Perspective

Yesterday I went on a hike on one of my favorite trails. I hadn’t been on it much lately, as I had been enjoying the discovery of other trails before winter sets in. But right now, I’m simply trying to ensure that I get in some daily movement as part of a self-care regimen during a personally difficult time.

I’m guessing that I’ve hiked this particular trail at least 50 times—if not twice that number—since I moved to Colorado. I love the convenience of it being within the city limits, free of charge, and the fact that the trail has enough of an incline that it actually feels like a workout. Plus, the scenery is stunning.

It’s actually a system of trails, so I’m able to vary my route each time that I go up there. This is part of why I can hike there several times a week and still feel like it’s a different experience each time.

Because I hadn’t been up there in a few weeks, I was able to marvel at how the trail had changed since my last visit. At this time of year, pine needles are scattered on the ground, and the occasional deciduous trees are mostly barren. Loose gravel is more common now that the first snowfall has occurred, which reminds me to pay attention to where my feet land.

Even when I trek up there multiple times during a given week, I still find that my relationship to the environment shifts based on circumstances. Some days, I’m in a rush and just want to get in a quick bit of exercise. Other times, I linger as I take in the breathtaking scenery, perhaps even climbing up on the slick reddish rocks that abruptly jut out of the foothills. If I have more flexibility in my day, I might even sit on one of those rocks and meditate for a while.

As I was hiking today, I contemplated how my hikes are kind of like my meditations, even when I’m not sitting still with my eyes closed. I have a number of visualization tools that I draw on in meditation, such as a grounding cord, but I don’t use all of them every single day.

If I’m in a rush, I might simply sit for a few minutes and run through a number of tools from the Everyday Warrior series that I’ve taken multiple times at the Neurosculpting® Institute, or I might focus on a single one. When I have more time, I’ll sit for quite a while to see what emerges.

Although I use these tools regularly, I still find that the experience with a given tool varies over time. It’s not the same exact experience every day, just as my mood, energy level, and daily routine can fluctuate.

Back to the hiking trail … I stood in one spot and took several photos today with my phone. It’s interesting how a single frame can vary based on where I put the focus.

In the first picture, the sky is fairly accurately portrayed as a deep blue, but the rocks look too dark. The second picture is more representative of the reddish rock coloration, but the sky is way too overexposed.

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This third image is a closer depiction of the actual landscape as seen through my eyes, but still not exact. I find it fascinating how, even when we’re standing still and looking straight ahead, our perspective can change based on the filter through which we’re gazing.

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The same is true with a sitting meditation practice. Each experience is different, and that’s part of what makes the process so powerful. I love that my relationship to my meditation practice changes over time. Just as the changing seasons impact my external environment, my inner world has its own shifts and transitions. I’m grateful for those shifts, even in the midst of life’s challenges.

Self-Care for Activists, Community Leaders, and Volunteers

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I’ve been involved in community-building work for most of my adult life, but it took me a while to realize the importance of developing a consistent self-care practice. Those of us who work with non-profits, activist groups, and community organizations can have a tendency to place more value on others than on ourselves.

I feel very strongly in the worth of every single human being, even on my most frustrating days. Yet, why is it so difficult at times to treat myself with the same care and compassion with which I treat others? Perhaps a part of the problem is due to the societal expectations that we should place ourselves last.

I’m not going to argue that we should prioritize our own selves in such a way that we cause harm or neglect to others, but I do believe that we could collectively do a better job with self-care in these arenas. I internalized this during the years of my mother’s terminal illness, when she lived with me and I served as her main caregiver. I realized that I could not possibly care for her unless I also took care of my own well-being, as even a common cold had the potential to put her safety at risk.

At that time, I justified that my self-care routine was necessary because someone I loved was dependent on my ability to care for her. In hindsight, I wish that I had been able to see my own inherent self-worth as part of the scenario, but back then, I felt that my health was important mainly in relation to how it contributed to the well-being of others. 

I have since accepted that my self-worth is not dependent on my accomplishments or my ability to help others. Along with this acceptance, I now focus on self-compassion in the ways that I care for myself.

Some of the obvious ways that I care for myself include eating nourishing food, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep when possible. Another component of my self-care routine involves a regular meditation practice. I have found that meditation helps to reduce my stress, which enhances my overall health, and I’m less reactive in how I relate with others. 

I want to be clear that, when discussing the benefits of meditation, it’s important to be careful not to use it in a way that shames others. There are some health issues that cannot simply be “cured” with meditation (or other practices such as yoga), and a meditation teacher is not a replacement for a physician. That being said, there are many instances where meditation can reduce the impacts of stress-related health problems, including heart disease.

It’s for this reason that I’ll be teaching a meditation session as part of a Community Care Day program that we’re launching at Flatirons Political Art in north Boulder. The modality that I teach is called Neurosculpting®, which founder Lisa Wimberger  describes as: “a method to enhance self-directed neuroplasticity through the union of neuroscience and meditation practices for the purpose of down-regulating chronic CNS [central nervous system] arousal states.”

The meditation component of the Community Care Day will involve one or two guided meditations, plus time to discuss how the brain neurologically wires to stress as well as higher-order cognitive thinking. We’ll also talk about ways in which a meditation practice can be supported through other aspects of our daily lives.

In addition to self-care, I’m increasingly aware of the need to cultivate community support. In a panel discussion at the recent Front Range Bioneers conference, every single speaker emphasized the importance of relationships for the development of sustainable communities. Because we live in shared spaces, we must nurture relationships with the friends and family who live around (and with) us.

The Community Care Day will provide a space for us to celebrate each other by caring for ourselves and each other. We’ll begin in the late morning with Qigong, led by Jessica Van Antwerp. Then we’ll share in a potluck lunch before moving into the meditation session. The day will end with a co-creative activity there in the art studio.

Please join us even if you’re unable to be present the entire day. We’re gathering at 11am, and we’ll be finished by 4pm. We are asking that everyone bring a potluck dish or $10 to contribute to the food, but we won’t turn anyone away due to an inability to contribute financially.

If we’re going to bring about the changes we’d like to see in this world, we need to design communities that nurture ourselves and each other. I believe that self-care practices are important because each of us matters on this planet. The added benefit is that caring for oneself allows for us to do more for others. And most specifically, stress-reduction in activist, non-profit, and community-engagement environments is crucial to staying grounded for long-term sustainability in the midst of high-stakes advocacy.