A Perfect Ordinary Day: An Act of Self-Love
While writing “Beauty Revealed—Bringing Out the Best in Others,” the final essay in Midnight Peaches, Two O’clock Patience, I began jotting down notes focused on how to avoid stagnancy in order to stay motivated in life. Upon completing “Beauty Revealed,” I realized I needed to flesh out the meaning of taking care of oneself. After introducing the concept of “choosing to live” in that article, the possibility of having a separate piece that married the concepts of self-care, “choosing to live,” and avoiding stagnancy emerged. Consequently, “A Perfect Ordinary Day” was born.
“A Perfect Ordinary Day” is based on my personal experience of taking care of myself for my own sake, as well as for the sake of those I love. A combination of philosophies and activities that are integral to my daily routine are shared in this essay. Activities that I practice less often—things I would benefit from if I practiced them more regularly—are also included.
This essay is written from the perspective of a mother, wife, writer, and humanities professor who relies daily on the power of the Divine. I am not speaking from the perspective of a certified physical trainer or a professional nutritionist. If your daily routine does not look like the schedule I have outlined below, I do not recommend beating yourself up about it; doing so would not, of course, constitute what I would call self-care. Part of caring for ourselves involves being patient and rejoicing in any progress we have made.
I encourage you to draw from your own research and personal experience when deciding how to best meet your individual emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. As you read “A Perfect Ordinary Day,” please remember that you have the freedom to accept, trash, rework, and/or augment these practices and philosophies. You have the power to decide what to integrate into your daily life.
Introduction: Choosing to Live
I am breathing. I have a pulse. I exist.
I am grateful for another day.
But I want to do more than just exist?
I want to feel alive.
Feeling alive requires keeping a single mantra in mind: fulfill the heart’s desires. We need to do all the things that make our eyes light up and inspire us to sing—the things that fill us with such passion and excitement that we can’t wait to wake up in the morning. We need to make the conscious decision to live. Choosing to live means being open to receiving all the good the world has to offer. In the process, we must make sure we experience this openness to the world both in solitude and in the company of close friends and family. When we choose to live, we have no option to be amongst the spiritually dead who condemn themselves to a lifetime of hopelessness. We can’t maintain such an attitude just because the world told us that there’s nothing out there but a life of pain. The moment we choose to live, we begin to behave in ways that are more loving toward ourselves and others: our imagination is liberated, and we can envision a multitude of possibilities that can bring people together in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding. We become more aware of the responsibility attached to living an emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy lifestyle. We realize how crucial it is to take care of ourselves, for our own sake, as well as, for the sake of others. All the people we care for and spend time with—our families, friends, students, patients, and clients—rely on us for knowledge, wisdom, and nurturance. The more people we are responsible for in our daily lives, the greater is our responsibility to take good care of ourselves.
So how do we take care of ourselves? One simple answer: eat. We must eat “food” that nourishes our bodies, minds, and spirits. By “food,” I don’t mean just the food we ingest. I’m talking about emotional food—emotional nourishment.
You can gain a sense of what this emotional food needs to be by first loving yourself. Accept and love everything that makes you You: your physical appearance; the way you speak, think, walk, and laugh; your idiosyncrasies; your flaws; your likes; your dislikes.
There is a mysterious connection between accepting yourself in the “here and now” and feeling free to change. Some believe that in order to transform and grow all you need is the will to change and the knowledge of the essential steps that can make the desired change happen. This is true, but only partly true. One must also consider what ingredients are needed to ignite the will. One of those ingredients is full acceptance of the self. You must fully accept what already resides in your heart and soul, creating a stillness, a silence that steadies your spirit. In the way that efficiency requires regular breaks, staying energized and motivated requires time spent in stillness. Sometimes, you need to hold and caress your own spirit to keep it from quivering with worry, insecurity, blame, and regret. All too many of us wander the Earth preoccupied with the anxiety these things generate. Steady your spirit with self-acceptance and the belief that you are worth being loved and treated justly.
Pay close attention to what turns you on.
