For as long as I can remember I've been obsessed with helping the world become a better place and as a result I'm passionate about a lot of issues. Sustainability, health and animal rights top the list, but just those three causes alone have seemingly endless facets. Thoughts whirl through my mind and through conversations about factory farms, deforestation, toxins in our homes, chemical laden "food," political corruption and so on.
Occasionally someone at a party will ask me, "How do you handle all that information in your head?" I always seem to laugh in response. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. Maybe it's because I'm reminded of how hard it can be for any of us to look closely at the dark side of humanity and keep shining a light. Maybe it's because I'm grateful for this infinite well of optimism inside of me that continues to exist despite so many factors that should've, and could've, annihilated it years ago.
I've certainly had some major crying sessions and fits of rage. I've also met remarkable activists totally consumed and reshaped by that kind of pain. What I've come to recognize on a deep level is that we really can't save the world without saving ourselves. More importantly, it's not our job to save the world; it's our job to love it. So it doesn't matter what you choose to be an advocate for whether it's the homeless and hungry, pet adoption, victims of sex trafficking, literacy programs, or anything else under the sun. If we want to shift the circumstances across the globe we need to shift our inner and outer dialogue and crank up the love. We also need to decompress and recalibrate on a regular basis with habits like these:
• Mediation or deep breathing five to 30 minutes a day
• Yoga, or some other form of mind/body exercise, at least once a week
• Lots of laughter
• Sharing your feelings with someone who can relate without compounding them
• Celebrating the progress made with the causes you care about
(write it out and talk about that at the next party!)
Of course, our self-care can become a full-time job if we let it. So, the key is to make the most of the hours in a day. In other words, when you're meditating you might want to visualize a healthy, peaceful planet or choose some fun volunteering opportunities once in awhile where you know you can get your laughter in. Another idea that works well is listening to affirmations while clicking through online petitions.
It's also extremely helpful to know when to take a break from any overwhelming information, especially when you're a dedicated activist. As needed, consider these tips:
• Have most non-profit updates sent to a less frequented email account/folder
• Give yourself permission to unsubscribe from a few updates
• Limit cause-driven documentaries (and let the info propel you into action)
• Avoid saturating your mind in negative news
The main point is that when we're filled with hope, appreciation, and the stamina required for the long haul we're more grounded and we draw a larger number of people into the causes we feel passionately about. On the flip side, when we're emotionally drained and negative we quickly repel most people and earn a reputation for raining on everyone's parade. This is key to effective activism and it's something that I have to continually remind myself of. Raised by wonderful ex-hippies my knee-jerk reaction is to tell people how awful things are with an assumption that everyone will want to drop what they're doing and join the cause. The truth is many people would rather escape the challenges of the world and go watch a reality show.
Interestingly enough, understanding the psychology behind that preference is actually a helpful hint on how to stay true to your values and enlist more activists. That's because despite how urgent and dire things can truly be, many causes are best supported when the element of fun is woven in. Some of my favorite examples include:
• Vegan potlucks
• Clothes swap parties
• Beach cleanups with friends
• Eco gift wrapping parties
• Helping out with a local school's edible garden
New and old friends alike repeatedly share with me that it was often the festivities that welcomed them into the cause(s) and then once they learned more they felt inspired to change their views as well as their habits.
So let's keep saving and loving the world while we give ourselves the same gift. Let's strive to infuse joy into every detail possible. At times we'll feel like the world is just too crazy and we'll wonder if we can keep our sanity intact, but if we consistently utilize these tools and rally together we'll transform everything from the inside out.