Take Time to Pause for Self-Care

Between the darkness of the winter solstice and the new year is a good time to reflect. This piece, which I wrote in the fall, seems even better suited to this time of year.


We’re in the midst of an extraordinary time. Deadly wildfires, ongoing desperation in Puerto Rico, the acquittal of the yet another police officer—this time the one who killed Anthony Lamar Smith—and continued twitter harassment from our troller-in-chief. Oh yeah, and threats of nuclear holocaust.

So in this week’s column, I want to invite you to pause and take care of yourself. Catch your breath. Take a moment to restore your spirits.

Some of those who work for justice and ecological sanity struggle to find time to care for themselves and for each other. But our work for a better world includes nourishing our own spirits, and the spirits of those around us, and that means allowing time for sadness and quiet, and for healing. Doing so makes us more resilient and better able to offer loving support to others.

Our work for a better world includes nourishing our own spirits, and the spirits of those around us, and that means allowing time for sadness and quiet, and for healing.

One of the final chapters in The Revolution Where You Live is “101 Ways to Reclaim Local Power,” and some of these ideas center on self- and community-care:

1. Create sacred (or at least safe) times and spaces for contemplation and healing.

Take a technology break and turn off the news and shut off the screens. Create times and spaces in your home that are safe and perhaps sacred. It could be a small altar where you place photos of loved ones or sacred objects. Or it could be a safe and sacred space at a conference or gathering, offering anyone who needs it a hiatus, a place to heal and regroup.

2. Acknowledge your elders and ancestors.

Whether they lived years ago or are part of your life today, whether they were movement leaders or relatives, consider what they gave you and what they sacrificed. Post a photo of them on your real or virtual wall. Or write a note to them, sharing your gratitude; this can be a powerful experience, even if addressed to someone who is no longer alive.

3. Thank a young family member or friend.

Take a moment to acknowledge a young person via a letter to the local newspaper, a posting on social media, or a simple in-person acknowledgement: I see you and I thank you.

4. Share your favorite tradition and its meaning.

As you begin looking forward (or not) to the holiday season, instead of dwelling on the stress or food or pile of gifts, ask yourself what makes the season meaningful, what connects you to others and to your culture or spiritual tradition. Arrange to share that with others. Consider discarding the parts of the holiday season that lack meaning. (Your family might thank you!)

5. Gently acknowledge trauma, yours and others’.

Trauma in our society is deep, pervasive, and largely goes unspoken. Simply confronting white supremacy, misogyny, and LGBTQ phobia can be a daily dose of trauma for some. Many carry the wounds of war, racism, street violence, domestic abuse, or sexual assault. Many will struggle their whole lives over childhood abuse. Acknowledge this reality if it is true for you. If someone else names themselves as traumatized, listen without trying to fix it. Just open your heart.

The most eloquent defense of self care that I’ve encountered is from Edward Abbey, author and environmentalist, as quoted in Saving Nature’s Legacy:

Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am—a reluctant enthusiast … a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. … I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

In these times of uncertainty and trauma, feel the pleasure of being alive. Your resilience is a gift to all the communities you are part of.

Sarah van Gelder is founder of PeoplesHub, co-founder and columnist for YES! Magazine, and author of “The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.” Contact her here, and follow her on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

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