Ask yourself the questions:
What do I value? What do I like?
Once you come up with your answers, begin feeding yourself—begin nourishing yourself. Listen to music, watch films, and read books that you love. Look at photography and paintings that inspire the best and healthiest images to rest in your mind—images that keep you optimistic about the world’s possibilities. Stay physically active so you can be in tune with your body and stay energized.
Pray, meditate, and pay homage to the ancestors and the Creator. Sit with the Divine; see and respect how the Divine manifests herself/himself in human beings and in nature.
If we don’t feed ourselves, we’ll be spiritually empty. And if we’re empty for too long, this emptiness can develop into starvation. Our starvation has devastating effects on the people we love. If we’re not careful, we can kill our loved ones with our starvation—without even knowing it.
Starvation and Stagnancy
Starvation can be easily recognized in a person who feels stuck, unmotivated, always angry or sad, constantly pessimistic, and/or chronically indecisive for long periods of time; it could be months; it could be years. It’s a state of stagnancy.
If we examine its origins, we find that the word “stagnancy” is derived from “stagnate,” meaning “to cease to flow.” “Stagnate” comes from the Latin stagnatus, the past participle of stagnare which means “to cause to stand.” The prefixes sta- and st(h)a- trace their roots to an Indo-European base meaning “to stand.” We see this prefix obviously in the word “stand,” as well as in other words like “stasis,” “stale,” and “static.”
If we are just standing in one place, indeed we can soak in our surroundings, but we can’t stay there forever; we have to move in order to carry out our daily activities. When water is stagnant, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. When bread is stale, it tastes dry and stiff and isn’t so appetizing. If something is static, it stays put and doesn’t move. Feeling stagnant is a lot like lying in a hospital bed, looking out the window, and watching people run, laugh, and play without you.
Though these analogies offer some insight into how I define stagnancy, I think it is important to further clarify what stagnancy is and what it isn’t. First, avoiding stagnancy is not the same as staying busy. Staying busy with routines and/or meaningless activities can lead to burnout—and guess what: you’re stuck again! Secondly, avoiding stagnancy is not the same as avoiding stillness. I view stagnancy as a more long-term, crippling state of being which can eventually control you; stillness—either literally being still or simply slowing down one’s pace—is, on one hand, a more temporary state involving solitude and silence which can steady the spirit (as mentioned earlier); stillness is something you can choose; it’s a time for reflection and respite; it allows you to be present to yourself and to the universe. Taking time to be still can enable you to make clear, sound decisions in the future.
On the other hand, while the act of entering into stillness and staying there for a moment is temporary, there is also a way that stillness finds a permanent home within you. With practice, I believe stillness can be embedded into your spirit, so that when, for example, a tense situation requires clarity and perhaps a quick decision, you can almost bend time, automatically dip into your “toolbox of stillness,” use your best judgment, and take an unapologetic course of action.
When you are taking care of your visual, auditory, physical, and spiritual diets, you are exposing yourself to the stimuli that will help you feel alive. Since you are staying fed, you are avoiding the pitfalls of stagnancy. If we keep ourselves fed with things we enjoy and love, we maintain the momentum required to stay motivated and fulfilled, allowing us to be curious enough to move out of our comfort zones and grow in unexpected ways. And most of all, taking care of ourselves allows us to be more capable of loving others.
A Gift to Myself: My One-Day Retreat
Below is a schedule of what I imagine my personal perfect ordinary day would be. It includes many of the things I value, enjoy, and currently practice—things that help me avoid stagnancy. In the body of the schedule, you will find recipes, reflections, reminders, and rituals. If I were to hold a one-day retreat for myself, this is what it would look like:
-Brush and floss teeth
-Drink glass of water
-Put on workout clothes
-Pray for 5 min.
-Eat granola or rice bar
-Write in journal
-Put on handwraps
-Drive to gym
-Muay Thai training
Reflection #1: Not only do I feel awake and alert after training, but I also feel more familiar with my body and what it can do. With practice, my physical capabilities will become locked into my muscle memory, allowing me to readily draw from my physical gifts whenever it’s necessary to defend myself. I also look forward to improving my ability to defend my will.
