As I have written before, it is problematic when we only focus on our own personal suffering in our spiritual practice. However, it is equally dangerous when we only respond to external forces of suffering or when we only know how to take care others. Women of color especially can get into the socially constructed mindset that we are selfish unless we are being a caregiver. At other times, we may get so caught up in serving others that we forget to serve ourselves. I know this happens to me quite often.
I get so busy on my mission to “save the world” that I forget that I can not help others without first helping myself. For instance, I was teaching a class on meditation for domestic violence survivors and afterwards I remembered that I had not practiced myself in weeks! How could I show other people tools for coping with terrible abuse when I could not keep up with my own practice? The truth of the matter is that human services is stressful emotionally and physically . It is impossible to last in the work if you do not have coping tools to avoid burnout and a breakdown.
Work in social services and activism are similar in this way. You can not be an effective activist if you have an emotional collapse or worse. It is also important to remember (and I have to keep reminding myself) that I am a part of the struggle. I am a Black woman who is fighting the good fight for myself. I am not a savior. The work I do is basically a “selfish” need for my own salvation and release from the shackles of our oppressive world. Everything I do for other people, I should also do for myself.Now, there are many debates around the idea that the “personal is the political.” Sometimes people take this to the extreme and think that acting only on a personal level is activism. However, the personal is the political in my view because the oppressive world tries to kill off Black women like me both emotionally and physically. The personal is the political because you can not challenge systematic abuses if you have a fatal heart attack partly cause by stress. You can not address oppression if you do not have the coping skills to resist internalized oppression.
Activism means nothing, if oppressed people do not think they are deserving of self care. Everyone deserves to enjoy life to its fullest. It is that enjoyment that we are fighting for. The best balance, I have learned is grounding myself while supporting others in their self care. I have to make sure for every piece of myself that I give to others, I recharge my own internal self. Sometimes, that is a vacation, spiritual practices, a TV-marathon or a nice long bath. Always find time for yourself. Be selfish. Make a list of activities that will help you recharge because you are worth it. Always fight for yourself as much ( if not more) than you fight for others. It is about balancing the personal with the political.