Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sustainable activism

My new housemate, a Zimbabwean who's studying in Australia and has an accent as occassionally mixed-up as my own, worked on his laptop next to Nate and I yesterday, asking thoughtful questions and listening to us bounce ideas of each other and move forward our respective projects. Around 10:00 pm, when we'd returned from dinner only to hop back on our laptops, we started joking about how hard it is, when you're working on your own schedule, to stop working.

"I have friends like you guys," my homie said. "They work really hard, doing their things, and are really successful but never go on vacation." Then he paused, as if he wasn't sure he should tell us, who he'd only just met, what he wanted to say to us. "And after three years, they all burn out."

I was grateful to be reminded of the simple fact that working towards positive change in a country and culture not your own can not only be stressful in the short-term, but can create antagonism over time. You get jaded. Tired. You loose patience and feel like the outcomes aren't what you expected. Maybe you roll your eyes when someone invites you to another partnership meeting. Maybe your voice ends up a little curt when you finish sharing your opinion or making sure a project is working the way you want. I don't want that.

It's important for me to rememeber that all I need to do is show up for the work I want to do and do it the best I possibly can. The outcome is beyond my control. To my yogis out there, this sounds familiar -- it's a paraphased quote from the Baghvad Gita -- but in practice, it's hard.

In May, I went on scholarship to Off the Mat, Into the World -- a weeklong workshop that helps activists make their work sustainable in the long-term that pulls from the experiences of leaders in the environmental, social justice and indigenous movements. The intensive helped me better understand what feeds me, why I'm motivated to do the work I do, and how I can take care of myself holistically to keep focused and strong.

Off course, Off the Mat drew heavily on yoga -- a physical discipline that I find an indispensible resource for stress management and general well-being -- but it also helped me to examine other avenues towards self-care. On a simple day-to-day level, I started to meditate again, make time for reading and writing, make sure I was getting enough sleep and the foods that I like. I learned how to not apologize for needing what I need, and how to better show up and hold space for the people in my path -- without judging or reacting, just letting them be. It's been an invaluable lesson, and one I'm still learning.

Thanks for reading. Please remind me, in a few months, to go on vacation.

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