I write to you today to prove to you definitively that:
- your burnout serves no one and
- to suggest methods of self care which are specifically useful in building resilience.
I am hoping to make this case so strongly that you begin these nuriousing practices immediately and maintain them consistently ongoing. I start by sharing my story. Please bear with me.
When I arrived in Rwanda I could tell the team was already burnt out. Sarcasm, bitterness and tension were always felt. The thin smiles that covered them did nothing for me. It was a shock. Not Africa, not Rwanda, not the Rwandan people, the people there to help.
I’m asked often about my experience in Rwanda and it pains me that this is the first and most visceral memory which comes to mind. I know it’s not what people want to hear. It’s not the story that I want to tell, but it’s the one that lingers and it nags at me for a reason.
Since those three months in Rwanda over a decade ago I’ve thought hard and spoken at length about just how dangerous it is to have people in service who are burnt out. Attitudes of cynicism and resentment hang like clouds around this particular flavor of exhaustion and so adversely impact the recipients of our service, it is advisable to do nothing rather than work while harboring these feelings. It’s something I talk about for a long time in my Trauma Informed Yoga Teacher Trainings where I advise yoga teachers on how to teach marginalized communities and those who have been through trauma.
I hammer in the point both because we don’t want to harm the very people we are here to serve and because when we commit to ridding the world of harm that means harm to self as well. It’s documented and common knowledge in the nonprofit sector that some of the best in service and activism abandon their causes because of experiencing these feelings. We don’t want to lose them. We want them healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically, and filled with joy when they serve. This can only happen if they take proper measures to take care of themselves.
Self care that works is of a specific flavor.
It’s not really a bath or a glass of wine (although those are great). It’s filling oneself with self-love, self-compassion, inner joy, and equanimity. These four attitudes, the Brahmaviharas, or highest dwellings are the answer to a long life in service and activism and you can practice them in a variety of ways, the most common being Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation. I recently gave a talk on this at virtual yoga retreat and you can purchase the whole retreat (9 sessions) or that single talk here. It will guide you through how to think about and practice each of the four attitudes.
Being in nature is another way to “fill the cup”.
We are nature, and getting in touch with that and grounding in it is imperative for our health. Specific practices such as walking meditation, standing barefoot on the earth, sitting in a particular corner of nature and observing the life there, sun gazing, following the moon cycles, and others can all reconnect us to our true nature and give us the rich wholeness we need to pursue activism ongoing. As many of you know, my husband and I are currently residing in the Catskills and where we are practicing these methods and preparing programming to help you do the same.
Enriching yoga and movement practices can also fortify us mind, body and spirit.
Here we must make sure to choose those somatic experiences which are low or no impact, quiet, and meaningful and be sure to do them with an intention of soothing. The Yin/Restorative class at Land Yoga is a perfect example of this and one we want to deeply encourage at this time. Make it extra juicy with props from Manduka who gives a percentage of sales to Land Yoga when you write “landyoga” in their promotion box at check out.
These three practices are for everyone.
You may not identify as being actively engaged in activism or service but most of us actually are in positions of giving for many parts of our day. Whether it’s as a parent, teacher, friend, or colleague, it is of benefit to all of us to find ways to be in this world with an abundance of generosity and whole-heartedness that never gives out. It’s possible and it’s closer than you think.
- Hurt people hurt people and therefore your wellness is of benefit to yourself and others.
- You are no good to anyone if you burn out and could unintentionally harm those you wish to help.
- There’s a special kind of “self-care” which is rooted in self-love and self-compassion. This type of self-care results in a boundless flow of care for others.
- You and the world are worth it.
- This way of being is closer than you think. Make the first steps and you will feel that.