While stopped at a red light on my way home one day I noticed that the two cars immediately in front of me had the same “Coexist” bumper sticker. You’ve probably seen one like it. Each of the letters of is a symbol representing a major religious or spiritual ideology. For example, the “C” is a crescent moon symbolizing Islam, and the “X” is a Star of David symbolizing Judaism.
This was a particularly long traffic light, which gave me time to realize that I was mistaken. In actuality the bumper sticker on the car just ahead of me did not read “Coexist” but “Contradict.” Underneath that it read, “They can’t all be true-John 14:6.” Despite my early days of earnest scripture memorization I couldn’t recall this particular passage, but I had a hunch it was the verse in which Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I was right.
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The first time I heard the phrase “self-care” was in a workshop for first-year students at my divinity school. I had no idea what it meant, much less how to practice it, but I was too embarrassed to say anything.
This week I visited Duke Divinity School to deliver the Jill Raitt workshop for their annual Women’s Week. The theme was “Women Flourishing,” and together we unpacked the language of “self-care” and strategized ways to create more space for it in our lives.
From the beginning I confessed to the group that while I advocate strongly for the well-being of women and girls, I often deprioritize my own needs. I knew from the nods in the room that this is a common experience for graduate students, ministers, activists and other justice-seekers striving for a better world.
In 1988 Audre Lorde wrote, “Self-care is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” How do we best preserve ourselves in these challenging political times, so that we can continue our work of compassion and justice?
I did a lot of research on best self-care practices for my presentation at Duke, and now I want to share with you my top three resources for activists in search of more self-care.
- Healers of Color on Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence. Miriam Zoila Pérez, gender columnist for Colorlines, interviews self-care advocates from different traditions on how we can apply Lorde’s words to today’s struggles. I love this quote from La Sarminento: “Know that in any given moment, our comrades are working for causes that matter. For one of us to take a break for a few minutes or a few days is totally OK.”
- Write a Wellness Prescription. Rosie Molinary, a radical self-acceptance champion, leads us through assessing the different aspects of our personal wellness–spiritual, mental, physical, emotional–and developing strategies and practices to meet our specific needs. Since I work from home one of the elements of my prescription is making social plans with a friend or colleague once a week. Instead of grabbing lunch or coffee I’ve started inviting people to do “walk and talks” when the weather is nice.
- A Deep Breathing Exercise to Do Anytime. This simple visualization can help us slow down and deepen our breathing. When I practice this I like to repeat to myself the mantra “I am enough” on in the inhale and on the exhale say “I am not all things.” I encouraged the students at Duke to try this next time they are in a group setting and tensions are high. Pausing business for a moment to take some communal deep breaths can help reset the energy in the room.
And here’s one last BONUS TIP from me: Try making a “not-to-do” list of things that you won’t spend time on that day or week. For me so much of self-care is about creating space for less effort. Having a “not-to-do” list helps .
What are your most important self-care practices?
When I was ten weeks pregnant I gave an impassioned speech in front of the Supreme Court during the Hobby Lobby hearings about why universal access to contraception was part of my own religious understanding. I’d wanted to share about my own planned pregnancy, but at that point I wasn’t far enough along to feel comfortable telling that in a public way.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last protest for almost three years. After the birth of my daughter I cut my travel significantly. I spent most of my weekends in the cocoon–or what sometimes felt more like the prison–of our home rather than out in the public square. As someone deeply ensconced in the activism world this turning inward felt like I was betraying the causes and the people for whom I cared deeply. How could I be an effective advocate if I couldn’t show up?
Read the rest of my post over at Feminism and Religion.