Worry-Dolls, Snakeskins, and Spiritual Self-Care

A few years back, when my kids were still little, a close friend of mine bought me a set of worry dolls from Guatemala. These tiny little poupées are made from tiny (smaller than a toothpick) sticks wrapped with colourful scraps of cloth and yarn.

Indigenous people from the Highlands in Guatemala created these dolls generations ago as a remedy for worrying. According to an old Mayan legend, once you tell the dolls your worries, and place them under your pillow, they can take over the job of “worrying” for you and you can get a good worry-free night’s sleep. In the morning, you feel lighter and more carefree.

I’ve been told that worrying runs in my family. As far as I know, my mom and grandmother had this tendency. As my dad would sometimes joke (in a good-natured way), even if all was well, my grandmother would still find something to worry about. In her lifetime, my Polish grandmother had some serious events to cause worry. She lived through both World Wars and was never able to return to her home country afterwards.

I wasn’t too aware of my own anxious tendency towards worrying until I became a mom myself, at which point, it hit me big time. With two young kids, I was carrying the responsibility for these babies, and of course I didn’t want anything to go wrong.

My fellow recovering worriers will understand that worrying can be seen as an activity in itself. But, worrying is a state of being and not something you “do”.

The superstitious mind of someone who worries, however, believes that if you don’t tend to your duties or to the situation by worrying about it, then you’re neglecting it or not caring. Feelings of guilt about having your mind wander to more amusing or carefree activities are not unusual.

A “worrier” knows all too well that if she doesn’t perform the important task of worrying over something (a child, a project, an event, a task or job), then something dreadful might happen.

Yikes! Believe me, that’s not a fun or life-affirming way to live. And, I’ve had to slowly work on freeing myself from this pernicious tendency.

 “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia

Thankfully, I discovered that, just as a snake will shed its skin, it’s possible for us to shed some of the unwanted tendencies that plague us.

As a snake grows larger, it will shed its skin in order to allow for further growth and remove the parasites that may have become attached to their old skin. The snake’s skin does not grow with the animal, but becomes stretched and at one point, can no longer contain the new growth. A new layer of skin begins to form underneath the old one and when it’s complete, the old one, now dryer, peels right off as the snake slithers away.

How the Shedding of the Snake’s Skin compares to
your transformational journey.

Whether it’s worrying you want to give up or something else that’s preventing you from enjoying life, living fully, happier relationships or attaining your dreams, you can learn to let go of the old undesired patterns.

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Just as the snake needs to grow that new, fresh layer of skin before it’s ready to let the old one fall off; you need to focus on what you want to bring into your life and grow into a ‘new self’ before you can be ready to let go of the old survival strategies.

As well, when the snake is ready to slough or moult its skin, it will need to rub or brush up against a hard surface, such as a rock or log. This will create a breach in the old skin through which the snake will slither, thus discarding the dead skin shell.

You can tell when your old “skin” needs to be shed because you’ll start to notice the unwanted tendencies in a more dramatic way in your life. It’s almost as though life were rubbing up against that dried out snake’s skin and then rips it open in preparation of the shedding.

For instance, when I began to notice how worrying was sucking the joy and life out of me, I recognized that is was time for me to let go of this unwanted pattern. It was so uncomfortable and painful to see that the activity of “worrying” actually did more harm (to me, and indirectly to my loved ones) than good.

If, for example, I was anxious about my son being bullied at school, fretting myself silly didn’t help him gain the confidence he needed in the situation, nor did it help me get a good night’s sleep and focus on the actions that were required of me to help him.

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I began to see my “worry mind” as a form of exaggerated catastrophic thinking, a personal tendency that I needed to free myself of.  Feeling the undesirability (or toxicity) of the pattern you wish to free yourself of is a necessary step in the process. 

If we didn’t understand how harmful a negative habit or tendency is, we would likely remain attached to it and perhaps even identify with it (even though it might stifle our growth and happiness).

So, while you’re readying yourself to slip out of that old, dried out and tight skin, let’s go back and focus on the growth of the ‘new self’ that will allow you to experience life in a new and more expanded, freer way.

To me, the growing of your ‘new self’ (the one ready to receive and create your desired life), requires paying a lot of attention to self care.

Self-Care and Soul-Care

When we talk about self-care, most people will think of going to the spa, getting a massage, a pedicure, going on a holiday or doing yoga on the beach. I’m all for doing those activities, however, I see self-care in a broader, more holistic way of caring for all three dimensions of ourselves: body/mind/soul.

I’m going to focus specifically on the care of the soul here and what that means to me (however, the division between the three is somewhat artificial). I believe spiritual self-care can be an amazing way of helping you grow that new skin (self) in preparation so that you can let go of the old restrictive one.

Four Important Spiritual Practices for Spiritual Self-Care

#1. Nurturing your connection with your soul or with the divine
Nurturing your connection with your soul can be done in many ways including being in nature, meditation/prayer, acts of service, artistic or creative expression, or any mindful activities.

#2. Opening up inner space to receive
I’m constantly amazed at how we undervalue being receptive in our culture. With our focus so much on doing, we forget the value of just being.
Being receptive is about creating an inner space in which you can receive. If your cup is too full (too much worrying, too busy, too preoccupied, too distracted), how can you receive anything new or grow as a person? How can you create the life you truly desire without developing a strong capacity to receive?

#3. Community or sharing/connection with others
You’re not an island and I believe relationships (of all kinds) are the ideal playground for your soul. As well as providing support, a place to share and play, they also offer us necessary feedback (positive and negative) and information about what we need to work on.

#4. Surrender and Release what’s no longer needed
When I felt consumed by worry, the worry dolls helped me to symbolically surrender my burden over to them. By placing them beneath my pillow, I consciously made an attempt at releasing the act of fretting. Having a physical object or ritual way to help you anchor the new habit in is super helpful, but you need to make a regular practice of surrendering and letting go if you want to live an inspired life.

My tendency to worry didn’t evaporate overnight. Shedding a tendency that’s deeply ingrained or a long-standing pattern can take ongoing practice, self-application and support. Today, it happens that I worry still but I have the above practices to turn to, and so, rather than feeling consumed with worry, I open myself up to attract more inspiration, community and joy.

Questions for self-reflection:

1.  What “old” tendency, habit or pattern are you ready to shed in your life?
2.  How’s your spiritual self-care?
3.  What next chapter of your life do you desire to grow into?

Don’t forget, it’s the moment when you feel most challenged that your soul is getting ready to let go of that which no longer serves you. That’s the perfect moment to reach out and get the ongoing support you need to follow through with your soul’s urgings.

Don’t go this journey alone!

I’ve designed a high-touch, small community, called ALIVE to nurture and feed your spirit. If you’re ready to finally feel in  joyful alignment with your purpose and supported by like-minded women then this is the community for you. You’ll learn how to nurture your sensitive soul and reclaim your joy. Start living with your cup filled instead of empty!

Click here to join us on the sacred path to feminine leadership

Gabrielle B. TaylorGabrielle is a Psychotherapist and a Transformational Coach. She offers coaching for Sensitive Soul Leaders (artists, coaches, healers, female entrepreneurs and visionary leaders) who are ready to overcome overwhelm and burnout, and take action to achieve clarity of purpose, finally go after their dreams and fulfill their soul’s calling.

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