After receiving a positive response from my recent blog post about Activist Burnout – including some lovely personal messages of support and encouragement – I found great solitude and peace in my yoga and mediation practice. Sometimes, you just need to switch off, recharge and reenergise yourself; ready to continue pursuing your passions and good intentions.
Here, the lovely Holly Ashby, from Will Williams Mediation, shares her thoughts on how meditation can be an invaluable tool for taking care of an activists mind:
Activism, Meditation and Staying Optimistic.
Taking a stand and caring about something can sometimes be really, tiringly difficult. It’s hard to live in ways that differ from prevailing social norms, and the majority of people choose to ignore information rather than accept the responsibility of acknowledging it. This is not to make a moral judgement, rather to point out that the people who can’t ignore it, and attempt in their own way to change the world for the better, face challenges that other people can avoid.
This isn’t to say that as soon as you start trying to alter your lifestyle or campaign in order to help a cause that you hand your happiness over to a mysterious crone and spend the rest of your life in nun-like self-sacrifice. I’m sure even Mother Theresa let her hair down sometimes, and activism can bring with it community, a sense of purpose, fun and satisfaction that can be hard to find in other aspects of life. You just have to remember to look after yourself, and to counter balance what you give out with some kindness directed back your way.
Meditation can be one method, along with other self care routines, to keep yourself in the best frame of mind for living life happily without compromising your principles. Here’s a few ways in which meditation can help in the life of an activist.
Empathy and Compassion
Activists, and you could argue particularly green activists, usually get involved with their cause because they care about people. Concern about the fate of the planet stems from an overarching concern for humanity. However, it would take a real saint who’s had parts of their personality surgically removed to not get cynical or jaded at times. The sentiment “people really are bloody awful” (this tends to strike me most keenly when I read the comments on online newspaper articles) can become quite eclipsing sometimes, no matter how much you care for them.
The first thing to do is accept that this is normal. However, for your own state of mind it’s not something you want to become an ingrained part of your belief system, and seeing the best in people is ultimately much more conducive to happiness. Studies have shown that people who meditate have stronger reactions in the parts of the brain linked with empathy, and the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, kicks in more intensely when they view pictures of other people. This means that if you are world-weary and need to rediscover your sympathy, meditation can bolster your compassion.
Focus and Energy
For some reason, these two things seem in constantly short supply. Activists experiencing burn out can find that they have absolutely none at all, and all the passion and optimism that has previously spurred them on completely depleted. The priority at that stage in time is to have a very good rest and throw every sort of nice thing at yourself until you are feeling better, and you can also use meditation to increase energy.
Because meditation improves your quality of sleep, and also provides a very deep rest in itself, it has excellent restorative powers. It also improves focus, with studies finding that people who meditate can concentrate for longer on even very boring tasks (something we all face at times).
Calm and Happiness
Meditation is famous for its calming effects, and it goes as deep as rebalancing your hormones, reducing the stress hormones such as cortisol by up to a third. It also soothes the (often over-reacting) part of the brain that triggers the stress response, making it easier to remain calm whatever life throws at you. This unwound and laid back state can help you stay happy and optimistic, without the seeming enormity of the change you want to achieve overwhelming you. This is particularly important because modern life is stressful without any extra responsibilities, and people who are concerned about the world and who take strides to do their best within it have to be extra careful to not to put too much pressure on themselves.
One of the main aspects of activism is leading by example, and you can change people’s minds by simply living how you want to live and being happy in that choice. Other people’s careless attitudes can be disheartening but if you aren’t putting the cause ahead of your own health and happiness you’ll be in a positive enough state of mind to let this go and steam ahead, furthering your cause and achieving your goals.