Change and the path to mental & physical wellbeing always starts with oneself. We hold the autonomy to shape and gain ownership over ourselves (safe conditions provided). It requires self-awareness, self-cultivation and finally self-mastery to establish new thoughts, actions, behaviours. Therefore, self-interrogation, self-knowledge and intuition are at the core of a deeper and potentially transformative practice.
Taking care of oneself is a complex and personal process that needs to be upheld. It is built on rigorous repetition, reflection, continuation. An invested self-care is not about optimising and accomplishing a more productive and successful version of oneself, but a pursuit of establishing (inner) connection and being well for the sake of being okay in life, perhaps working through trauma on the way to recovery. It is about survival, coping, belonging, and creating meaning. It is not about becoming better adjusted to a sick society and systemic exploitation of the self.
Ideally our work of self-attendance turns into an emancipatory weapon that cultivates resistance and creates alternatives to (neoliberal) power structures. Ideally it has collective agency, creating the conditions for a society in which everybody is able to practice care for the self. To be of political value, our self-care must be congruent with the values we want to see in the world, it should move towards how we organise society and relationships, not just be self-serving. We are not separate from the whole, as historical and societal narratives are integral to the construct of the self to begin with. We are therefore embedded and interdependent by nature.
Talking about a wider sense of care that transcends beyond the self, it must be rooted in community that is hands-on specific, not abstracted. Independent collectives and micro initiatives that support a diversity of communities are favourable. Let’s be wary of institutional hashtag care. This type of care is reductionist in its approach and rarely goes beyond yet another symposium or exhibition. Notions of care are being processed like any other subject matter that institutional guardians move through. One-off events and curatorial projects on the theme at best raise awareness that real care is needed, but do they offer practical application or guidance? Truth is your liberal institution is sCAREd of a real dismantling and hides behind their fake care offerings.
What does it mean to practice care in a real way? Care takes place on an intimate level and through regular practice and interaction. Real care requires presence, time and patience to listen. As a life-long commitment it is impossible to quantify caring, and therefore difficult to justify to funders and other support structures. It is a seemingly unviable but deeply necessary practice. How do we care? Care comes from a place of love, and is directed at one’s own or somebody else’s needs. This directed focus of love to improve their (or one’s own) wellbeing is at the heart of any (self)care. To not only care for ourselves but for each other, we must come together in a non-egoic state of selfhood that is not about winning or gaining superiority, and is therefore by nature anti-capitalist. Self-work is also collective work. Only if everyone is able to develop a care for the self, can we create a society that flourishes.