Standing Still in the Eyes of Storms (on Burnout)

Imagine a garden bursting forward in a riot of color, smell, and prickliness. Some plants are humble-looking but bountiful, and others bring beauty and joy to those who look at them. Each plant has its own unique relationship with the earth, and natural affinities emerge among the seeming chaos of competition for space. Some years we pour enormous amounts of energy into seed-saving, layout, planting, and care, only to watch the plants whither in an unexpected drought. Other more forgetful years we dine on tenacious volunteer tomatoes and peaches that have planted themselves unexpectedly. Keeping some weeds for salsas and ground cover is useful, but if we let them go to seed there will be no end to the invasion. Once we harvest the fruits of our labor before the cold comes, the bed lays fallow, dormant, lying in silent fecundity for the return of warmer months.

Just like the garden, we must treat ourselves and others with vigilance and respect if we want to bear the fruit of revolution. Demanding too much or too little can sabotage our own intentions for growth. Luckily, there are many opportunities to weed out unproductive emotions and behaviors and compost them into the rich, fertile foundation of a world beyond oppressive consumption.

There is a common pattern in activist circles in which individuals follow an arc of becoming radicalized, participating in street demos and community organizing with full force for years. Then they hit middle age and find religion, get a “real” job, or begin to raise a family of their own. They leave behind the lost hope that our little pockets of activism have the ability to create anything lasting or meaningful. They shed their subcultural ties and step back into the system where they left off.

We can break down this dichotomy of self-care vs. political involvement by more consciously incorporating ideas of emotional support and wellness in movements for change. Ideally, our political work should nourish and strengthen our personal life. But when overwhelming stress saps away creativity, it’s natural and healthy to create space for others to involve themselves while you take some time to recharge. The world we are fighting for is not a distant perfect revolutionary utopia, but a flawed and human-sized hodgepodge of interests fluctuating in the here and now, so we might as well support each other while doing it. If we expend our energy criticizing the efficacy of others’ projects or charging into unstrategic battles with the police, we will exhaust the energy and passion we need for the tedious day-to-day work of movement-building. Someone who can prepare a simple meal with love and kindness may be doing more for world peace than someone who screams and shouts hateful words in collective meetings.

Our emotional maturity has a profound impact on how we relate to others. For example, racists, rapists, and cops reproduce the violent relationships that were modeled to them as children. A true revolution must develop compassionate ways to deal with our most dysfunctional and damaged members and seek to create a fabric of continuity and health for each other and future generations to come.

Life is long, and sometimes we lose sight of what we are trying to do, whether it’s as small as giving yourself permission to love completely, or as large as the emancipation of all beings who live on Earth. In these moments, the most important thing to do is to stop doing and start being. Taste the air moving through your body. Send the writhing roots that live in your feet deep down into the core of the earth. Move your body to the pulse of your deepest and most ineffable self. Allow your mirth and creativity to gush forward in all directions. When that seemingly impenetrable line of storm-troopers advances on the crowd, the face of allies in your community and our nonhuman brothers and sisters will give you the strength to shout “I love you, you’re beautiful, now CHANGE!”