Beyond a Wholesome Discipline, Be Gentle with Yourself.

By: Jen Shoop

I received a message from a reader over the weekend asking for advice on “how to be your best self; how to be more relaxed, loving, and kind.” Gosh – isn’t this what we’re all after? The balance and poise that enable us to shine outward? The sensation of fullness that makes us feel as though we are singing “in the pocket”?

I wrote back that there is no one path, but a few things that help me re-center:

+Doing less. This is much easier said than done, but it is impossible to pour from an empty, or even half-full cup. When I am short-fused, I am almost invariably stretched too-thin. In these moments, Mr. Magpie urges me to “close the ports.” Postpone plans, say “no” to everything you can, order dinner/groceries in, even unsubscribe from emails that are cluttering your inbox and clamoring for your attention. These deferments are not permanent. You can always opt back in when you have more bandwidth. But the older I get, the more I realize that it is rare to find “extra mileage” by doing things more quickly or hackily. I’d much rather do fewer things well vs. more things half-way. So, we must really learn to trim the fat. For me recently, this has meant saying no to invitations more than I’d like, only doing very selective things at my children’s schools, and asking for more help than I’m truly comfortable asking from our nanny and my in-laws. I still feel guilt about all of these things, by the way. I want to be the mom at every class party and fundraiser! I’d rather be the one packing my children’s lunches! But I have pushed myself to be a bit more ruthless with my time. Net-net, I’d rather have the extra time to spend doing things with my husband, children, and close-in loved ones. I am still appalled by the fact that I have not returned the phone call of a dear friend who lives in California who rung me up recently. (I’m so sorry, W.!) The fact that I’ve not yet called her back is a constant “limbo bar” for me: if I can’t find the time to call her for a proper chat, I certainly cannot justify attending a parents’ event at my children’s school at this time in my life. The calculus may look different for you. Perhaps the school events are really important to you right now, and you can afford less time with further out friends. Or what have you. But the point stands: do less to honor yourself and the people you love.

+Getting outside. An instant mood elevator for me. Try listening to Jean-Yves Thibaudaut’s “Dawn” (a piano piece from “Pride and Prejudice”) while walking along a trail or around your neighborhood. I promise you will see the world differently. I’ve written a lot about Katherine May’s book “Enchantment,” but she has a lot to say about re-connecting with the physical world, and about the principles of biomimicry in general. It is about connection, alignment, wholeness.

+Leaning into “deep play.” What are the hobbies and activities you enjoy that boast no objective but self-fulfillment and pursuit of your own curiosity? Playfulness is a powerful antidote to the sensation of gridlock I occasionally witness in my daily life. Joy, play in the face of the stern and logistical. I also find “deep play” enables me to process the things in my life that are weighing me down in the background.

+Listening to my body. For the past six months or so, Mr. Magpie have been averaging 8 hours of sleep per night. For nearly six years, this was impossible owing to the young children in our home. It was a sacrifice I had to make — and for those of you with tiny ones, just know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will, one day, sleep again. We’ve finally hit that milestone in our home. Our children are much less likely to wake us up in the middle of the night, and suddenly, we are proactively putting ourselves to bed at 9:30 p.m. with the intention of getting around eight hours of solid sleep per night. I have never slept so well in my life. Never! Before children, I frequently had trouble sleeping. Then, my children removed all likelihood of uninterrupted sleep. Now, I clear my plate and I get into bed and I wake up deeply restored. I am, frankly, shocked at how much more balanced and happy I feel after a full night’s sleep. Such a boring, “no duh” insight, but it’s taken me decades to get here. There have been so many points in my life where sleep has been the lowest priority. If I needed extra hours to work, I’d cut into my own sleep time without a second thought. And now that I’m here, I think to myself: “There is no honor in less sleep. That’s like glorifying self-sabotage, or self-harm.” Perhaps that’s extreme, but seeing how much better and whole I feel with a full night’s rest has changed something in me. I have been trying to tap into this insight in other ways: drinking more water, resting when my body needs rest, and even following my own appetite more intuitively. After norovirus last month, I craved apples daily. The same thing happened after a kidney infection in college: I could not get enough apple juice, apples, and fruit in general. I think this is because apples are high in sugar and my body was weak / I had low blood sugar from so little food over the course of those infections. Anyhow, I have been trying to honor my own body by feeding it what it’s telling me it needs, giving it more rest, hydrating better. Though these feel obvious written out, these have been difficult imperatives for me to follow. Specifically: I am disciplined about exercise in general, but I have not worked out in over a month thanks to back-to-back norovirus and a sinus infection. It’s mildly torturous but I just know I’m not yet at operating capacity and need to let myself really recover fully.

