These are daunting times we live in.

Neighbors and friends picked up by Immigration. Floods and earthquakes and unconscionable failure to provide relief. Mass shootings on the news. Poor kids’ access to health care cut. It can feel like we’re being bombarded by heartbreak.

As I look around me, I see folks choosing one of three general strategies to deal with the pain of these times.

The first is tuning out.

I’ve had many friends (who, like me, have the privilege of being White) tell me that they’ve stopped paying attention to the news and are no longer showing up at actions. They say it’s too painful to watch what’s going on in the world. It’s painful to feel like no matter what you do, the biggest impact you can make is still very small. I get it. It hurts my heart, too.

The second is responding from a place of obligation and guilt.

Many people I know engage in social justice work from a place of guilt and obligation. Guilt for the fact of having come into this world with privileges that you never earned. Obligation because you know you have a responsibility to do something, but without giving yourself the time to reflect on what will sustain you emotionally.

When we respond from guilt or obligation, we’re less likely to do the work in a way that nourishes us. We’re more likely to fall prey to white savior complex, and we’re less likely to really hear the voices of the people we’re supporting. We’re more likely to burn out.

The final strategy— and the one that’s been feeding me lately — is to respond from a place of gratitude and love.

After being a workaholic activist during my late teens and early twenties, I shut the door on organizing when my son was born in 2008. I didn’t see how I could integrate organizing into my life along with being a single mom and running a business. I showed up at the occasional rally, gave money, and knocked on doors for a progressive candidate once in a while, but I was mostly disengaged from organizing.

Then, the last election struck. My family has been intimately impacted by immigration policy, and I just couldn’t look away anymore. I dove back in and now spend several hours a week doing solidarity work.

This time around, I’m engaging from a whole different place, and I’ve been surprised by what I’ve discovered.

When I used to organize, I often felt overwhelmed and depleted. This time around, I feel more joy and connection than ever before.

What’s different is my commitment to take in the good. To give thanks that my floor is dry and my ceiling is sturdy. That no one is going to send me away from my kiddo. That while I do not know what the century holds for me or the people I love, I am alive today. Rather than choosing guilt, I’m choosing joy.

If you’ve been choosing one of the two strategies above, then I invite you to consider a new perspective.

If you’re feeling burnt out from activism-related work, consider for a moment that you don’t need to suffer to support people who are suffering.

Consider the possibility that to empathize, you don’t need to feel pain. That you simply need to hold a supportive, healthy container. And that you will be able to give back so much more when you are nourished and well.

I’m not saying that just doing self-care without working for social change will lead to change. In fact, I believe that showing up for our communities is an integral part of radical self-care.

That said, there is a dangerous belief among many activists that they have to suffer to stand in solidarity. I don’t believe this to be true. Instead, I believe that we can be fueled by a deep sense of gratitude and love. This can feel amazing.

If you’ve turned away from the world’s suffering, I have an invitation for you, too.

Consider for a moment that the way to truly nourish your heart is to turn not away from the heartache of the world but to turn towards it.

I know how it hurts to see suffering. It hurts when I look in the eyes of an undocumented child who’s been separated from their mother and might lose their father. It hurts when I hear about parents in detention centers who don’t have the twenty dollars to call home. It hurts to feel like we’re responding to an unending barrage of cruelty and are fighting an uphill battle.

But I also know how alive my heart feels when I stand, rooted in solidarity, and turn towards someone who is suffering. In Arabic, the word for heart is qalb, which also means “to turn.”

When we remain in our bubbles and turn away from suffering, we’re less likely to feel the pain that surrounds us. But we’re also less likely to experience the joy of connection.

With that in mind, I invite you to ask your heart a few questions—

In what direction do I want to turn right now?

How do I want to show up in response to the heartache in the world?

How will I nourish my heart while I take action?

As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

To stand side by side in the streets with my friends, to show up for a neighbor across the street or on the other side of the world, to know that I will be able to look back on this moment and know I gave everything I could—this is what nourishes my heart.

Eventually, we each will die. In the end, we own nothing. We have a choice to make while we’re alive. We can put our heads in the sand and refuse to face reality; we can feel guilty about what we have; or, we can thank the Angel of Death for the gifts she’s entrusted us while we’re alive and give back from a place of love.

I’d love to hear from you how this lands. Please feel free to share your comments below. Thank you!!

I encourage you to learn more about life coaching. It can help you get more energy and start living a life in which you feel truly alive.

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