A few months ago, I wrote about how the pandemic seemed to have had a positive impact on my chronic problems with anxiety. At the time, I recognised that such a seemingly global incident appeared to have created a hard reboot on the way I reacted to troubling world events. Well, we’re a few months down the road now, and the world has been… busy.
In the time since I wrote those words, we’ve seen an onslaught of worrying movements; from record-breaking heatwaves in the UK, the result of climate inaction, to the scaling back of reproductive rights in the US, our sense of security is continually under assault. We can barely catch a breath before fresh news of terrifying consequence breaks.
In moments like this, it can feel indulgent, perhaps even negligent, to think about the self – to sit and meditate or spend an evening unplugged from the nightmare feed can feel truly sinful. But I think perhaps this is because we’ve lost track of what self-care really is, what it signifies and what the goal is when we take moments out.
Part of this is, of course, the commercialisation of the self-care concept. We have a multitude of meditation apps available, whole dialects of jargon about actualisation, positive energy and “centring”. Perhaps this is what makes the idea of self-care feel a little flimsy at times, and outright bourgeois at others. Added onto this, the transformation of self-care into a profitable, monetised prospect feels… cynical. I have sometimes felt the pinch of looking at all my self-care products and realising that all they’re doing is teaching me how to handle more nightmares, rather than helping to stop them, and charging me for it. People are unique and require different tools to reach their aims; what works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone. What’s missing, though, is the context of why we do this, what we’re “self-caring” in aid of. What’s the goal of all this meditation?
The blunt truth of it is that meditation can’t get a person out of a difficult situation in any direct sense. Self-care will not get someone higher wages, will not emancipate them from oppression. And when these are the problems, the very real problems people are facing, it can be highly insensitive to think that self-care has any role in that situation. Meditation doesn’t stop racism or transphobia. When people have to choose between food and rent, yoga isn’t going to do a great deal to help.
And so here is the crux of the issue. In this worldwide marketplace, self-care has been misappropriated as a goal in itself. The lines between taking care of ourselves and blind indulgence have been blurred, leading to a de-contextualisation of why we do these things.