Get a Life . . . And Balance
Do you know the expression “Get a life”? In my early school years one kid would say that to another, meaning “Get it together, Wise up, You’re really out of it, Don’t be such a ______ " (fill in the blank).That expression came back to me as I was reckoning recently with my own low spirits, my sense of burnout and overwhelm around our political situation. I thought to myself, I only get one crack at this earthly life, and I don’t want to miss out on the joy, happiness, fun and beauty that is all around me just because I’ve got my nose to the screen, or whatever it might be that is outer activist work. Get a life! But how do I do that?
It’s a paradox really, that in order to be of service to another person, or animal or cause, we have to take care of ourselves first. So I’ve set about to create better balance in my life, to replenish myself on a daily basis. This life—and our activism work—is a marathon, not a sprint. These are some of things I’ve discovered that lift my spirits, give me more energy, and brighten my life. I hope they’ll give you some ideas for balance in your own life.
Ideas for Inner Activism
More self-care; What makes you feel good? Cared for?
Try affirmations; like, I’m doing the best I can. I can only do what I can do.
Exercise, ideally in nature
Self-compassion and kindness in thought and action
Rest . . . Daydream . . .Space Out . . . Do Nothing . . . Meditate
Time for ritual
Mandatory fun time
Laughter and humor
Scheduled and/or limited computer time, even computer-free time
Guard against negative thinking
Go to bed on a good thought; Don’t go to bed with a doom and gloom thought.
Do you ever smile at yourself in the mirror to acknowledge what a wonderful person you are? That you’re doing your level best at everything? Try it. It’s not easy. In this culture we are not encouraged to feel good about ourselves, but we can start now. It’s a revolutionary act.
Check in with yourself at the end of the day and give yourself a grade based on how you’re feeling. In good spirits? Energized or tired? Do you feel grateful or victimized? Answering these questions would tell you about how you did in terms of self-care.
Cultivate extra-curricular activities not directly related to political engagement, like music, art, reading thrillers, knitting—things that replenish your energy.
“Don’t forget to breathe.” Decades ago, when I was owner-manager of a restaurant, and often found myself in a profound state of inner angst and physical deterioration, a wise, calm elder staff person would remind me (and any other stressed-out person), “Don’t forget to breathe!” Oh yeah.
I also think it’s important to honor the feelings that come up in these scary and dark times. Even as we continue to move forward, anger, sadness, grief, and shock are all appropriate feelings that arise. When I look deeply at my suffering these days, a certain childlike innocence comes up and I ask, “Why are people so mean-spirited, so hateful? Why aren’t people kinder?” Part of me simply can’t believe how people can be mean and violent. And yet I see we can be mean-spirited and violent to ourselves. Listen to your self-talk. Are you speaking kindly, compassionate, supportive things to yourself, or are you being judgmental, critical and mean-spirited? It’s important that we honestly critique what we or someone else does or says, but if we dwell on how bad it is, we only bring ourselves down.
I call my political activism work as a member of the Love Army my divine assignment. But I’ve also come to believe that it’s my divine responsibility to be happy. Again the paradox. I see that when I do things that are fun or restful or extra-curricular, I feel more energetic, have higher spirits, enjoy better humor, and can then do better activist work, and even enjoy it. It all seems to be about balance.
Wise guidance from Rev. Maxine Kaye
When you become overwhelmed by all the demands you feel are made on you, the short amount of time available to take care of your responsibilities, and even your ability to perform these tasks, just stop for a moment and breathe. This would be a good time to remember you truly do nothing by yourself, not even take a breath. There is an intelligence within your body that knows how to keep your heart, lungs, and blood flowing harmoniously, and it is good to remember you have neither full comprehension nor responsibility for any of it.
There is one thing you do, and that is you choose, not only your priorities, intentions, thought, and feelings, but also the mindset from which you approach life. An enthusiastic outlook can make your successes multiply and your day move along gracefully, while a solemn or distressed attitude tends to produce more stress and fewer happier results.
And from a master of contemplation and action, Thomas Merton
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
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