The way of the marathon
There are two distinct ways I have seen people engage in the social space.
The first is like a sprint. There is a burst of energy, like Bolt trying to run his 100 metres. Post a fellowship or a program, you are totally fired up. You realise that the world has burning problems, and you dive right in.
Soon, you have a social enterprise. Or, you are already volunteering 16 hours a day for some cause, relentlessly.
It’s all great. You get acknowledgement from the people around. You have exciting stories to tell and feel the throbbing passion.
But sooner or later, burnout begins to loom on the horizon. The wake up call may be through a health crisis or a break up. It could be a parent losing patience or friends giving up on you. But it comes.
And with that comes disillusionment and ‘giving up’. There may even be some bitterness — about how things will never change. There’s a story about why it won’t work or why you will get back to ‘it’ later.
But there is another way to engage with social change — the one I have seen the elders of this space choose.
This is the way of the marathon.
Just as you prepare to run for a marathon, this involves careful preparation. This preparation is at many levels. At the mental level it is understanding your cause. At the physical level it is taking care of your health. But the most important preparation is spiritual.
Social change can be a depressing journey. Consider your experience. Problems are super complex, solutions may not work and things keep getting worse. There are few blips of success. The work is time and thought intensive. And it is often underpaid.
In this scenario, spiritual practice is the fountain of hope.
After the initial burst of energy has fizzled, life can seem quite directionless. Many of us head back to corporate jobs. Others go for further studies, looking back at their social tryst as a youthful fling. Some save ‘social work’ for post retirement repentance.
But the way of the marathon requires each of us to care for ourselves. to nurture ourselves as the space through which Life will do its work. This journey is not for years but for decades spanning a lifetime — there is no exit strategy here.
My practices include journaling and meditation. On the path, the company of noble friends helps — these are others who are on the path and inspire me to keep walking. Self care includes eating healthy food, exercising and keeping the brain active.
The way of the marathon also involves preparing those around you to live with your choices. As they say, if you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.
The marathon way is also about learning to live within one’s means. Creating a financial ‘model’ that allows us to sustain work in the long run is as essential.
Finally, there is no better way (or reason) to grow than to serve. Contemplation has to become a way of life.
I am preparing for a marathon (and already running it). And I’m looking forward to a joyful jog all the way to the finish line. Like every generation, we too will chip into the journey of the planet.
The only question is — will we get burned out by it or have a blast while it lasts!