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August 10, 2015

Self-Care to Change the World

The impulse to make the world a better place is a beautiful one.

Some of us are hard-wired this way. We’ve been fiery and deeply sensitive to the world’s pain from birth, practically.

Some of us are inspired by either traumatic or inspiring situations. Maybe seeing injustice first-hand or the ways that communities can unite to create positive change. At its best, the drive to make the world a better place comes from generosity and a sense of interconnection.

We are awake to the world and our place in it. Our work is electric, joyful, empowered. At its best, it is whole-hearted.

But there’s another side to changing the world.

This side that’s more about burnout than feeling lit up.

This kind of world-changing involves long hours, secondary trauma, infighting, and risk-taking. It involves tears (and maybe even tear gas). And being deeply present with people who are going through the worst of it. And feeling the horror of war, exploitation, destruction, and oppression deeply.

Because, guess what?

We do this work because we feel so deeply.

We feel both the pain of the world, and the love in this world. And that can be a trying thing to experience. We enter our work to bring about more justice and healing. But it can end up having the opposite effect on us personally, even if we do make progress.

So often, when I tell other activists what I do, they look at me wide-eyed and say something along the lines of, “I need that.”

What I hear is that people don’t want to stop doing their amazing work in the world; they just want more joy. They want a framework that honors them and their work, not one that forces them to choose. They want their own healing in the process.

Being exposed to oppression, surviving in a capitalist society, experiencing secondary trauma… these have real, lasting effects on our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. It’s powerful stuff.

Self-care is the antidote. It is also real and it is powerful.

It has the power to interrupt the narratives, habits, thought patterns, or ways of being that reinforce what we are seeking to change. Self-care can offer healing in and of itself. It can also open us to new ways of thinking about ourselves and our work – and these mindset shifts can be just as, if not more, powerful than any outer self-care practice.

It’s not linear. But it’s always possible.

Sometimes, we backslide toward burnout. That goes for everyone, including me. We ought to be compassionate when that happens (with ourselves or others), to forgive, to wipe the slate clean. And when we get up again, we’ve learned something.

By putting my self-care at the forefront of what is here, I want you to know that you can count on me. You can trust me to willingly take my own advice. To walk my talk.

In order to serve, I have to live into what feels right for me in this space. I hope that my transparency provides value — my honesty here is an offering anyone who interacts with this.

My approach to self-care — and my approach to helping others cultivate self-care — is fairly simple.

The four qualities of good self-care are:

  • Custom: Care means something different to everyone. Everyone is unique and self-care shouldn’t be one size fits all.
  • Intuitive: Everyone is an expert in their own experience. You have a voice inside that will tell you what is right. You just have to let it be heard.
  • Feasible: Care can and should be in reach. Start where you are. Set yourself up for success.
  • Kind: Kindness is an underrated and essential quality in most things. Care should come from a place of sweetness. It may break you open. It may cause discomfort at first, yes, but its root should be kindness, not force or fear. We aim to wake up, but through compassion.

Which brings me to taking my own advice.

I can only do this (or any other work for liberation) well if I honor these elements of good care: custom, intuitive, feasible, kind.

With this space, doing this work, I will honor myself with a format that works. I hope that you join me. I hope that this feels like something we can jam to together.

Let’s be honest and kind. Let’s express our unique forms of self-care. Let’s do it without beating ourselves up. Let’s do it in a way that frees us.

This is liberatory self-care.

Sometimes, it’s about doing the best we can do.

Sometimes care isn’t gorgeous. It’s messy or inelegant. Sometimes, it’s not photo-perfect or aspirational. We can choose, then, to acknowledge that best and celebrate it. We can choose, together, to be present with what is.

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