I was sitting on a plane last week, awaiting take off, and the safety demonstration struck me, once again, with its order of events; the strident emphasis placed on donning your own mask before assisting anyone else…including young children…
To be considered a kind, generous human—especially female—I remember feeling the responsibility to put others before myself since I was very little. Perhaps having lost my sister at such a young age, and vowing to never let my parents feel that distraught again, my feeling of responsibility for their happiness—and all those with whom I made contact—may have been slightly beyond normative. However, I now know that I am not the only one. Many of us—and I dare say that perhaps more women than men—not only put others before ourselves on a daily basis, but are socially conditioned to do so. And while I still have the natural inclination all the time, I know for a fact that it is only when I am happy, healthy, and whole, that I can help others to the degree, quality and quantity that I truly desire. When I feel good, I have the energy and ability to help others feel good. And often, it’s contagious. It’s hard not to laugh when someone near you’s got the giggles :)
And it all starts with taking stock of how I feel.
Asking myself how I feel, and answering in a raw and honest way is the most important question I can ask myself, second only to “what do I really, really want?” The two go hand in hand, like a GPS navigation system; it is impossible to know how to get to where I want to go without first knowing where I am. And how we feel is paramount to figuring out where we are on life’s map of where we want to be.
Alignment is everything. Even if the answer to “How do I feel?” is, “Not great!” at least I am acknowledging it, which then allows me to actually address it head on. To find out genuinely from where it is coming, and to reach for a better feeling thought. It allows me to do something, say or sing something, watch or wear something that makes me feel better. Meditate for fifteen minutes before starting my day, give myself a mani/pedi, watch an hour of standup after the world has gone to bed. It feels decadent and amazing. Feeling good allows me to move in the direction of what I want that much faster. Feeling good allows me to be there for those around me, to help those who need help. And—if for no other reason—feeling good feels good. Everyone deserves to feel good.
We must also breathe to feel good. Breathing gives us oxygen, it gives us energy, it gives us life force. And in order to ensure that we can be there for others, we must first reach for that oxygen mask ourself. Understand that putting it on our face before others is not inconsiderate, but rather, the first step in the ability to avail yourself in an altruistic way.
We, as women, have been expected and encouraged to put our partner’s and family’s needs ahead of our own. With childbirth, and actually in childbirth, I think the instinctual urge to put the basic needs of the beautiful, helpless little being sprung from our loins before ourselves must explode exponentially. I’ve watched it happen with most of my close friends, and am sure it will happen when I have children as well. While much of it is natural, I think we tend to forget, sometimes, that unless we are healthy ourselves, it is difficult to garner the nourishment or ability to feed and care for the many people who depend on us, including the little ones. Unless we have oxygen to breathe, we will lose consciousness, and thus the opportunity to secure masks on both our children, and those who need help around us.
We are human. Inherent to our experience on earth, is our relationship with our bodies. Our relationship with our body, mind and spirit. Our relationship with our heart. And in order to do all that we want to do, to be all that we want to be, we must first tend to the vehicle that is responsible for our journey. So, in order to feel good, enjoy where you are and what you are doing on the way to achieving your greatest desires, do as life’s flight attendant says, and “Please put your own mask on before assisting others.”
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]