Do you tend to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do you spend so much time fighting for just causes that you forget to take care of yourself? Do you feel that there is never enough time in the day to bring about positive change AND practice loving yourself? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I empathize with you, because I have been there as well.
Self-care is something that I still struggle with. I have always been super passionate about issues, including veganism and animal rights, but my “issue” with caring about issues left me overwhelmed and emotionally drained. I know many people can relate.
In my own efforts to explore being an ethical vegan and animal rights activist, I recently embarked on a two-month long journey to Hawaii to volunteer at an animal sanctuary. Overall, the experience was inspiring, challenging, and eye-opening. It’s something I’ll be telling my future grandchildren about one day. Yes, I want to be that cool grandma that they tell their friends about.
But working on the 25-acre sanctuary and caring for 65 animals took its toll on me: mentally, emotionally, and physically. I let my already established self-care practices fade away for a while due to lack of time, space, and sheer energy. My valuable mind real estate was focused on helping and loving these rescued farm animals.
So about two weeks into my time at the sanctuary, I finally got a feel for the work and re-committed to myself. The great thing about self-care practices is that they are totally customizable and can change with the inevitable ebbs and flows of life, but even if you fall off the wagon, you can still get back on. These rituals, if you will, have allowed me to understand that I am only one person, and I alone will never change the world, but I can change myself. I can love myself first and thus extend that compassion to all facets of the world.
Here are just some of the practices that have helped me to stay sane as an activist:
Roses and Thorns Gratitude Practice
When my mind was hyper focused on all the problems at the sanctuary, like which animal got loose again or which enclosure needed major fixing, I found it helpful to just focus on things that were positive. Yeah, there was clearly a “thorn” grabbing my attention (like that one time a wild pig was blowing through all the fences and getting a little too friendly with the female pigs that were not fixed) but when I purposefully focused on all the positive “roses,” my mindset quickly changed. That shift helped me be grateful for the experience, despite the perceived negatives.
The thing about yoga is that you do not have to do a full hour of yoga for it to be beneficial. Yoga itself is all about the breath, so even when I felt too sore to do a flow on my mat, I would do some simple stretches and focus on my breathing. I could sense how much my body needed that time in the morning, and how even simple stretches and intentional breathing made such a huge difference. My mind wasn’t trying to save the world, it was relaxing into the art of being present with itself. Don’t knock practices just because they seem too easy or overrated, because it’s the simple things that can make a huge difference.
Sunscreen and Smiles
Hawaii’s sun can be very brutal, and that is what led me to the daily ritual of applying sunscreen in the mirror while smiling. I know it sounds cheesy, but research has shown that smiling can trick the brain into believing that you are happy. It is this simple act that I have chosen to do as part of my morning routine, and that choice signifies that I matter. Protecting my skin is important, but what’s more important is taking the time for me so I can then take care of leaving the world a better place before I go.
I know a lot of people throw this word around, but if there is one substantial thing you can do for grounding yourself when it feels like the world is a crazy place is to just sit and breathe. When I felt like there just wasn’t enough time and the baby pig was crying for milk and attention or the goats were once again jumping on the cars and stealing the neighbor’s fruit, I sat down, closed my eyes and just took some deep breaths. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t focus at all, but guided meditations were super handy in shutting off my thinking brain and letting myself just be. Insight Timer is a great app that I use, and it offers free guided meditations.
Leave it to Gandhi and his apt quote, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” That quote constantly reminds me of the importance of self-care. Because if I can’t change myself for the better, how can I expect others to? I can give everything to the problems I feel called to fix, but at the end of the day, I must take care of myself before I take on the world or else there would be no “me” to be a part of the bigger picture. I can only do my best, and that’s what keeps me going as an activist.
Also see: Can Self-Care Culture Serve More Than Ourselves? A Question For 2020
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Photo: Kristin Wilson via Unsplash