Self Care for When The World’s On Fire
Lately, it has felt like the world is one big dumpster fire. America’s political climate is at a fever pitch. The current administration implements action after action that promotes xenophobia, fear, racism, homophobia, poverty and despair. Parts of the world are literally on fire. What are ways that we can care for ourselves and others when the world's grief is banging down the door?
First, a disclaimer. This list will not include any advice on taking a bubble bath, unless you’re using the water in that bath to muffle the screams of your rage. Listen. Baths are delightful. But if you like taking baths, you should not be saving them like some miser for a day when the world is about to explode. Do the things that give you joy, that relax you. Those are not special occasion things. Those are quality of life things. Take those baths, y’all. Too busy with life or kids? Find a friend to watch your babies so you can take a bath. Hell, I will watch your babies so you can take a bath. Your self-care is more valuable than 50 cents worth of bubble bath and half an hour. Romance yourself, you lovely human, you.
So how do we care for ourselves when the world’s problems seem overwhelming? How do we tend our hearts at the door of anxiety and fear?
5. Lean into the good - My niece was born a few months ago. She is now at the smiling-when-you-make-a-weird-face stage of development. My nephew is three, and thinks I’m hilarious, even though I’m not really that funny. When I went to visit, he followed me around, picking dandelions and saying “put these in you hair, Emmy”. I could have imploded with love right there. Remember how your friends always remember your birthday. Remember that random act of kindness you saw the other day. Remember that song that moved you to tears. Remember the embrace of a lover or friend. Remember. There is good in the world.
4. Go somewhere green - Take a walk in a park near you. Go camping. Go hug a tree. Go pick some raspberries. Eat them all before they hit your bucket. Stain your mouth red, and get your fingers sticky. Maybe you’re not an “outdoorsy” person. Maybe you hate bugs. Fine. Still, go find a green thing. There is an expression in Japan called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, which is, essentially, walking in the woods. So go take a walk. No, don't walk. Meander. Remember that you are alive. Don’t make it a workout. Don’t check your phone. Just be present to the powerful, restorative beauty of creation. When things are rough, and the chaos of the world presses down like a stone on your chest, go into the green. Find the stillness there, find the life and rebirth that keeps on going, regardless of what kind of mess humanity has gotten itself into.
3. Do not suffer fools - I believe in a world of engagement. I believe that we should communicate in ways that seek to bridge understanding. I believe in active listening. I’m the type of person who wants everyone to walk away from a conversation feeling heard, and is hopefully made better for it. But if you think I’m going to engage some rando on the internet who has a Very Important Thing To Tell Me, you’ve got another thing coming. You can, in fact, ignore those mofos. I know folks who work hard to engage others in person and online. Folks who lean into uncomfortable conversations out of the desire to help others be better humans. That’s not what I’m talking about. Uncomfortable conversations are inevitable and essential for actual accountability and change. What I am saying is that you can walk away from any conversation in which you feel belittled, unheard, unsafe. You don’t have to get the last word. You don’t have to continue a conversation that’s gone sour. You don’t have to engage assholes. Take care of yourself.
2. Lean on your people - Have you ever seen something built in the shape of a tripod? Three legs are lashed or welded together, and the mutual pressure of each leg leaning on the other keeps the tripod stable.
Maybe your friends and family feel like you’re feeling. Maybe you’re all just a bunch of hot messes. It doesn’t matter; lean on your people. That’s what healthy relationships are about—love, comfort, accountability, care. They can handle your vulnerability, just like you can handle theirs.
1. Do something - I had a conversation with a colleague a few weeks ago, where we were talking about all of the pain in the world, in our communities, and of the ways that racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQAI discrimination felt so overwhelming. I said that I try to remind myself that I can’t do everything. That we can do what we can do. She said, “Yeah. Just as long as we do it.”
You will not fix the world. You will not change the systems of oppression and systemic injustice that you fight against and in which you live. Change may not happen in your lifetime. Or it may. But you can do what can do. So do it. Feel the empowerment of action. Educate yourself on your own complicity. Learn how to love better. Volunteer for causes you care about. Feed some people. Speak up, even when you’re afraid. Especially when you’re afraid. Fight like hell for what’s right, and for other people. Maybe you’re already doing a lot. That’s great. Remind yourself of the reasons why you do what you do. Celebrate the wins when they come.
This quote I repeat to myself often. Like a blanket, like a mantra, like a prayer. “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”*
*Shapiro, Wisdom of the Sages, 41. Paraphrase of Rabbi Rami Shapiro's interpretive translation of Rabbi Tarfon's work on the Pirke Avot 2:20. The text is a commentary on Michah 6:8.