Self-Care as a Radical Act

“Happiness is another kind of inner resource for people seeking social and political change. I don’t see how we can keep giving when we feel depleted and exhausted, when generosity is trying to come out of nothing.” Sharon Salzburg

By Florence Scialom

We live in a rapidly changing society filled with huge challenges; the norms of governance and the stability of the natural world seem to be shaking beneath our feet. We all undoubtedly experience stresses and strains in our daily lives linked to these wider societal challenges, as well as those of a more personal nature too. Against this backdrop of suffering, caring for ourselves can feel deeply selfish. Yet through practicing mindfulness I am learning about self-care as a potentially radical act, which can connect to the wider changes we would like to see in the world.

Avoiding the rat race

Most of us live with a constant barrage of messaging from advertisers about what they claim will make us happy: the latest phone, that new car, a bigger house. Yet following the route of endless consumption often requires a type of cognitive dissonance which increases as we become more aware of the damage excessive consumer lifestyles can have on our life-giving systems.

It’s not that I don’t think material goods are important, necessary and enjoyable. I really value those material goods in my life which are useful and / or beautiful, and – ideally – sustainable. But I do think materialism can go too far: there’s a risk that we can get lost amidst material striving, pushing ourselves harder to progress in the ‘rat race’ yet forgetting what we’re doing it for, as well as what impact we are having on the world.

Taking time to be

If we take time to pause, it becomes apparent that the things which make us feel good often aren’t actually things at all. Research has shown that free time and positive experiences make us happier than stuff (something I wrote about recently on the Network of Wellbeing blog). When I focus on what I’m grateful for, I often come back to my relationships with family and friends and the experiences I most enjoy.

One of these experiences is practicing mindfulness. Through practicing regularly I create the time to appreciate being in the moment. Not needing to do anything, or go anywhere. Not needing to buy anything, or prove myself. Simply having the space to exist and appreciate being alive in this time, with all of its beauty and its challenges.

From this space of quiet reflection, I gain some strength to focus on what is most important to me. Rather than getting overwhelmed in the sadness of the news or lost in the distraction coming from advertisers, I reclaim the power of my attention and (re-) direct it towards things which could make my own or others’ lives better.

 

Quote from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh

Balancing self-care and action

As with many worthwhile things in life, it’s all about balance: between taking care of ourselves through practices such as mindfulness, and taking action to improve the lives of others and change society for the better. I am not always sure of the best ways to achieve this balance, and I’m not claiming I have got it right at present; I only know that I have grown to see these topics as deeply connected.

We cannot care for others if we feel completely depleted and miserable. We cannot fight for change only from a place of anger and hatred; we also need love and hope to sustain us. At the same time, we cannot change the world from our meditation cushion alone; it is also important to take compassionate action in the world. This can take many different forms, but it’s likely more powerful if it comes from a place of deep care – for yourself and for others.

Share your comments

Exploring the connection between inner and outer change is a strong interest of mine, and is one of the main motivations behind starting this blog, so I’d really appreciate any comments you’d like to share on this topic. How do you care for yourself? Do you see caring for yourself as connected to wider social change? How do you achieve a good balance between self-care and taking action to help others? Thanks for reading! 🙂

Read other posts on Mindful Change: 

Stay in touch: 

You can stay in touch via Twitter @Flo_Sci or via following the new Mindful Change Instagram account.

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