Not for nothing do long-time activists emphasize rest as an integral part of their work. As pandemic restrictions extend into summer and the Movement for Black Lives encounters continued aggression and violence from the state, I’ve called deeply on my own coaching skills to navigate my days. Here are three questions I frequently ask myself to stay connected to my own center of wisdom and ok-ness.
1. How can I best comfort myself today?
Comfort is a real need is times of distress. Life is always a roller coaster, but our social circumstances right now provoke strong emotions: grief, outrage, sadness, anger, despair, and more. When we experience these strong emotions on a regular basis, our system needs to recover, and recover frequently. Activities that comfort re-establish a feeling of safety, at least temporarily, so that we can breathe, think, and heal.
I’m finding comfort right now in fresh bread from my local bakery and in beautifully written fantasy novels. A word of caution: too much fresh bread does not a happy tummy make. Are your comfort activities sustainable? Are they harmful in any way? Find comfort activities that truly nurture you and that do not create other stresses on your mind or body. Which brings us to #2
2. What is my body asking for today?
I can easily slide into a cognitive circle on the best of days, and it’s been especially challenging for me since March. I read constantly and work on a computer all day. Mostly confined to my home, I need to remind myself to check in with my physical self. The voice of embodied intelligence is softer and slower than the thinking mind. It usually takes an intentional moment to hear it. What mine tells me consistently: “Get out of the office and into the art studio.”
And she’s right. My late afternoon hours painting the Lotus series have provided a steady exhale to the prolonged hyperventilation of the quarantine and its associated crises. When I move my hands and focus on painting, drawing, mark-making, my mind rests and I calm down. My partner Isaac and I also have a home workout routine, which we do in the evenings several days a week. I usually don’t realize how much I need to exercise until we finish. Often I stress cry between sets of push-ups, and I sleep better on those nights.
3. What concrete action can I take to support the world I want to live in?
Brain science says we need to complete the stress cycle to return to a feeling of balance. Anything we call “stressful” is triggering our survival instinct, which translates into body as mortal threat. Many of our physiological functions are slowed or stopped in order to focus on staying alive. If we do not complete the stress cycle by discharging excess adrenaline and other chemicals, our system never comes fully back online and we function sub-optimally throughout our lives.
Comfort, creativity, and exercise can all complete the cycle, but ACTION has the added benefit of reversing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which are always a risk in situations of ongoing stress. Action is by nature empowering. When you do something that embodies your values, you are extending your will into the world and influencing reality. Your action need not be large to matter.
We may never know the ultimate impact of our actions on others or on society, but we can feel their impact on ourselves. When I show up at a protest, send money to a campaign, or participate in an antiracist planning group, I feel more engaged in life and a delicate sense of possibility returns. Your action need not be directly political in nature, as mine is, but it must strongly express your values in order to be truly empowering.