After a lifetime of being proven wrong, there are only a handful of things I know for sure.
I attended my first protest in 1999, at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, near where I grew up. I know that one day, Tibet will be free. In the meantime, I wait. I do my best to care for my little corner of the world. I keep the faith.
What is true is that the world is a tough, precious place that is shot through with tragedy and magic, both.
It is full of unimaginable suffering. It is also full of profound courage and insurmountable love. Its beauty and its sacredness sit side by side with its ugliest parts: oppression and destruction.
The point is, this world is complex, and it will break your heart. The same goes for people. It is tempting to lose hope, but as soon as you do, you’ll meet someone — or a whole group of someones — who are building this world into a more compassionate place. They’re putting it together brick by brick, and holding it steady with their bare hands.
The world is full of holiness, even in its most mundane moments; and it is worth fighting for.
People think that after nearly 17 years of activism that I must be either hopelessly naïve or a hardened cynic. This is a lie. I’m a sensible, regular person — if you met me on the street, you wouldn’t take me for a troublemaker. I’m not a Pollyanna or a cold-hearted grump: I just happen to believe that change is possible.
The protest in DC was far from my last. In college, I found a band of merry ruffians who are still my best friends. The day after I graduated, I moved to a logging blockade in Canada for three months. I camped and lived outside and swam in lakes. I listened to the loons’ cries, and then stood in front of logging trucks when it was time.
It’s still the hardest and most amazing thing I’ve done.
Since then, I’ve met activists all over the world: from Japan to Argentina, and all over the US. These are regular people who just want our world to know healing. They want their children to stop disappearing to totalitarian governments. They want their land and food and water to be safe from nuclear radiation. They want their land back, since it was stolen hundreds of years ago.
What I’ve seen is that the world is far from simple.
What I know is that we can do better — that this more compassionate world I dream of is so very possible, I can almost taste it.
But this is where the second truth takes over. I got so caught up in my activist work that by 2007, I was completely burned out. Mentally and emotionally fried. Because in my quest for a more kindness on our planet, I wasn’t offering myself the same.
This is what I really want for you to know: you do not need to sacrifice yourself in order to make a difference. You can live a life that’s infused with joy, gratitude, community, and play. This does not make you less worthy.
You do not need to suffer needlessly for this more compassionate world. There is enough of that. In fact, there is a need for as much celebration as we can muster. Working to change the world — whether you’re an activist, social worker, artist, journalist, or making change in your own way — can really take a toll.
In a world that so often breaks our hearts, self-care, celebration, pleasure, and healing are revolutionary acts.
This sort of revolution was a more difficult lesson for me to learn. I had to make friends with my body. I had to forgive my heart. I had to honor my emotional self.
So I crawled onto a yoga mat, hunkered in with my journal, and began my own interior revolt — against shame and unworthiness. I reframed my activist practice: into something joyful and empowering.
Because if we want that more compassionate world, we can’t be treating ourselves like crap. We have to live fully into the compassion we want to create. We have to imagine how that would feel in our bones, from the inside out.
Novelist and activist Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Sometimes, I get as quiet as I can so that I can hear her breathe for a while.
But maybe that’s just the sound of my own heart.
Christy Tennery-Spalding is a self-care mentor, healer, and activist. She helps world-changing individuals to craft amazing self-care practices. She is the author of Real Self-Care, and the creator of Sacred Focus. In her free time, she enjoys frolicking in redwoods and soaking in hot springs. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their feral cats, Dorothy & Harriet. You may find her on Twitter and Instagram.