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The Politics of Self-Care

Inner freedom is a social responsibilty  – Vimala Thakar

Vitruvian manThe way we treat ourselves has serious political implications. Do we take the time to exercise? To breath deeply and meditate? To prepare healthy food for ourselves? Or, do we rush away to the next round of emails and phone calls?

Our answers to these questions influence the energy we bring to our interactions with others, and this energy can shape the outcome of those interactions, and thus our work at large.

My mother raised me on the belief that ‘there is no joy for any, until there is joy for all.’ Though it has been years since she last said it, I still love this quote. It’s lasting influence has helped to solidify my lifelong commitment to social activism and political action.

Her quote has always left me thinking– If I am not concerned with the wellbeing of those around me, what hope can I have of ever being truly joyful? My life does not belong to me alone. Even if I wanted to run away from my current responsibilities and live on some tropical island, there is no guarantee that doing so would increase my happiness.

Indeed, my personal fulfillment is bound up with the growth of those I can reach in this world.

However, my mom also raised me on another powerful quote, ‘every strength has a shadow side.’ Like many others who are committed to social transformation, I am often tempted to neglect or totally ignore my own needs for personal expansion. Like so much of contemporary activist culture, I can operate as if I am not a part of the very world I am seeking to transform.

In recent years, I have been making great gains in honoring my own needs for continuous self-investment. Almost every morning, I wake up and pour as much love and relaxation into myself as I can, before then getting started with the external obligations that the day holds. While I like to mix it up, this practice usually involves standing meditation and Qi Gong.

By investing in myself first – and doing so consistently over years –  I have witnessed dramatic improvements in what I have to offer the world. My mind is more clear, my heart is more relaxed, and my spirit is more embracing of the people I meet along my path. So when I encounter turbulence throughout the day, I am much better positioned to flow right through it. Or at least to face it in a way that does little lasting damage to myself and my relationships.

Personal harmony should not belong to yoga teachers alone. As activists, organizers, and individuals with tremendous stake in our surroundings, we need to operate from a place of love and well-being as much as anyone else in the world.

While your own personal practice will be something that you discover and master over time, I have found that one particular ingredient is essential for cultivating a practice of personal relaxation and growth. You must believe that you are worthy of the investment.

For the sake of all those you encounter in your work and political offerings, I hope you can take the time to recognize your own tremendous value.

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