It’s an expression that’s come up a couple of times in a variety of conversations – one of them was even about flight safety on an air craft, but that’s by far the exception. Generally I hear something about ‘putting your own oxygen mask on first’ as a metaphor, delivered in the context of a conversation relevant to taking care of one’s self, and whether doing so is ‘selfish’ or necessary. Logically, of course, it isn’t ever ‘necessary’ to take care of myself, not even at all; the necessity of it is related to the desired outcome.

Large numbers of human beings manage to get through what amounts to a lifetime without ever really taking care of themselves, their own needs, the needs of their heart, mind, body, or soul.  Some number of those people are in exploitative relationships that may have some symbiotic qualities; they get some return on investment in met needs, that sustains them over time and makes life endurable, or profitable. Others are simply used up, eventually, and cast aside. Some invest heavily of themselves without regret, in the lives and needs of others, and find their sustenance therein; lives of service, contemplation, or consecration to a cause are not without value. Aside from the logic, and obviousness, that taking care of me isn’t an absolute necessity… I’ve got to admit that the quality of my everyday experience of life, of love, of me, myself, is much improved by taking care of me. Learning to be emotionally self-sufficient seems a valuable next step.

The puzzles get more complicated as life’s lessons become more advanced. When faced with complicated moments, challenging decisions, and uncertainty – what’s the key point? What can I balance all the rest on and be assured that my choices and decision-making have a firm foundation in both reality and my values? That’s generally when it comes up…’put your own oxygen mask on first’. In a crisis on an aircraft, they always say it specifically regarding taking care of young, ill, or injured passengers; the most vulnerable among us. “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Well sure – because if I fail to do so ‘in time’, I could lose consciousness and be unable to help others. That matters. Among those others I would then be unable to help? Yep. Me.

Knowing that I need to ‘put my own oxygen mask on first’ doesn’t always make putting verbs in action a whole lot easier…but it gives me something to count on, a starting point that is a reliable best practice. It complicates matters that this particular aircraft (to continue the metaphor) is just packed to the rooftop with people and things I love. Some choices can wait, and forcing decision-making isn’t necessary; events unfold whether I make choices or not, and that is also something I can rely on. Taking care of me is still my highest priority, generally; my unique issues and challenges require I not lose focus on it, no one else has the same understanding of my needs. Today life’s curriculum seems to be about learning to balance taking care of me, and holding the needs of dear ones close to me, preserving good intentions, acting on the best of my will, following practices of non-harm – of myself as well as others – and being mindful that although we are all connected and interdependent, all ‘in this together’, we are also very much having our own experience.

Honest is never enough, there’s also Kind to consider.  Love so often feels like it ‘gives me everything’; Love is the most demanding of emotions, and requires the best of me to thrive. Life sometimes feels like an endurance race – when I feel as if there is a ‘finish line’, a time commitment, or urgency, I’ve generally been blown off course, somewhere; mindfulness practices are still the most powerful Rx I’ve had, and practiced from a place of compassion and love, easily ‘bring me home’ to the only moment in which change is possible. Some days doing my best, directed outwardly toward the world, just isn’t going to meet the needs I have myself.

Each time for the first time, each moment, the only moment...

Each time for the first time, each moment, the only moment…

Today is a good day to put my own oxygen mask on first. Today is a good day to change the world.