As a fairly new student of martial arts, I have learned more about my body and my emotions than I ever expected. These last three years of Muay Thai with Ra’Karma Young, as well as my brief training in the Kamatuuran School of Kali with Gura Michelle Bautista and Balintawak Arnis with Grandmaster Ver Villasin, have taught me that the human body can be lethal. Therefore, it is important to take care of how it is used. Though Muay Thai has been a good outlet for my anger and stress, I’ve learned quickly that anger cannot be the driving force in an altercation. Explosive, unchannelled anger can lead to unintentional outcomes. Concentration and control are vital. And at the same time, thinking too much can slow me down. Sometimes when I’m training, I find myself becoming too cerebral, too controlled. This is when I realize there is still an imbalance between my intellect and my body.
Reflection #2: The energy boost I get from the workout sustains me throughout the day. The endorphins run through my body, improving my attitude about my life’s direction and my ability to accomplish my short-term and long-term goals.
-Pick flowers from yard; put one in my hair and the rest in water
- 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
- Greek yogurt with honey, peanuts, chocolate chips (60% cacao), and grapes
- Stickmon’s Smoothie:
- 1 cup raw organic spinach (or kale)
- ½ cup vanilla soy milk
- ½ avocado
- ½ banana
- ½ cup açai berries, juice or powder
- handful of strawberries or blueberries
- ½ cup hibiscus tea
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed oi
- Egg salad sandwich
- Tuna spread with crackers
- Blanched asparagus
- Granola bar
- Trail mix
- Container of raw spinach and pickled beets
Ritual: Meditate for 20 minutes in morning and evening everyday. (If you can only do 10-15 minutes, that’s okay. Do what you can.) Light a candle. Burn your favorite incense (optional). Play meditative music (optional). Take a deep breath and exhale. Do this three times. Close your eyes and sit in a comfortable position you can hold for the allotted time. [My two favorite positions are sitting in a chair (with Lombard support), resting my hands on a pillow on my lap or sitting on two stacked meditation pillows (which rest on a thick blanket), with my knees bent and my feet behind me.] Set the timer. Listen to your breath or repeat a mantra. If any thoughts or images race through your mind, gently raise them up to the Divine and let them go.
Meditation releases endorphins that are associated with good feeling and having a more positive outlook. Meditation reduces levels of cortisol in the body, a hormone activated by stress. With years of experience, meditation can also thicken portions of the brain associated with sensory stimuli, attention, awareness of sensation, and sensory processing. The research of neuroscientist Sara Lazar shows this increase in cortical thickness and how meditation permanently improves the brain’s reception of information, including its reception and awareness of intuitive information.
-Spend time with/Call/Skype Mom or Dad
Reminder: “Mom” or “Dad” can be anyone you identify as a mother or father figure. Doesn’t need to be biological mother or father. Preferably an elder who has been an endless source of support and guidance for you. Someone who accepts you no matter what.
-Botanic Garden (Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA)
Reminder: Drive to Botanic Garden without listening to music on the way. Once you arrive, allow yourself to walk aimlessly. Don’t choose a path; let the path choose you. Let the walk be a prayer. Pay attention to your breath and thank the Divine for it. The trees, plants, and flowers have their own vibration. If you are accustomed to moving quickly in order to be efficient, then pay attention to what it feels like to adjust your pace to the pace of the trees, plants, and flowers. Walk slowly, with the single purpose of noticing and accepting the gift of your surroundings. Pay attention to those trees, plants, and flowers that fascinate you with their beauty. Don’t ask why; just be present to them. They may have some answers for you.
-Pick up close friend and drive to the Armstrong Redwoods
Reminder: The close friend can be your spouse, significant other, best friend, close relative, or spiritual sister/brother/cousin. Whoever it is, make sure it is someone who enjoys nature (or is at least open to the idea) and knows how to be silent.
