I am thinking a lot about B. Loewe’s article “An End to Self- Care” right now. I'm trying to figure out if he's saying what I think he's saying, what I hope he's trying to say, or what I'm afraid he's saying. No matter what it is, I am having some feelings and reactions, like many others. I, too, am yearning for more community healing and transforming our relationship to healing, specifically the way capitalism has taken healing out of our hands and made it expensive and something we see as a “luxury” and something kind of precious, but without muscle. Sometimes the prescription of self- care can be problematic: the inherent classism in some of the ethics of self-care, the illusion that our struggles and our healing are individual and separate from each other, the shitty cycle we can get into judging each other and ourselves for not meditating or eating well or resting. But these kind of declarations to end self - care and that there is no time for self -care hurts all of us, especially disabled people and chronically ill folks.
I’m a community- based healer who sees people individually for healing work, as well as teaching and offering healing in community contexts. My work is rooted in collective liberation and self-determinism. It’s nothing new to invite people into your home, give them some tea, listen to their grief, hold space for their pain, lay them down on cushions on the floor and pray with them or touch them or move energy, and offer them remedies made from plants and stones. This is ancient. This is deep healing. And this is radical. Our healing traditions are so massively co-opted, then mangled in the maw of capitalism, we think we’re being radical by eschewing taking care of ourselves? People need self- determined, bone-deep, individual care and support in a community healing framework because we are still healing from isolation from each other, we are still healing from racism and poverty and oppression and trauma and we need healers who get that to offer us their time and skills to help us heal on an individual and collective level.
One of my teachers, Karyn Sanders, an herbalist and healer of Choctaw descent, was trained by a traditional curandera in L.A. This woman would just take on whoever came to her door and doctor them and Karyn does the same. She doesn’t have office hours, she doesn’t have “rates”; she does the work that needs to be done and the people make an offering. I have a feeling that if you asked most older traditional healers, they would certainly see their work with individuals as tending to the whole, because we are taught that people’s individual pain, as well as our well-being, are also part of the whole. I would say that most of the people I see for things like depression, addiction, chronic pain, chemical sensitivities, digestive complaints, heartache, fatigue, grief, anxiety (just to name a few) are connected because most of their suffering is rooted in generational and collective trauma and oppression. Their pain is not going to be relieved by committing more to the struggle. Usually their healing is a long and non-linear path, supported by some awesome healing practitioners, leaning into their connections to their communities, creating rituals and new habits around food, movement, and rest, and having their pain acknowledged and held with compassion and tenderness. And when we heal, we have to remember we are not just healing for us, we are healing through time, healing patterns woven through us, healing our ancestors and our lineage. (*see interview with me in No More Potlucks for more on this idea.)
What we need to end- and by end, I mean transform- is the privatization of healing, the illusion that our struggles are also private and separate, the marginalization of disabled and chronically ill people and people who struggle with mental illness, disassociation from our bodies, and the pervasive disconnection from all of our indigenous healing traditions and ancestral wisdom (and we all come from people who have healing traditions). Also, I might add, we also need to transform the way we talk about self- care as another obligation, something on our infinite and overwhelming to do lists as organizers and activists, another thing we can feel guilty for not doing enough of. I agree with B. Loewe that we need to transform the way we see our work too; our activism is healing work, and vice versa, and it is vitally important that we source it from somewhere deep- our spiritual practices, our connections with each other, our heart’s desires for justice and liberation for all beings, and the visions our ancestors have rolled out before us. YES. When we are connected to our purpose, we have something deep to draw upon and we won’t burn out, rather than trying to manufacture empty energy from our very depleted kidneys, or caffeine, or other stimulants. And YES to the end of guilt and shame about not taking care of ourselves or doing it right all of the time. Most of us have grown up inside the medical industrial complex in which we are taught to be disassociated from our bodies, to pathologize and diagnose, and to suppress our symptoms. Creating more shoulds and judging folks for not seeking help, or for not taking care of their chronic cold, chronic fatigue, or chronic pain in the ways we think they should is not the path of healing, and throwing out a call to end self-care doesn’t seem like a wise remedy either.
If we’re wanting to encourage more collective care, we also need to help support people in taking care of themselves; if we judge and minimize the importance of self- care (bodywork, resting, and yes, even knitting), how are people going to feel safe asking for help? Collective care looks like a lot of things: healers having sliding scales or seeing people for free sometimes, creating a meal plan for a friend dealing with chronic illness, babysitting kids while their parents nap, so they can be well rested for their work in the world, and their work raising kids… but collective care doesn’t have to be instead of self-care.
There are so many people I work with who are just beginning to integrate self-care practices, practices that nourish them individually, and connect them to the whole. People who are reclaiming rituals and practices lost in the last generation or two, for whom self- care is radical and essential: young queer activists of color remembering their grandma’s recipes and cooking them up for friends, laying altars for our beloved dead, laying our bodies on the earth, taking a break from sugar (self-care and disinvestment from a fucked up industry), going to the community acupuncture clinic once a week, finding a special stone to hold in a pocket for grounding, putting ourselves to bed a little earlier. I would hate to see us abandon these beautiful practices. I’m reminded of something my friend Dean Spade said, “We need to be gentle with ourselves and each other and fierce as we fight oppression.”
In my dream, our bodies are part of our collective body and our collective body is not just us, but our whole planet, our earth body. My body is made of stars and dirt and the blood of my ancestors and the breaths of all the people who have been here before me and the green exhale of the trees. How can I possibly think my pain and my joy is mine alone? So I imagine, I envision, and I invoke that we need more care, more of the time and that self- care is just one part of our collective movement towards healing. We can gently and fiercely take care of the little baby bodies, the disabled bodies, the aging and dying bodies, the green bodies, the blue bodies of water, the four legged bodies, each other’s bodies and the one body you were born into, this time around.
Many thanks to Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha for her response to B. Loewe’s article and for her fierceness and gentleness.