+Finally, be gentle with yourself. I find that the way I care for myself impacts my ability to care for others. There is a great quote from Max Ehrmann’s 1927 poem “Desiderata” (well worth a read from top to bottom; my thoughts on it here) in which he reminds us: “beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.” In context:

“Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

This is to say: handle yourself with care.

Onward, friends!

What else would you add to this list?



+Another take: what to do when you’ve run aground.

+Footholds that help me through sticky times.

+Is pressure a choice?

Shopping Break.

+OBSESSED with this sweater jacket in the navy. YES. J. Crew has a few other fantastic arrivals also sitting in my cart: this gauze popover dress (YES, can’t decide in white or black) and this puff-sleeved blouse. I know a lot of you are “SO OVER” smocking/puffed sleeves, but this is the kind of top that would look beyond adorable beneath a pair of joveralls.

+Also, excuse me, these patch-pocket denim shorts from J. Crew are SO cute.

+This striped dress sparks serious joy. Also available in a cute maxi skirt format.

+This sandal is wildly elegant. A true woman’s sandal.

+How do we think my three sisters would respond to me wearing this sweatshirt? “Where’d you get the sweatshirt?” “Mom!” Hehe.

+WOW, Zara. This is such a great under-$100 steal.

+This oversized ginger jar bowl is so fabulous. Imagine filled with citrus, or styled on a coffee table.

+My studio enjoyed a minor face lift thanks to the hanging of some art and addition of new throw pillows and a hanging rack, but we’re still a far cry from finished. I would love to wallpaper the walls (have long been in love with this wall covering from Nina Campbell) and add more storage. This would be perfect for stowing books/decor on top and unsightly things like technology cords and files on the bottom.

+Several of you chimed in to rave about Sisley after I mentioned I’d been hearing a lot about it recently. Apparently the black rose mask is fantastic for brightening and the velvet one is a dream for hydration. I have been enduring the strangest dry patches on my face this season — first, it was the area around my mouth, and now my eyelids have been strangely dry? Literally never had this happen before. I’ve had good luck with Avene’s Cicalfate for a spot treatment but am thinking I might need a heavier duty moisturizer to begin with. I’m tempted to try the velvet one nightly, as an intensive overnight treatment, until I get things back under control.

+These woven earrings (under $50) will go with everything in your spring wardrobe.

+Inexpensive, CHIC taupe-trimmed dinner napkins.

+Obsessed with this striped top from Banana.

+This eyelet mini looks like it should cost hundreds of dollars. It’s under $90. Run – already sold out in black.

+I’m always restocking my activity closet for things I can take with us to Church/on adventures/out to eat, and I have been trying at Church to find activities that are Bible oriented. Just found this one. Shared a bunch of other Church favorites here. These aren’t religious, but I have to again share these adorable State Bags artfolios (currently on clearance sale) I bring with us everywhere. My children love have a designated “work space” on the go, and it keeps crayons/paper organized.

+Long-sleeved white tees like these, with a slightly cropped silhouette, are great for tucking into high-waist denim.

+Cheerful CeliaB! I have a dress of theirs from last summer that I literally cannot wear without being stopped and asked about it. Happiest dresses.

+Dreaming of a backyard party with these strung up between trees.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

6 thoughts on “Beyond a Wholesome Discipline, Be Gentle with Yourself.

  1. So much to think about here, but really quickly — I have had recurring eczema flare-ups on my eyelids and under my eyelids this past winter. Once it was quite severe that my eyelids swelled up and I felt like I was walking around with my eyes only half-open! What worked best for me is Skinfix Eczema+ Dermatitis Face Balm. Yes it’s pricey for such a tiny tube, but since it’s like an Aquaphor consistency, a little bit goes a long way. This cleared it up for me in 2 or 3 days.

    1. Thank you SO much! Added to cart! I appreciate that it’s “opthalmologist tested,” as I’m always nervous putting product near/in my eye!


  2. Timely post for me- I’ve been having a lot of these same thoughts recently as I find myself amid my sixth (!) discrete health ailment in four months now. The hits just keep on coming, and taking care of myself has become paramount. Maximizing sleep, definitely, but also just opting to do less at time when I COULD try to do more. “Rest instead of test,” as the saying goes. Seems simple, but it really runs so counter to society’s ethos of harder, faster, “if you can, then you must.”

    1. Yes – absolutely! It requires tremendous force of will / I have to keep my roving guilt in check whenever I put my own physical needs first.


Previous Article

Next Article