-Eat lunch in car
-Listen to favorite music
- Stickmon’s On the Way Playlist:
- “Dr. Knockboot (Instrumental),” Nas
- “Sex, Love, and Money (Instrumental),” Mos Def
- “Tried by 12 (Instrumental),” East Flatbush Project
- “Passin’ Me By,” The Pharcyde
- “Chief Rocka,” Lords of the Underground
- “Ain’t No Future in Yo’ Frontin’,” MC Breed and DFC
- “Me, Myself & I,” De La Soul
- “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” Digable Planets
- “Tha Cipha (featuring Rob Swift & Roc Raida),” Triple Threat DJs
- “Step into a World (Rapture’s Delight),” KRS-One
- “Double Trouble,” The Roots
- “Get By,” Talib Kweli
- “The Humpty Dance,” Digital Underground
- “So Fresh, So Clean,” OutKast
- “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” Missy Elliot
- “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop),” Common, Erykah Badu
- “You Got Me (featuring Jill Scott),” The Roots, Jill Scott
- “To Zion,” Lauren Hill
- “Sobeautiful,” Musiq Soulchild
- “Play,” Goapele
- “Naughty Girl,” Beyoncé
- “Whine Up (featuring Elephant Man),” Kat DeLuna
- “Redemption Song,” Bob Marley and the Wailers
- “Dispear,” Damian Marley and Nas
- “A Lo Cubano,” Orishas
- “Power,” Kanye West
- “Home of the Brave,” Mr. Lif
- “ElectriK HeaT-the seekwiLL,” K-OS
- “No Church in the Wild,” Jay Z, Kanye West
- “Loose Wires/Blink Radio,” Kenna
- “Green Light (featuring Andre 3000),” John Legend
- “Things Are Getting Better,” N.E.R.D.
- “Sunday Morning,” K-OS
- “Say Goodbye to Love,” Kenna
- “Enter Galactic (Love Connection, Pt. I),” Kid Cudi
- “Skeleton Boy,” Friendly Fires
- “Paris (Aeroplane Remix),” Friendly Fires
- “Constant Surprises,” Little Dragon
Reflection: The On the Way playlist is a nice, fun balance of the pure and the profane, the ignorant and the introspective. It’s as if I brought the hottest club downtown right into my front seat. This playlist gets me amped, and sometimes keeps me chill—either way, it’s a source of catharsis, helping me know everything will be just fine. The songs reveal the heart of a relentless fighter and a hopeless romantic who seeks clarity when in battle and when at peace. These songs also remind me that a little bit of braggadocio doesn’t hurt in the world of the strong, fit, and the sexy.
Walk the trails of the Armstrong Redwoods
Reminder: Like the visit to the Botanic Garden, let the walk be a prayer. Take a deep breath and thank the Divine for it. Allow yourself to wander. Slow down with the trees. Walk slowly, noticing and accepting all the trees n have to offer. Be open to their magic. Know that these trees hear and see everything. They live and have strong spirits. They absorb the stories of the present. What stories, what truths do the trees share with you? What stories would you like to share with the trees?
-Listen to favorite music
- Stickmon’s On the Way Back Playlist:
- “El Fuego Y El Combustible,” Jorge Drexler
- “This Woman’s Work,” Maxwell
- “Fly Love,” Jamie Foxx
- “Soledad,” Jorge Drexler
- “May It Be,” Enya
- “I Am,” Christina Aguilera
- “Somebody,” Depeche Mode
- “Thank Heaven 4 You,” Esthero
- “Council of Elrond,” Lord of the Rings Soundtrack
- “Green Forests, Lush Meadows and a Soft Rain Falling,” Pure Sounds
- Listen to nature sounds: ocean waves, rainfall, flowing creek water
Reflection: The On the Way Back playlist is mellow. After a meditative walk, it gently ushers me back home. The rhythm and melody of each song bring me to a place my intuition fully understands long before my intellect can get there. It is for this reason I believe that many of these songs are just as magical as the Armstrong Redwoods.
