Vegetable gardening starts in February here in Western Oregon. This week, my friend A. was telling me about what she’s planting: kale, spinach, and some tomato starts indoors. “I’m getting into homesteading,” she said. “We’re gonna need it to survive.”
Without thinking, I blurted out: “Yeah, me too. Though I’m more into spiritual homesteading.” And as soon as I heard myself say it, I realized it was true.
What is spiritual homesteading? Like regular homesteading – building a cabin and planting a garden – spiritual homesteading is about having the skills you need when the grid goes down. It means having the tools to create your own peace, inspiration, mental and emotional health, and a general sense of well-being, even in a challenging situation.
Challenging situation indeed. The grid is bleeping in distress on a national level. Every time we look at a screen, we see a new red alert, a new emergency siren. That’s no way to live. We can’t base our inner reality on the outside world, or we are going to lose it. So let’s get off the grid.
My friend A. is right: if we’re going to make it through the next few years, we need to develop the tools to be well, and stay well, regardless of what is happening around us – not in order to disconnect from our national crisis, but in order to have the strength to resist and act.
To that end, my top seven tools for spiritual homesteading:
- Breathe.Simple, free, and so important. Right now. Take a breath.
- Create space between an event, and the story you tell yourself about the event.
We are in a frightening moment, and that elicits feelings of physical danger. Each time we open our computers, we get a little hit of flight-fright-or-freeze adrenaline.Some of us are in physical danger at this very moment; but if you are reading this, you’re probably not one of them. Notice that. Appreciate it. That space it opens up will allow you to work smarter and longer to prevent the worst case scenario from actually happening.
- Witness the suffering of those distant from you; act to lessen that suffering in any way you can; but don’t take it on.
It is crucial to witness suffering, but it is equally crucial to nurture our boundaries, in order to be able to act with more energy.I know: it sounds more compassionate to say “Take on the suffering of others.” Refugees turned away, young black men shot in the streets, innocent mothers deported: it feels more compassionate to cry and mourn for the injustice we are witnessing. And yes, we must stay informed, keep our eyes out for those who are more vulnerable, and embrace our capacity for empathy, which makes us fully human.
When we are able to actually relieve the suffering of those in front of us, we must. But remote sympathetic suffering does not help those in actual crisis. Instead, it serves to exhaust us, and makes it harder to demand justice.
The ultimate goal is to act to reduce suffering – not to amplify it by taking it on in ourselves.
- Relax your self-judgment reflex.
As the rabbis say, “The work is not yours to complete, nor are you free to desist from it.” Do what you can. We are all in this together. Don’t waste time or energy noticing what you aren’t doing – unless it sparks you into doing something and feeling good about it. Keep your energy moving in a positive direction. When you notice yourself judging yourself, go back to #1 and #2 above.
- Take care of yourself.
Sounds simple, but requires action. A hot bath with candles. Two-minute stretches. A massage. Hugs. High fives. Tea. Your favorite meal. Your favorite stupid TV show. A glass of wine, if that works for you. Work out. Look at a crystal. Take a break from screens. Head to the thrift store to search some small treasure for your home. Take a bike ride. A hike. A walk around the block.
- Take care of each other.
Ask someone else how they’re doing, and really listen. Write little love notes. Text a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Take your kid out for a special date. Call your mom. Give more hugs. Smile more at strangers – not giant fakey smiles, just small “I see you” smiles.
OK: now you are charged up from your own inner grid, and the grid of community. Time to move into action: call your rep’s. Protest. Donate (especially to local organizations). Go to a politician’s Town Hall. Amplify the messages on social media of senators like Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Jeff Merkley and others who are being vocal. Call or write to thank Republican representatives (from any state) when they do stand up against Trump – they need to hear that the citizens are watching and appreciate their courage, and it feels good to express gratitude. Send a letter of support to a mosque, Muslim community center, JCC, progressive church, or small local nonprofit. It feels good to act. And then when you get tired, go back to #1.
And may the Force be with us.