This essay is part of our month exploring the theme of Self-Care. Follow along with us all January for more stories on the theme.
Self-care doesn’t always have to be prescriptive or self-help-esque. To us, self-care is about making space for the things that feed the soul. So, we asked ourselves, what books feed our soul and ignite the greatest expression of our self? Here are a few unexpected self-care book recommendations from our ENDPAIN team that answer that question.
Dream Work by Mary Oliver
The poems of Mary Oliver take me back to my childhood spent in Sonoma County. I grew up in the country and was fortunate enough to spend most days wandering the straw-colored hills with my dog and catching blue-bellied lizards and minnows that spawned in the still shallow waters of my neighborhood creek. It was a time when I would explore without needing to find with no sense of time. Dream Work, which centers around themes of nature and innocence, reconnects me to my childhood self, which to me, is an act of self-care. The person we were when we were kids is wise to our genuine needs, and knowing how to recognize that spirit is an important part of knowing how to best care for yourself.
Along with the memories her writing evokes in me, Oliver has a way of transporting the reader into nature when you are unable to physically do so. The healing power of forests, mountains, trees, and animals is undeniable and inexplicable, and to be able to experience that with no other senses but the ones your imagination comes up with when reading her work is why Oliver’s poetry to me is an act of self-care. The shortness of her poems makes these powers accessible wherever you are. I have “Wild Geese,” a poem that is featured in this book, saved in the draft folder of my e-mail. I will sometimes stumble upon it or intentionally read it when there is a need. I will often send it in an e-mail when a friend confides in me a feeling of hopelessness, and although no one has ever written back to my e-mail, I like to think that they got something out of it too.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
A perk of living in one of the denser parts of the city is participating in a never-ending scavenger hunt of things people have left on the sidewalk. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is one of the many books I have found in a pile outside someone’s apartment that I can only imagine arrived there after a break-up or a restless desire to minimize during a move. Some things I choose to take as signs, and others become clutter that I too will eventually arrange in a pile and leave on the sidewalk, taking part in the circle of life for a book.
Bird by Bird is a helpful book for anyone regardless of whether or not they are a writer. It gets its name from a story that Lamott tells about her brother when he was ten-years-old. Overwhelmed by a science project that was due the next day on birds, her brother was filled with anxiety to which their father tells him to take the project just bird by bird. It’s a simple piece of advice, but helpful when faced with a project that you don’t believe you can tackle head on. Lamott is funny and self-deprecating in a way that makes you trust her, and her tools for combating the barriers to writing are practical, and necessary, and will inspire you to recognize the value in discovering your own writing voice.
Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
I stumbled upon this book at an unusual spot: my hair salon. While waiting, I noticed another client quietly engrossed in a book titled Non-Violent Communication. The slightly cheesy cover was enough to catch my eye, but it was the title that intrigued me and I took notice.
I have always been fascinated with how language affects reality—how you choose and use words impacts your own personal understanding of feelings and situations. Early on in the book, author, Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD, shares, “What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.” However, as he explains, our cultural models for communication have taught us to think in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’—to judge, demand, diagnose, and compete with others—which makes it difficult to exercise compassion and empathy. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a system to subvert this learned behavior. The NVC model supports your engagement with self and the world in a style that is compassionate and heart-centered, without letting go of your own needs. It reframes your communication style so you can manifest life-giving relationships with others and take responsibility for your own actions and desires.
Of course, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But it’s not easy, and it’s not perfect, either. In fact, many criticize NVC as ‘passive-aggressive,’ and certainly, some of the real-world examples provided feel a little that way. You see, we are not used to compassionate communication—the act of truly emphasizing and understanding the desires of another human being—in our day-to-day relationships, so this style may not be immediately well-received. However, with practice, compassionate communication will ultimately free you from anger and frustration in your relationships, simultaneously meeting your needs and the needs of others.
Reading and applying the concepts of NVC has improved my ability to be more compassionate, understanding, and heart-giving, without attachment, judgement, or resentment. I truly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to those who need practical tools to break free of fear, shame, guilt in their lives and relationships.
The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar, with Urmila Desai
Recommended to me by a well-known chef who told me it’s is one of her favorites, The Ayurvedic Cookbook is a beginner’s introduction to Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, and Ayurvedic nutrition, whereby it is believed that most disease can be traced to the food we consume. The first 46 pages are a comprehensive guide to understanding the history of Ayurveda, basic concepts of the practice, and the role of food in Ayurvedic medicine. Additionally, the book provides a guide to discovering your constitutional type (dosha), of which there are three: vata, pitta, kapha. If you don’t have the book, you can always take an online test where you may find that, like me, you are a dual-dosha. The book then goes on to explain how food affects your body based on your dosha, and how to optimize your health. The back of the book provides a large appendix for additional and relevant information.
Reading and cooking from this book is an act of self-care for me. As someone who devotes a lot of time in the kitchen—not from a place of necessity, but from love and passion—I am inspired by the ingredients and approach to food and health through the Ayurvedic system. I am adventurous in the kitchen, so it goes without saying that I don’t cook Ayurvedic food exclusively, however, when I make time to sit with this cookbook and choose recipes that will nourish my body, everything else seems to fall into place, even on the most challenging of days.
While currently out of print, The Ayurvedic Cookbook is available on Amazon.com through third-party sellers.
National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space by Linda K. Glover
I’m not really a “science person”. Yet, when I feel weighed down by negative energy, thoughts, or emotions, I flip through the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space, which lives next to my bed at all times. In six chapters, this bulky encyclopedia is full of knowledge about the universe, complete with maps and dramatic images of space.
It sounds cliché, but thinking about the magnitude of the universe soothes me. Or perhaps to some, that sounds counterintuitive, because realizing one’s relative insignificance generates anxiety. But getting lifted out of the heavy gravity of my self-consciousness and sadness and into the infinite cosmos is just an example of shifting my perspective, which is a very effective self-care tool. Understanding myself within the universe reminds me that in the grand scheme of things, the very least I can do is care for myself, seek out the things that ground me in joy and love, and in turn make sure to recycle that energy within my communities. To quote the late, great, Carl Sagan, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz
Though it’s a short read, Tender Points is not an easy one. In it, Amy Berkowitz (who also wrote Against Battles for ENDPAIN), bravely shares her personal story, told as a sort of fractured, lyrical collage. The narrative is really more of a portrait of a detective who comes to understand that her chronic pain is a result of fibromyalgia, which is likely a result of sexual violence from her youth. She reveals the patriarchal structures that have made this sequence of events possible, and the way fibromyalgia exists in a space of mystery, “trapping female patients in a state of uncertainty where it’s impossible to assert themselves or be heard as an authority on their own experience.”
This is not a text that necessarily comforts me; it is full of pain, and when I read it, I am reminded that women are incredibly vulnerable to violence, interpersonally and systemically. Rather, I am comforted by the spirit of this text, its purpose, the very existence of it. To write her story is to validate her story, and this gives it weight. I feel so strongly about this book that I have lent my beloved copy time and time again, to many women in my life. As I searched my room for it in preparation to write this, I realized its absence. It must be on loan again.