The Burdens of Self-Care, Anecdotes of Collective Healing and the Real Revolution
I’ve been practicing meditation and yoga and other holistic healing modalities for over fifteen years. I’ve led people and organizations through spiritual, healing and wellness practices for a decade. Through that time, I’ve gained a deeper understanding around the cycles of practice, what it takes to sustain practice, and why practice is vital to living and working with greater connectivity and love.
Practice is something that brings us in closer conversation with our inner wisdom, love, Allah, g/G(g)od(ess), and/or spirit and in connection with community and the natural world — it can be meditation, art, gardening, reflective practice, prayer, dancing, writing, compassion, contemplative practice or some other modality. Practice offers us an anchor in a spinning world and serves as a regulator to our ever shifting emotional and life situations.
We usually begin personal practice because of a spark of inspiration, a cultural suggestion, a health concern or a desire for more peace, connection, strength, or confidence.
At first, we show up to the practice with vigor and commitment. Time sensitive practices, such as a cleanse or a forty day yoga or meditation practice, offer accountability and motivation to complete a specific commitment. Classes, courses, sanctuary online and onsite, provide a community of care and support to hold us through a new or continued practice.
During this time of committed practice, we often experience a feeling of accomplishment and depth of the practice’s benefits in our bodies, hearts and minds. Oftentimes, we promise ourselves that we will continue practice after the time specific activity.
Sometimes we do but more often than not, we do not.
We may fall away from practice for days, weeks, or even years.
However, something remains in the place of practice — we start to feel bad about ourselves. “If only I had the discipline to show up for practice everyday,” we think.
If we are able to move past the time specific commitment and continue to practice, to ride out inspiration, to stick with practice longer than our health ailment, or make a commitment beyond a cultural expectation, then we may get into a routine of practice. However, that’s not something we do alone.
Practice is more likely to stick for people who carve out space in their homes, cultures, and schedules, and make practice a priority. We are more likely to show up to consistent practice, when we are enmeshed in a community of practitioners, whether that’s in a physical location, such as a community center, mosque or Buddhist temple or in a community that provides support through the lulls and openings that come with practice.
In the plateaus of practice, we often begin to doubt the impact of the practice. Sometimes, practices do change and sometimes a plateau is the exact place where transformation will erupt. However, we must have mirrors in place to reflect this back to us in the form of community, teachers, guides and a personal practice of listening in.
After reaching a few (or hundreds) of plateaus in practice, being guided by a community of care and support and our own innate wisdom, we may reach a new landscape, where practice becomes life. Here, practice is more integrated, it doesn’t need to happen on the mat, the cushion, in church or in the dance studio. Practice begins to guide us and informs how we show up. That is not to say enlightenment or mastery has been attained. Oftentimes, even here, a cycle of practice begins that reflects the stop and start of the above patterns, although with sustained practice, guilt and shame is often replaced with heightened compassion and love for ourselves and others.
However, because it takes such effort to reach that place of sustained practice, many of us are walking around with the burden of self-care weighing heavy in our bodies and in our lives.
The Burden of Self-Care
Practice is hard to maintain, and often our “failed” attempts at practice, result in increased harmful self-talk, especially in the beginning, which often can last for up to five to ten years of practice.
Oftentimes, practice and this idea of self-care, becomes a burden, another thing we’ve failed at.
One of our main barriers to practice, to liberation, to self-care, is the idea that we have the ability to make the decision to take care and that will be enough. This kind of thinking is embedded into convenience cultures, like those found in the U.S., because capitalism wins when we feel the shame and guilt of our failed attempts at self-care.
Until, we address the larger systems of oppression in the journey towards greater healing and liberation, we will always fall short. We must acknowledge that the systems of oppression we live inside of and internalize, are deeper and more potent than we often acknowledge.
Liberation is not a solo act. Self-care will always be a burden when it’s approached as an individual responsibility. Oftentimes, systems of oppression show up as the negative self-talk that we cultivate from childhood because of oppression we experienced, it looks like a busy schedule where there is no time for reflection or practice, let alone a breath of air — this is the system of capitalism keeping us distracted from healing and connection, and these systems show up in our work, where emotion, health and connecting is something to be “left at the door” so that the real “work” can be tackled.
Practice is hard because we live in a world that tells us, we need to prioritize health and wellness and then simultaneously makes that almost impossible.
I’ve worked with hundreds of changemakers and organizations over the last decade. I’ve worked specifically with them around how to incorporate healing and practice as a way of life and work. Together, we’ve found that personal transformation can never be enough, unless it’s connected to changing the systems of oppression inside of our bodies and in our work, organizations and projects. Systems of oppression, such as classism, white supremacy, sexism, patriarchy, and homophobia are so prevalent in our psyches, spirits and bodies that it’s hard to decipher what is true and what is the toxic remnants of oppression.This is why we need practice!
Personal practice is important, it gives us the strength to show up to the oppression that accumulates daily inside of our bodies, minds and spirits, to push our organizations, our groups, networks, our work, towards dismantling systems of oppression inside of our processes, relationships and visions forward. However, self-care will always be a burden, until it’s matched up with collective liberatory action in the world, this is the place where self-care transforms into liberation.
The Combahee River Collective, a radical group of Black lesbian women, thought leaders and activists in the 1970’s stated: “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue to struggle and work.”
Practice is a practice of showing up to ourselves, our community and embodying our values in the world, in a larger interconnected web of life. Self-care isn’t something to do behind closed doors; it’s something to live out loud, with others.
Practice will always fail when we take on the burden of its implementation alone.
Individualism is a symptom of capitalism, however, healing is an antidote towards greater connection. We can interrupt the oppression that threatens to divide us inside and out, when we counter it with self-love, and community care. Our human nature is often adverse to showing up over and over again to the mundane and the difficult, the pain and the suffering and we would rather escape inside of convenience culture that suggests we can be fixed, we can be well and happy and whole, if we only we take care of ourselves.
Showing up for Liberation
Practice is essential for our healing and well-being and it must happen inside of a context of our interconnectivity. Practice without actions towards dismantling systems of oppression, cannot lead us towards liberation, inside or out.
A few guiding questions.
How is my current practice (defined as ways I connect with my inner wisdom, truth, love earth and/or Spirit) connected to my practices in the world?
How does practice show up in my place of work, in my culture, in my community?
What are the ways I take on the burden of self-care and what can I do to step into greater collective liberation?
How do we survive or thrive in this world that is full of so many invisible oppressive forces, many that show up in our own bodies, minds and spirits? Through personal and community practice, I’ve experienced that the best response to showing up for liberation is when we connect to our spirit, community, earth, and the imagination — elements that aren’t constructed by these systems but are impacted by them. For example, one of capitalism’s biggest wins is convincing us that we will feel better, be happy, have more joy, if we have this thing or that thing. We won’t though, happiness is
fleeting, pain is a reality and until we are able to be in the muck and love each other and ourselves in it — we won’t be free. Until we soften into pain, it will always have power over us.
Systems of oppression want us to stay disconnected to the reality of our brokenness because then we remain distracted by the power we gain from being broken together, holding each other tenderly in healing, love and building a better world together. When we show up to liberation, we heal collectively, this is the revolution of our time.