The One French Word That Will Transform Your Sob Story Into Empowerment

June 27, 2018

Why letting yourself be cared for is more empowering than you think.

A lot of people come to meditation seeking answers, assuming that in sitting still for ten minutes (or more, or less, depending on how big the question is) will cause a magical voice from on high to trickle into their ear and tell them the secret of life. Having meditated daily for a year and half, and from what friends who’ve meditated much longer than that tell me, “enlightenment” isn’t so easy. More often than answers, I’ve found relief in meditation from the questions themselves—an acceptance of the “don’t-know” mind that’s famous in Buddhist philosophy, and which reminds us that knowledge isn’t the be-all end-all to our human suffering.

Still, I have a human mind, and the other day it was feeling especially hungry for some answers. Namely, I wanted to know—like, a real reason, not just the spiritual and energetic rationale I usually agree with—what was the reason behind my now-chronic digestive issues. What was I eating, doing, believing, and the null of all those things, that prevented me from feeling well? I set the timer for my sitting first thing in the morning, and it was like a gun firing at the derby. For those fourteen minutes my mind didn’t shut up. But as my thoughts drilled deeper and deeper into self-criticism and blame and frustration, they seemed to be clearing the path for a truly rare mediative occurrence. There, in the space between my thoughts, was one word that felt a lot like an answer: soigné.

I’m not sure what kind of stream of unconsciousness brought that distinctly French word to mind, but its immediate relevancy felt like a sign I should try to incorporate it somehow into my life. An adjective literally meaning “taken care of,” the word was taught to me in its verb form (soigner) when we learned medical-speak in high school French. (Though how anyone in France could be ill is beyond me…) Doctors take care of other people, and if you are in the hands of a good doctor who’s taking care of you then you are soigné. But it also has another more colloquial meaning of “put together,” like a chic French person would be. Together, these two definitions gave me a way to radically rethink my question of what it means to be truly well.

First, soigné is inherently passive. It flips the grammatical vantage point I usually like to be in, as the actor of my verbs rather than the acted upon. Much of my resistance to being “taken care of” comes from the need that I should be able to do that myself; we are in a world where self-care is the thing to do, and nearly half of women skip or put off regular doctor appointments in order to lose weight first (!). I’m all for taking charge of one’s health, but sometimes you just can’t do it all yourself. In accepting that you can find allies for care, whether it’s talking through a bad day with a friend or partner or finding a holistic doctor, being well can feel less like a burden. Letting some passivity into your life is similar to trying restorative yoga—instead of working to hold yourself up, you are held by props and floor, and your body can get a break.

But accepting the passive tense doesn’t mean you lose control. Instead, think of this ally-search as a quest for strategic partnership where you are in the driver’s seat. You wouldn’t go to the dentist if your foot hurt, would you? Use the same logic when searching for soigné. Finding the right person to help take care of your needs isn’t easy, and the trial and error can sometimes be daunting and frustrating. Turn to references from friends and family for professional care, but also trust your instincts here. If you get a bad vibe from a provider, you don’t have to go back; if you have a problem with spending that you know your well-off friend won’t understand, consider sharing your situation with someone else who can lend a more supportive, less toxic, ear.

Lastly, the less clinical meaning of the word can remind you that feeling well should be easy and natural—to you, not to someone else. French style is quintessentially simple and effortless (that’s why we Americans who Try. So. Hard. At. Everything. are jealous!), and usually reflects the more subtle and nuanced qualities of the person; a woman’s slightly tousled hairdo, sleek and compact bag, or minimal jewelry can tell you a whole lot about her priorities in life. The same is true for wellness: We all know those “naturally” gorgeous people with clear skin and lustrous hair who claim water is their secret ingredient.

Why letting yourself be cared for is more empowering than you think.

Vegan icon Natalie Portman embodies soigne style in this ad.

Try listening to what your body feels it needs instead of what Instagram and your go-to wellness newsletter says it needs. Products like adaptogens, mushrooms, and other supplements are great, but our bodies are pretty darn smart. It might be that you’re actually the best person to take care of you, as long as you create the mental and physical space to let the thing you need most—French vocab or otherwise—appear.

The One French Word that Will Transform Your Sob Story into Empowerment Channel French Wellness & Joie de Vivre With This One Empowering Word

How do you let yourself be cared for? 

Also by Jennifer: This Is The #1 Way To Get Clear, Radiant Skin—And It Will Cost You $0

Related: This Detoxifying Bath Is The Perfect Self-Care Ritual For Anxiety

Breathwork Is A Crazy Healing Release That Christy Turlington Swears By. How To DIY

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Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.


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