Healers of Color on Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence

By Miriam Zoila Pu00e9rez Dec 16, 2016

In her 1988 book "A Burst of Light," Audre Lorde famously wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."* As the seemingly never-ending year of 2016 comes to a close, we asked healers of color from a range of practices to explain why Lorde’s words still resonate and to share how they take care of themselves—mind, body and spirit. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Is self-care important at this moment? If yes, why?

Kaira Jewel Lingo teacher of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness with a focus on people of color: Self-care is so important because the collective consciousness is made up of our individual consciousness. More peaceful, centered people in a community make that entire community safer and saner.

Laura Mariko Cheifetz, editor of the quarterly devotional magazine These Days: Self-care is essential because you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others.

La Loba Loca, queer Andina, yerbatera, chucheria-maker, writer and facilitator: I self-care because this [system] thrives on making us sad and unhealthy. I self-care so I can continue to be that annoying piedra en el zapato (rock in the shoe).

Richael Faithfulfolk healer and creative from the Black tradition of conjure: No moment has been more critical for deep self-care in my millennial lifetime. As the new paradigm emerges, self-care provides me the necessary space to get clear about my role, contributions and priorities in the world.

What mistakes do people often make when it comes to self-care?

Dante Baker, yoga and qi gong teacher, licensed massage therapist and practitioner of Reiki and Sound Healing: People feel like they have to do an [hourlong] meditation or two [straight] hours of yoga. But if you wake up and meditate on gratitude for five minutes, then focus on love and deep breathing from your belly for five minutes at lunchtime, and do a 20-minute yoga in the evening, it adds up.

La Sarmiento, genderqueer Pilipino-American bodywork and Reiki practitioner, ukulele player and servant of the dharma: I think some people believe that self-care costs a lot of money. It doesn’t have to. Taking a walk in nature, meditating, soaking in a hot Epsom salts bath, listening to music, spending time with animals, making art, writing poems, practicing yoga or stretching are all affordable or free and incredibly self-nurturing.

Lingo: Many of us take in too much information through news and social media. It leaves us no space to digest and we become paralyzed. So we need to consume this kind of food carefully.

Loba: I think that self-care can seem so far away if you never grew up with family that practiced it. I come from a Peruvian family in which self-care was never talked about so when I first started to hear about it I would think doing my nails, going shopping, getting a massage, things that at that point I did not have access to [nor] made me feel particularly good. So, how do we practice self-care that makes sense to us and feel real? My self-care looks a lot like remembering and practicing family traditions and incorporating traditional foods and medicine into my daily.

What advice do you have for politically engaged people of color in terms of caring for ourselves during this time?

Santa Molina-Marshall, integrative holistic psychotherapist: This is not about physical strength but about spiritual strength and stamina. Call on your ancestors. Call on the leaders you’ve called on before. Call on all that we have learned as people of color that has supported us. It’s a time for us to be in community and a time for us to be in celebration, despite what is happening.

Alicia-Rahema Mooltrey, 9th grade teacher, social worker, community organizer and self-care facilitator: Recognize your emotions and know that they are normal and worth examining. Holding emotions in doesn’t make you strong; find or create safe places to let them out.

Sarmiento: Know that in any given moment, our comrades are working for causes that matter. For one of us to take a break for a few minutes or a few days is totally OK.

Loba: It’s vital during these times to pay attention to how we interact with each other—how we love, how we communicate our needs, how we [have] sex, how we make love, how we identify heteropatriarchy in our circles and how we support each other. The ways we relate to each other is political.

Lingo: Play! I know it is counter-intuitive but we need to nourish our joy, gratitude and sense of humor, especially in times of outrage. Watering seeds of joy gives us greater capacity to embrace our pain.

Amy Kim Kyremes-Parks, 3rd generation Latina Presbyterian, director of Spiritual Formation at Fairmount Presbyterian ChurchRead and recall stories from our ancestors, those who endured far more than we have in a time where there was even more ignorance. Look ahead knowing that our ancestors envisioned a future for us without knowing who we were. We need to practice this kind of vision casting.

Faithful: My primary advice is to get quiet. We are so filled up with information, noise and reactions that may not serve us well during this time. When our existence is under threat, there is no time for the politics of performance.

What practices or rituals are helping you sustain yourself during this time?

Loba: "I am pretty big on practicing and incorporating abuelita and familial knowledge in my daily [life] as well as Andean practices and medicine. There is a saying that a lot of us feministas in South America like to say, “Felicidad es my rebeldia” which translates to “My happiness is my rebellion.”

Faithful: Sensuality is at the heart of my self-care practice for this season. My showers are hotter and longer. My foods are made slower and are heartier. My sleep is extended and deeper. I am also trying to touch my own body more, with scrubs, butters and oils. I am much more responsive to my body’s needs than I have been in a long time.

Baker: I believe in self-care practices such as meditation, yoga, breath work, sound therapy, tai chi, qi gong, diet, positive psychology and giving love to ourselves, others and to God (or The Creator, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Jehovah, Yaweh, [etc.].

Mooltrey: I meditate once a week with a group and try to meditate at home. I try to eat healthy. I don’t drink alcohol at this time. I do positive affirmations with myself and my students and I pray every day. I limit my intake of social media. I write. I tell myself that I am beautiful. I stay organized so that I don’t get overwhelmed.

Kyremes-Parks: Though simple, this [web-based] breathing exercise has been a lifesaver. Also, I laugh. Do not forget your joy. Spread it and make time for it.

*Post has been updated since publication for clarity.