-Cook and eat dinner
-Dinner: Lavender Lamb with Quinoa and Broccoli
- Lamb: season lamb with lavender, salt and pepper; sear both sides; bake for 20-25 minutes at 375˚F
- Quinoa: sauté onions, celery, garlic, and shrimp in olive or avocado oil; add chicken broth, quinoa, and oyster sauce; simmer until quinoa is clear
- Blanched broccoli
- Glass of dessert wine
- Red Velvet cupcake
Reminder: While baking lamb, write in your journal. Reflect upon the day. Write whatever comes to mind, emptying your thoughts and feelings onto the page—unfiltered and uncensored.
Secondly, ask yourself, “What do I value?” This question allows you to get reacquainted with yourself. Don’t set any goals. Don’t place any demands on yourself. Don’t attempt to justify your values. Just allow them to surface, and write them down in your journal. Once these values are committed to paper, it can become more natural to make life decisions that are consistent with those values.
-Drive to massage therapist
- Make a list of all the things you love about yourself.
- Write each quality on a 5” x 5” square of your favorite stationery. Fold into tiny squares.
Ritual: Sit in front of a full-length mirror, completely naked. Surround yourself with a circle of candles, flowers, and folded squares of paper. In front of you, create a circle of flowers. Inside the circle of flowers, place a written intention that reads: May my spirit know love and give love. Look at yourself in the mirror, and repeat this intention aloud. Massage your face. Massage your hands, your feet, and any other part of your body that has been neglected or overworked.
In your own words, thank the Divine, all the gods and goddesses, and all the ancestors for their guidance and for the wonderful people they have placed in your life. Pray that you will continue to recognize and be open to all the blessings they lay before you.
-Brush and floss teeth
-Take daily vitamins (including fish oil pills)
-Drink glass of water
 “Beauty Revealed” follows “A Perfect Ordinary Day” in Midnight Peaches, Two O’clock Patience to reflect the significance and the necessity of taking care of oneself before one can be capable of caring for others.
 Maintaining a healthy diet is not only important, but essential. Eating nutritious food and exercising regularly are among the many factors that can contribute to emotional wellness.
 Ernest Klein, Klein’s Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, 1971), 711.
 In Latin, stagnare, (to cause to stand) comes from stagnum meaning ‘pool.’ Ibid.
 Ibid., 712-713.
 The verb, “to stand” comes from Middle English standen which comes from Old English standan. It also has an influence from the Latin stare meaning “to stand” which finds its root in the Indo-European base (as mentioned above) st(h)a- meaning “to stand.” “Stasis” and “static” have a combination of Latin and Greek influences which trace their origin to the Indo-European base (as mentioned above) sta- meaning “to stand.” “Stale” meaning “not fresh or stagnant” is from the Middle English stale meaning “that which has stood long.” See Ibid., 711-713.
 This schedule does not reflect one of my typical days. However, it does reflect activities I have spread out across the course of two to three days. Of the activities listed in the schedule, I most regularly practice praying, writing, Muay Thai, preparing the Stickmon Smoothie, and staying in contact with good friends.
 “Exercise and Depression,” WebMD, accessed June 22, 2012, http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression.
 “How Long to Meditate and How Often to Meditate,” The Guided Meditation Site, accessed June 22, 2012, http://www.the-guided-meditation-site.com/how-long-to-meditate.html.
 The Hesed Community in Oakland, CA, part of the World Community for Christian Meditation, had a great influence on my meditation practice. I have incorporated some of what I have learned from that community and tailored those lessons to my own spiritual needs.
 “The Benefits of Meditation,” Depression Guide, accessed June 21, 2012, http://www.depression-guide.com/meditation-benefits.htm.
 Elizabeth Scott, “Benefits of Meditation for Stress Management,” About.com, last modified April 2, 2012, http://stress.about.com/od/tensiontamers/p/profilemeditati.htm.
 Lynne McTaggart, The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World (New York: Free Press, 2007), 74.
 Ibid., 72-75.
Copyright © 2012 Janet Stickmon