Caring for Self while we Care for our World
It is a dystopian time to be in India. The pandemic is raging. People are dying every minute because of shortages of oxygen and essential medicines. Social media and Whatsapp groups are filled with messages of people seeking help for their loved ones, their family, and their friends. There is little good news on any front, except the incredible effort and deep kindness of common people in helping each other find a way through this suffering.
On Maslow’s Hierarchy, many have reached the bottom-most tier — survival that is rooted in psychological and physiological safety. If not crippled by illness in the family, there is a terrible fear of the ‘What Ifs’ — What if a friend or loved one gets Covid? What if they require hospitalization? What if they are one of those who do not get oxygen? What if they can’t breathe?
In the middle of it all, I have been feeling a range of emotions. There is rage in the face of the apathy of the leadership. There is sorrow for the loss of life. There is the anxiety of losing friends and family. There is fatigue of the prolonged pandemic. There is guilt for not being able to do enough to help those in need. It is not all draining emotions! There is gratitude for my family being physically safe (fingers crossed). There is hope and courage arising from seeing the community stepping up for each other.
I acknowledge my privilege to be having the mental space to write this article and the good fortune to be aware of multiple practices to support my own wellbeing. Despite all the practices, it hasn’t been easy and it has taken me at least a week to get to some equilibrium. I have had to use every possible tool in my wellbeing toolkit to be able to do deal with these emotions.
- Morning resourcing, exercise, and journaling have enabled me to work intentionally, taking it a day at a time.
- My practices of gratitude and forgiveness have allowed me to calm my nerves and sleep peacefully every night.
- Grounding has helped me come back to the present, and become a kind witness to my wandering mind.
- Feeling awe every day by watching the sunrise or listening to music has been healing and has helped me hold my interconnectedness with the universe at the center.
- I have also leveraged communities of support to feel a sense of love and gain perspective.
- Boundary setting has been critical to creating the enabling environment for all of this — for example, setting certain times when we shut down the internet at home or stop discussing news.
Sometimes, it feels wrong to work on your wellbeing when there is so much pain and suffering around you. I have felt it in the form of guilt. In those times, I am reminded of a quote from J. D. Salinger’s classic novel, Catcher in the Rye: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
We need to balance the aspiration for a better world with the acceptance of what the world currently is and how insignificant we are in the face of this calamity. We are the only system we truly have an influence on. We can only do our best.
We may think we are not doing our best because we cannot meet the specific needs of others. A useful insight I had in this direction is keeping the purpose at the center, not the form. For example, I may feel anxious or stressed when I am directly supporting people with relatives in urgent need of medicine or oxygen. However, what are the other ways for me to be of service? This may include for example:
- Connecting people in need to somebody who can help
- Support the people doing this proximal work on the ground — amplifying their messages, taking care of their wellbeing
- Offering support that is less stressful— like helping families who are in isolation with food
- Creating spaces for people to share and listen to each other
- Raise funds for a nonprofit supporting someone’s hospitalization costs
As much as we want to and should be doing our best, we need to be mindful of what it means for our well-being. We cannot do everything for everyone, but we can do something for someone. The only thing we can do is to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want to see more compassion and support in the world, we have to be more compassionate and supportive. This also means you have to treat yourself the same way you would treat another person.