Self care for activists

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation. I am sharing it because I have noticed an awful lot of activists on my Twitter feed expressing pain, rage, and exhaustion. Accordingly, I have revived a hashtag, #activistSelfCare. I didn’t do this to promote the book; I did it because I saw people in pain.

It turns out that the term ‘self care’ originated with Audre Lorde [1], who wrote,

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” 

Here’s the excerpt:

Self care

Above all, take care of yourself. Get the right amount of sleep, food, water, massage, pampering, hugs, sex, and intellectual and emotional nourishment. (The right amount of these things may vary from person to person, depending on individual needs and preferences.) Take the time to smell the flowers along the way, say kind words to others, smile, snuggle with your lovers, friends, and companion animals. Take a hot bath with essential oils; go for a walk in the woods, or by the sea, or a river. Read the kind of books that make you happy; watch the kind of films that make you laugh, because they are quirky and individualistic. Magical and transformative rituals are also refreshing and healing. I’m not saying you should pretend that the world is all sunshine and rainbows, as it clearly isn’t, and that would be a form of spiritual bypassing, but make sure you get your fair share of sunshine and rainbows.

If you are an activist, self-care is especially important. Be aware of how much arguing and campaigning for social justice you can cope with before you have to recharge your batteries by doing some self-care. The same applies if you are a coven leader; holding a safe space for others can be surprisingly tiring, especially when conflicts occur in the group. Set good boundaries. Self-care is really important in order to prevent dry spells, wobbles, and spiritual burnout.

If you can afford psychotherapy, go for it. It can be really helpful to explore your personal issues in a safe and non-judgmental space. It has been suggested that psychotherapy is a way of constructing a new narrative of your life, retelling your story, and sending it off in a new direction, no longer hampered by the wounds of the past. If you can’t afford therapy, don’t try to ‘roll your own’. A magical group is not therapy, though it may have therapeutic benefits. Instead, go for a long walk with a trusted friend and take it in turns to talk about your issues.

If you are angry, feel your anger, and then channel it into a constructive solution (if one is available). Unrecognised or repressed anger can be a cause of depression, so don’t shove it down the back of the sofa and ignore it: do something to express it, even if it’s a bit of a stomp about and a shout. Sometimes I burst into tears when I am angry; sometimes I hit a pillow.

However, it is best not to dwell on or feed the anger. If the situation that is making you angry continues to exist, can you escape from the situation, or do something to improve the conditions or behaviours that are making you angry? If not, then rather  than continuously stoking and feeding the anger, expressing it in ways that diffuse your feelings can be helpful. Anger is not actually a negative emotion – it is your psyche’s way of telling you that you are in a negative and potentially dangerous situation that needs fixing. The situation may also be pressing on an old psychological wound, and that may be the real cause of the anger – especially if the anger seems excessive in relation to the thing that’s making you angry.

Robert Masters writes that suppressing anger is one of the symptoms of spiritual bypassing [2] (I call these people the ‘spiritualler-than-thou’).

Some people derive satisfaction from helping others, but don’t give and give and give without receiving anything in return. Healthy boundaries are important to prevent you from feeling drained and exploited.

Don’t ignore the warning signs of spiritual burnout and other pitfalls; do something to take care of yourself before the symptoms worsen.

Once again, the watchword is balance. Take care of yourself at the same time as you take care of other people, and of Nature.

[1] I didn’t know that it originated with Audre Lorde until today, so unfortunately that fact is not in the book.

[2] Robert Augustus Masters (2013), Spiritual Bypassing: Avoidance in Holy Drag. (an outstanding article, highly recommended)

I realise that some of the above might be unavailable to people who live in poverty or in situations of systemic violence and repression, but some of the suggestions don’t cost any money.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.

3 thoughts on “Self care for activists

  1. I really love this excerpt, and am looking forward to getting the book! Thank you especially for the article on spiritual bypassing. Is that a theme you touch on more in depth in your work?

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  2. Pingback: Avoiding spiritual burn-out | Dowsing for Divinity

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