Taking Time to Breathe in a World on Fire
Self-care for activists to rest, reflect and rejuvenate in a world where the fight for justice and survival seem never-ending.
I don’t think I stand alone when I say that the air has been tight lately; from the global pandemic that has changed our lives forever, to the ever prevailing injustices and regressions happening in across the world. While we are a fiery generation and while I love the invigorating feeling of being part and fighting alongside movements I believe in with all of my heart and soul, the weight of it all does become heavy at times.
Even in an age where the conversation around mental health and well-being is more open and encouraged than ever, I think a lot of us - especially in activist spaces - struggle with the internalised stigma around admitting burn-out and compassion fatigue.
We have been conditioned to refuse rest until there is change, and simple acts of self-care feel sinful. But taking moments to breathe, to rest, to re-centre and to simply care for oneself, is vital; especially in a field where the fight for justice is a fight for survival.
I know how it initially fills you with guilt (people are dying; my suffering is minor in comparison!). But believe me when I tell you this - you are so valuable to this world. Your well-being, your mental and physical health, your joy and happiness, matters.
If you are still on edge, let’s just put it this way: You have to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else. If you cannot breathe, if you are fatigued and burned out, if you are lost - then you won’t be of any good to your cause, fight, or community. This is not selfishness, this is sustainability.
I’ve tried to make it a habit to go on a walk a few times a week; in these seemingly ever-lasting times of Corona, I fear myself becoming consumed by the walls around me. So when I step outside and feel the warm glaze of the sun and icy Scottish wind on my skin, it is a sacred and devoted moment for me to reconnect with the environment around me.
Letting go of the weight of worry and all other concepts that float without root, I turn my focus towards my body. Paying attention to the power of which it moves, scanning for pain, prickles, and pleasure. Grounding myself with the Earth beneath me; counting the flowers in the grass and the squirrels in the trees. This is where I am. Right now, right here.
And then I let my thoughts flow. I think a misconception when it comes to meditation and mindfulness is that you have to be able not to think at all, and therefore many reject the concept altogether. But I’ve simply found meditation to be a way for me to get in touch with my consciousness and thus be all the more aware of my mind.
I gently note where I catch my thoughts swimming; are they in the past, present, or future? What purpose do they serve? Regret, stress, guilt, fear? Do they have any impact on my now - this now, right here? I return the current; running my fingers through the grass, listening to the birdsong in the air.
This can be everything from a 15-minute walk down the street to a 2-hour stroll through the park. All that matters is to simply take a moment out of your day to reconnect with the present and reevaluate what matters and what you are in control of in that moment; not the untouchable past or unpredictable future.
With social media being everywhere around us, we are always on our toes. I not only understand but experience the need to be aware of everything that is going on at every moment. It is just and right to want to be part of the fight and do everything that you possibly can. But I need you - yes, you - to take care of yourself amidst it all.
In a society that does everything to tear you down, self-care is a rebellious act of self-preservation and resistance.
“Letter to an Activist” by Tooker Gomberg, Earth Day 2002
It's honourable to work to change the world, but do it in balance with other things. Explore and embrace the things you love to do, and you'll be energetic and enthusiastic about the activism. Don't drop hobbies or enjoyments. Be sure to hike and dance and sing. Keeping your spirit alive and healthy is fundamental if you are to keep going.