I published the following post on February 27, 2017. (You know, a million years ago.) As time has passed, people tell me they come back to the analogy below as they struggle with fatigue. In this liminal time between summer vacation and back to school, I reshare it with you in hopes it provides uplift.
A good friend confessed to me yesterday, “I just can’t anymore. I can’t listen to what’s going on and still stay sane. I feel guilty, but I’ve got to pull back.”
Maybe you’re feeling it too. People are mentally exhausted, fearful, and deeply weary after just four months. Even I—the writer of weekly action emails—was head-in-hands at the laptop last week, despairing.
On top of living our normal, busy lives, staying engaged takes a lot of emotional and mental energy. You might want to pull back out of self preservation.
Looking to nature
Have you ever watched a flock of Canada geese migrating together across a clear blue sky? You’ve probably heard that the chevron formation allows them to draft on each other’s currents, making it possible to travel farther with ease.
All my life, I thought geese followed the leader at the tip of the V—the one with the best sense of direction and the most powerful wings. But I learned recently that each goose takes a turn at leading. As the leader tires, another goose takes her place, then another.
They all know the way, and it takes them far. Watch them closely, and you’ll see.
How we respond to difficulty
When you look at how our country has responded to the election—with peaceful protests, financial boycotts, expressing our views through art and phone calls—we, too, are like the geese. We’ve rallied at airports, donated to causes, analyzed documents, and shown up for local meetings.
No single person has coordinated every act of resistance. Together, we draft on each others’ efforts, leadership, and guidance. A leaderless (or rather, leader-full) resistance is the strongest and most effective of all. It will take us far together.
What to do when you’re tired
Consider three actions so you can stay in the movement toward justice without burning out.
Realize that you’ve already been flapping for months or years. Rather than take a permanent nose dive, begin to accept fatigue as part of the journey—just like the geese do. Allow yourself to glide while others keep flapping. When weariness arises, give yourself over to it. Give your wings time to rest.
Create a self-care plan. Social workers do it. Therapists do it. Every day, their jobs require facing painful events. You, too, are facing the underbelly of American injustice. To face it without growing weary requires a plan that helps you stay alert, conscious, responsive while also restoring your mental well-being and spirit.
Choose from some of the activities below for the benefits they bring. Use this worksheet to guide you. What lights you up?
- Singing for fun
- Walking in the forest
- Meditating or praying
- Hugging or massage
- Writing in a journal or talking to a friend
- Playing (yes, really)
- Cuddling with pets
- Reading a good book
- Gathering with people you like and trust
3. Return when ready.
Just like those beautiful birds, when you’re more rested, you can glide into the lead again, taking action, showing up, speaking out for what is right. Your honking and flapping helps the whole.
Taking my own advice.
I’m writing this message from the past into the future (yay, technology) as I go on retreat.
Some people wonder how I “do it all” with this Checklist. I don’t. Taking time away from media and work is essential for me to keep going for the years ahead. Going in the woods, writing, and being quiet nourish my heart and soul. Otherwise I certainly would have stopped by now.
In the time since I wrote this piece, I’ve learned that in anti-racism and social justice work, self-love and soul care are core to liberation. It is from these practices that we gain the strength to endure oppressive systems without losing our joy, peace, and inner balance. If you find yourself feeling cynical, jaded, and afraid, they’re winning. See the Cycle of Liberation by Dr. Bobby Harro which was introduced to me by Desirée Adaway for a way forward.
When I first published this piece, I was often despairing while doing the work solo. If you are too, it’s time to connect with people whose values are similar to your own and share honestly about your fears and hopes. When we listen to one another with empathy, we stay on the path. Community plays an often-overlooked but crucial role in increasing our well-being, connection to purpose, and wholeness. When we join a flock, we get further, faster.
We’ll be back with a full list of well-researched actions, gratitude, and good news on August 30, 2020.
In the meantime, please take really good care of yourself—whether you’re flapping or coasting. We need you in the flock for the long haul.