09/21/2012 03:12 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2012

Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: A Pupu Platter Approach to Self-Care for Busy Times

I still recall the first time I experienced a pupu platter at a Polynesian restaurant. My brother and I laughed at the name, questioning if it would be an appetizer we'd really be interested in, but we soon discovered, lo and behold, that these two syllables translated into an enormous, sizzling plate piled high with all sorts of delicious food samples. The concept seemed brilliant and the execution irresistible. Several minutes into our munching, however, we realized that the one drawback of the pupu platter was that there wasn't enough of the things we liked best. While the range of options was enjoyable, the variety came at a cost.

The beauty and limitations of the pupu platter mimic the backdrop we have to work with as we try to care for ourselves while we're busy. As we try to support ourselves with exercise, healthy eating, rest, emotional expression, rich relationships, meaningful service, and activities that feed our spirit, the more we try to include in our repertoire, the smaller the portions become. When our plate size is also small due to limited time, we can feel like there's not even enough room to adequately tend to one activity. Certainly, this is the most common complaint I hear from people who are busy -- the wish that they could have more time to spend on the activities they want to pursue, coupled with the feeling that they should be spending more time on self-care: should be exercising more, sleeping more, cooking more, and praying or meditating more.

And probably, we all should be doing more of all of these things... and maybe even doing more of even more things. It doesn't really help, however, to have such thoughts circulating through our minds as an ongoing mantra. At some point, it's healthier to just accept the reality that possibly none of our efforts will ever feel like enough. It's beneficial to replace all of our shoulds with a surrendering of sorts -- seeing that even if our efforts aren't enough, they're still worth something, and they're still better than nothing at all. If we can allow our activities to be appetizers rather than main course entrees, we add in the key ingredient of self-acceptance. It's refreshing to finally decide to stop beating ourselves up for continually not doing enough.

It's also useful if we can hold on to a pupu-like image of all the assorted ways we might engage in self-care. By reminding ourselves of these possibilities from time to time, we ensure that we're not ignoring certain dimensions of our health by getting overly focused on one or two particular aspects. Sometimes, in becoming disciplined about our exercise routines, or our avoidance of sugar, or our commitment to sit in meditation, we can end up ignoring our needs for lightness and play.

It's useful to consider the six shifts described in this blog series within a pupu platter framework. We may not ever have adequate time for pausing, or turning within, or filling up, or coming back to life, or remembering lightness, or embracing difficulty. Certainly, it doesn't make sense to attempt all of these things at the same time. Yet, it is important that we stay aware of the existence of each of these options, given our human tendency to forget. For example, when we're busy with ongoing activities, it's all too easy to forget about taking breaks or bringing our attention inside. We can forget the importance of slowing down for a good meal or a conversation with a loved one. When we're engaged in serious matters, we can forget our need for lightness; and when our days are packed full, we can forget the importance of acknowledging the arrival of difficult emotions.

Often, our best attempts at increasing our wellness don't come from putting large amounts of time or effort into our self-care. Rather, they come from approaching our efforts with a sense of balance and an acceptance for what's possible and what's not possible within the realities of our busy life.

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