Recollecting Hope, Joy, and Energy
I recently had an epiphany of sorts, as I pondered over the bitter mix that so many activists imbibe: awareness…of injustice; care…for people I cannot protect; sorrow…that comes from empathy; and despair…that can lead to burnout, resignation, passivity. It does not suffice to say “buck up, others have it worse, stop feeling sorry for yourself, you’re really quite privileged when compared with most who live in this world”–along with similar exhortations, admonitions, and reprimands. The best this sort of thing achieves is a kind of self-armoring, an emotional gritting of the teeth and mechanical grinding on. It does not release creativity, and does invite medical problems. As I reflected on this, I again recalled what was for me the most hopeful, free, fount of creativity and increasing activism in my life, the era of the Sixties when the hippies were both effect and cause of much celebration, experimentation, and enthusiasm for a transformed world.
I did not just remember, and I’m not speaking of nostalgia; memory is just that–a view of something at a remove from oneself…and nostalgia is sentiment for something gone and lost, never to return. Rather, I recollected the feeling of that time–my feeling, how it was for me to be with others, do the things I did, discover and share, begin new projects and experiment with ways of being in the world. I mean the word ‘recollection’ in the sense of re-collection; it is important to keep this distinct from simply consulting memory. Because I lived during that era and felt the generalized aura of hopefulness and positive expectation shared by many of that generation, those feelings are still with/in me–present and accessible.
I think this important, because it offers a necessary antidote to the kind of paralyzing poison fed to me and to others via the steady stream of daily awfulness we endure in the form of news. It is necessary to remain open to knowing what is going on; shutting off and down, withdrawing into ignorance or even physical isolation, is not an acceptable path for an activist…save as a short-term, emergency step. Consciously drawing on sources of hopefulness, creativity, and play as I re-call them, I can become more hopeful and find energy to create and cooperate in our shared struggles today.
There’s a temptation–especially among those drawn by and to ideology–to dismiss as “soft” or “self-indulgent” activities that seem merely playful and lighthearted…but even the “heavies” should try to recall it was Emma Goldman who said “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” We risk adding to our own suffering–and no, suffering is not a sign of virtue–by denigrating all that is not serious. In fact–and here, I am being quite serious–we risk indulging in the type of hypermasculinity that feminism has done much to assuage, if and when we insist that life is business, and the business of making revolution requires we attend to business, and…the next you know, we have embodied the values of the status quo, in a process any Wall Street trader would recognize.
Take a breath, comrade. Yes, smell the red roses–but not as a retreat, a cop-out, a distraction; I’m talking about the inward breath, from whatever it is in your life that you re-collect as a wellspring of hopefulness and creative openness. It needn’t have a thing to do with my own life’s experience; that was offered merely as an example, one that works for me (and is working better, as I give more conscious attention to this recent recollection). Your own wellspring of re-collection could be a friendship or other meaningful relation to a person; the joy you had when growing up, of the animal companions you had in your family; a piece of music, some writing by an author…a place in nature where you spent awareness and time. Whatever your source, re-call it to yourself, give some openness of heart to it. You deserve and need it, and it will help you–and the rest of us–find renewed strength for the struggles ahead.