’t fill a well by squeezing a dry sponge into it. To torture the metaphor further, if your sponge is full of rancid dishwater and whatever crud you’ve wiped off the countertops, you may wring something into the well but, despite your best intentions ,you’ll only succeed in poisoning it.

As human-type beings, we’re very spongy. Capable of soaking up so much, both bad and good, and equally capable of being utterly wrung out by the demands of living in this wonky world. Especially after the national garbage disposal eruption that was the last two months of 2016, most of us —  on whatever side of the national divide we may be — are carrying around some sour juice. Either that or we’re feeling shriveled and dried up. Neither condition is going to contribute to us contributing to anybody else: not our families, not our communities, not our nation, not our planet.

Hold on for a moment while I climb up on my high horse.

It’s a nice horsey, trust me. You know how Oprah has that “What I Know For Sure” essay at the end of every issue of her magazine? Well, here’s what I know for surety-sure-sure. We are entering a time when it’s more important than ever that we all bring our best to the table, or the game, or whatever analogy you favor. Like I said previously — see My Six New Year Wishes For You  if you’re into fact-checking — 2017 is guaran-damn-teed to deliver some sucker punches, ones that will affect all of us. We need each other, and we need each other to be operating at max capacity, and ain’t none of us can do that unless we are well-tended. What you do and the choices you make in response to whatever the near future throws at us are critically important.

That’s the upside to uncertain times — you may feel like a lost little fish in an enormous, turbulent pond (what is it with me and the belabored similes today?), but the very newness of the territory we’re all entering has the curious potential to be a great leveler. Whatever your station in life, you are now kind of a big deal. You could change lives. You might change mine. Speaking purely from self-interest, I need you to be at your best.

Hence the oxygen mask analogy, which I’m sure you’ve heard before, but it bears repeating. Especially now. Just like the attendant always says while the plane you’re on finally pushes away from the gate and you’re trying to settle into a seat with four inches of leg room, put your own oxygen mask on before you attempt to help others. Even your own kids.

If you can’t breathe, you’re not a lot of use to anybody.

Good self-care, and here I’m not talking about vodka and pedicures, although I’m certainly not opposed to either, is your oxygen mask for the turbulence ahead. It’s not an indulgence; its a necessity. Please, please take care of yourself: make sure you do the things that give you strength and joy and courage, the things that make you hopeful and resilient. Take the class, find the time to meditate or pray or stretch or pet your cat or whatever it is that brings you into harmony with yourself, that connects to your center. Go to the seminar, the retreat, the workshop.  Invest in your well-being. Because if you don’t, you’re much less likely to have the resources I’m counting on you to have when things get weird.

Okay, I’m climbing back down from the saddle now. Oh, and that little pointy-headed demon voice? I promise you, after a while it subsides into background noise. Eventually, one way or another, it will go away entirely. My goal is for that to happen while you and I are still kicking.

What brings you closer to your center? What soaks your sponge with good stuff? Please share: we all need each other, and we all need tips on keeping ourselves joyful and strong. I love your comments!

Namaste, partner. And be careful what you soak up.

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