What to Expect when You're Expecting more Suffering
And antidotes to hopelessness, and helplessness
The ongoing catastrophes in Israel/Palestine, Sudan, and Congo, the erosion of women's rights in the US, and the looming threat of fascism all have the potential to wreak havoc on our health. We know that it’s up to us to spread the word, advocate for marginalized populations, and protect vulnerable individuals from harm in our own communities, but all this on top of everyday life challenges can be overwhelming.
As a long-time activist, I’ve witnessed the destructive effects of vicarious trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue in helpers. Many people who are new to activism are already experiencing burnout. Things might get far worse before they get better, so it’s useful to do what we can to honor our relationship with our body-mind-emotions, the earth, and each other. Based on my work with traumatized refugees, I facilitate resilience workshops & retreats with first responders, medical/mental healthcare workers, and advocates. Here are some tips that might help you:
Replenish your body budget. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and moving your body. Practice tuning into your body budget needs and take nourishing breaks: Rest/meditate when you need to and move your body when you need to. This is not selfish indulgence, but rather the essential care of your activist body.
Boundaries are so important. Check your socials only 1-3 times a day (not easy at first.) Put a timer on to avoid overwhelming your capacity. Practice the same with difficult conversations or interactions. It’s okay to say: “I'd love to talk more but right now I’m experiencing a low body budget. I’d like to be fully present so can we continue this conversation when I have more capacity?” And set a date.
Practice mental hygiene after witnessing atrocities online. Here are some ideas: place your hand on your heart, take several deep cleansing breaths, and thank yourself for bearing witness to suffering. Animals naturally shake to release trauma from their bodies. So shake your body and make noises for 5 minutes, imagining residues of distress sloughing off. I shake with refugees every session & it’s so effective.
Small is beautiful (and useful!). It’s easy to fall into despair and helplessness. Small meaningful actions often provide the antidote. Do something every day if you can: Share news, support businesses that support social justice, and call/write to your reps. Reach out to Muslim/Middle Easterner/Jewish friends who are undoubtedly having a difficult time and might be vulnerable to Islamophobia or antisemitism.
Allow time to be with your feelings. This is also part of mental/emotional hygiene. Set a timer for 20 minutes and invite your emotions to surface. One of my favorite ways to process my feelings is by listening to music and dancing my emotions. Drawing and journaling work too.
Be kind to yourself: It’s natural to feel guilt, shame, and moral injury when you’re unable to prevent harm. Feel your feelings but disrupt incessant negative self-talk by giving yourself a physical hug and saying, “I love you. I’m sorry. Thank you.”
Micro-Massage! Don’t underestimate the power of a 5-minute massage given and received from a loved one. If you’re alone, you can massage your own ears and/or feet to regulate your nervous system. Do this before bedtime.
Sing, chant, or hum (at the very least in the shower or when driving) to stimulate the vagus nerve and calm your nervous system.
Connect with nature and community—touch the earth, hug/talk to trees and each other. Garden together, go on a hike, visit nature centers or botanical gardens.
Embrace joy instead of being a gatekeeper to it. Remember joy is both a sustainable fuel and an act of resistance when facing difficulties. Here’s my TED Talk on the subject.
It’s important to note that none of the above suggestions is a long-term solution to systemic injustice, lack of social safety net, and the scarcity of public spaces where we can come together to bond, heal, and learn. Let’s acknowledge we’ve been dealt a rough hand and we can only do so much to mitigate societal/global failings. Let’s stay soft on ourselves/each other and hard on structures that perpetuate suffering.
If you need a bit more support, check out these offerings and shoot me a line.
My Connection to all this
I continue to mourn for lives destroyed on both sides—I have both Israeli and Palestinian friends and colleagues with diverse beliefs and opinions. May we find the mirror of humanity within each other and together help bring justice and peace in our communities and beyond. Amid vitriol and divisiveness, I notice that my circle of care has expanded. My heart keeps breaking open and I have a heightened sense of protectiveness for the Jewish/Middle Eastern/Muslim communities. While it may be tempting to dehumanize those who dehumanize others (or whom we perceive as dehumanizing others), it's essential to recognize that doing so leads us away from justice and peace. During our brief time on this earth, may we remain connected to our benevolent ancestors and keep in our hearts future generations.
Here’s a piece I wrote early on about intergenerational trauma, the role of social media, and being the change we want to see in the world. Incidentally, the piece was killed by a major publication.
** Read ⬇️ only if your body budget allows it.
I’m also the Iranian Musical Ambassador of Peace and dance with refugee children and their families as a means of healing and belonging. We laugh, play, and dance every week, enjoying a moment of safety and joy in our makeshift community. But these days I can't help thinking of thousands of Gazan kids and their families who've made it through more than two months of carnage and they're spending their moments, maybe their last moments—hungry, homeless, haunted, and hunted.
Every day I check on my Gazan Musical Ambassadors of Peace colleague, Rahaf Shamaly, to make sure she is still alive. Rahaf is a wildly talented singer whose life mission is to spread joy. She is now a perpetual refugee, constantly running from bombs without any assurance of safety.
I’m devastated as I’ve already lost my other colleague, Mahmoud Anwer to Israel’s airstrikes. His body was never found. I think about his wife and twin infant daughters every day and pray for their safety (everyone’s safety) and the safe return of all hostages.
Inner Renewal One-day Retreat (Austin—Jan 27, 2024)
We had a beautiful in-person retreat in Austin in November and per request, we’re going to kick off the new year with another installment.
Please join us in this one-day workshop where we’ll explore joy as a sustainable fuel for flourishing in hard times and stillness as a portal into our intuitive inner guidance. This work is urgently needed as we face individual & collective grief, heartbreak, and trauma. How will we meet ongoing challenges? What nourishments will we tap into and what strengths will we call upon so we don’t fall into despair and become helpless bystanders?
We look forward to a day of vitality and healing through the five senses, movement, drawing, guided meditation, and stabilizing our nervous systems through joy and stillness. For more information go to this page.
Efecto Colibri Podcast
I had the pleasure of speaking with Maite Moreno Ugartemendia of the Argentinian-based podcast Efecto Colibri. It’s a beautifully produced episode featuring a lovely host with the most soothing voice.
We talked about:
My childhood in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war and the oppression of women
Why and how we run music and dance circles for refugees across conflict-ridden borders
The importance of community and imagination
The healthiest pleasures to mitigate trauma
You can listen here or on your favorite streaming sites.
International Migrants Day
The Hebrew phrase tikkun olam (world repair) is a phrase that makes my heart sing. I understand the phrase speaks to the need for social action and the endeavor for social justice. We do what we can in our own communities and help each other do the same.
Thanks to your generous donation and with the help of Healing Hands Foundation matching funds, in October we raised $11,050 to purchase food and essential supplies for hundreds of asylum seekers in Tijuana. We plan on bringing more donations in the next few weeks.
Because so many asylum seekers are vulnerable to more violence, we refrain from showing their faces but here is a little video of our embodied warmup exercises during our weekly dance sessions:
Solstice 2023 (December 21st)
Persians take winter solstice (shab e yalda) seriously. On the longest night of the year, we celebrate yalda (rebirth of the sun) by reading poetry, singing, dancing, and partaking in nuts and fruits. This goes back a few millennia when ancient Persians relied on agriculture for their physical sustenance and rituals for their soul sustenance. Here’s more about the power of rituals.
Sending love to you and your loved ones❤️🙏🏾
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