Affirm Your Life: 10 Practices to Keep Yourself Healthy & Sane While Facing Fascism

Updated: Mar 4

A bowl of tea sits in the sand in front of the ocean.

Written on January 30th, 2016 in Kenting, Taiwan

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Kenting, the southernmost tip of Taiwan, listening to the sound of scooters and pop music wafting up from the street below.

Noon has come and gone as I watch my newsfeed flooding with posts about Muslims being detained in American airports. Folks shutting down LAX, JFK, SFO. The ACLU, Black Lives Matter, CAIR, and people from all walks of life and ends of the political spectrum showing up to protect the civil rights of Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. I'm watching the heartbreak, and I'm watching as we win.

There's a lush national park, a waterfall, and hot springs waiting patiently for me here in Kenting, but all I want to do is write. 

I've been in Taiwan since early January, following from afar as our civil liberties are being rolled back by the Trump administration and as the US slides further down into a dark hole of insanity, hatred, and fascism. I've also been watching as women, immigrants, people of color, allies, and the LGBTQ community have risen up like lotuses through mud, making their voices and their humanity heard the world over.

On a mass scale, we are being awakened.

It's clear that as the forces of evil, white supremacy, and intolerance are out to play, so too is a force of great consciousness and deep love for humanity being brought to the forefront of our communities and our world.

Now it's not just activists, organizers, artists, and all the beautiful, radical folks we know and admire having political conversations, marching out in the streets protesting and organizing. It's our moms and tios and cousins and doctors and priests and monks and corporations and the guy that works at the corner store. We're all waking up.

Here's the thing though. As I connect with my community friends in LA who are healers, organizers, and activists, along with a natural feeling of outrage and concern, perhaps even excitement surrounding this political moment, I'm sensing something else. Something pervasive. Something I know and recognize in my body so well. 

Overwhelm. Anxiety. Burnout.

It's the tiredness that comes from years of being targeted, resisting injustice, internalizing rage, and holding our communities through periods of intense suffering.

These attacks are personal for many of us. We're immigrants, undocumented, Muslim, Black, Latinx, queer, trans, women. Over time, fighting and keeping our guard up for so long in the face of institutional, social, interpersonal, and even financial violence eventually takes a toll.

For people with high levels of empathy or energetic sensitivity, and/or for folks navigating any degree of mental health challenges, these times can be particularly intense and maddening. In other words, for empaths and folks that tend to get all the feels, shit gets real, real quick. As a healer, I've experienced this a lot.

Because I'm traveling, I have a different vantage point during this political moment and movement. I've been learning a lot about what it really means to find peace, manage my mental health, and sustain myself energetically, personally and politically (read: I've been working on my shit).

I've also been engaging my spiritual practice and self-care more sincerely than I ever have before (shout out to the Tea Sage Hut). I've created the time and space to meditate, practice yoga, write, be with nature, eat vegetarian, drink tea, and contemplate life often - all things I value deeply, but found difficult to achieve while hustling and living in LA.

Why am I sharing this, and why is this relevant?

I'm finding, even more than before, that spiritual practice and self-care are the most practical, life-affirming solutions I've encountered when dealing with burnout/tiredness/overwhelm/capitalism/patriarchy/fascism.

Note: I'm not talking about sitting around and workshopping about spiritual practice and self-care. Or talking a good game about spiritual practice and self-care. Or making vision boards and mind maps and lists and new moon intentions about your spiritual practices and self-care strategies.

I'm talking about living your practices.

Being your practices. Embodying them. Prioritizing them. Cultivating them. Every day. In the spaces that you have. With the people you love. Engage them with all your heart, for any length of time you can muster up.

Here are a few suggestions from my lived experience to sustain your life, peace, and sanity through these disconcerting times:

1. Get outside. So many of us spend our time inside in offices, on our computers, on our phones. There's such a thing as nature deficit disorder, and it affects our mind and Spirit. Take a walk. Go to the park. Schedule a nature date with a friend. Start a garden in your front yard on on your window sill. 

2. Meditate. Carve out space in your schedule for a morning and/or evening sit. It doesn't need to elaborate or fancy. Sit up tall, and focus on your breath moving in and out through your nose. When your mind strays, gently bring it back to the breath again and again. You can do this while driving, walking, making breakfast, eating and even protesting. Going back to your breath is an ancient, time-tested method to ground and center yourself.

3. Take a day, an evening, an hour to do nothing. We live in an age where there's so much to do. Too much to do. In whatever way you can, make time to wind down and hang out with your family, with your friends, with your kids, with yourself. No work, no social media, maybe no TV. Slow down, unplug, and rest. Do this as often as you can.

4. Step away from technology. Social media... Sigh. It keeps us connected (arguably so), and it can also take over and knock us off balance very quickly. Step away when you need to, for however long you need to, and consider giving yourself limits around how long you want to engage.

5. Eat mindfully. Food, when engaged with mindfulness and reverence, can be the highest form of medicine we take in daily. Take a breath and express gratitude for your meal before eating it, tasting the sustenance and potential for joy infused in each bite. Check out Thich Nhat Hahn's book Savor for more instructions on mindful eating.

6. Reach out for your ancestors. Honor your deities and Gods and Goddesses and santos and spirit guides. Our lineages have used their connection to Great Spirit/Oneness/All There Is for thousands of years to help them get through times like these and worse. They got us. Light up some incense, palo santo, or sage, and pray. Whatever faith or tradition you hold, pray. Pray for yourself. Pray for all of us. Pray for humanity and the planet. 

7. Cultivate compassion.If you're following the moves of this administration at all, you know that there's no way the people in it can be emotionally or spiritually well. Suffering produces more suffering. Part of my own practice is cultivating compassion and forgiveness for those who have harmed me and, in turn, asking for forgiveness from those I've harmed. Cultivating compassion and loving-kindness (metta) for myself and others, including Trump and Bannon and Sessions and [insert name here], helps me gain perspective and equanimity amidst feelings of anger, disgust, and resentment. This is a tough one, I know. Discard it if it's too much, but if you can stomach it, try it.

8. Write, draw, express.Artists are fueled by times like these. Black songstress Nina Simone famously said, "It's an artist's duty to reflect the times." If you're a painter, a writer, a photographer, a musician, a teacher, etc. reflect the times and reflect your visions for the future. Use your voice to call out injustice and inspire healing, action, and hope. Let your art be medicine for yourself and for others.

9. Visit a retreat center. So much can shift in your life when you enter a space of deep, committed practice served by loving people who dedicate their lives to holding and sharing a spiritual practice. I spent ten days at the Tea Sage Hut, a Tea and Zen center in Miaoli, Taiwan, and it changed my life. You can read more about my experience at the Hut here. Mindfulness retreat centers in California to check out are Deer Park Monastery in Escondido and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the Bay Area. Deer Park holds a yearly People of Color retreat (and lots of other retreats throughout the year), and it's wonderful and deeply healing.

10. Identify your needs and implement your own self-care practices with others. There are endless self-care and community care strategies out there. Identify what your needs are, choose practices that are most relevant to you, and, most importantly, engage them. Take it a step further and practice self-care with your friends and family. Share a meal, go to the Korean Spa, meditate together, sit in silence over a cup of tea, gather in ceremony and prayer, laugh together and celebrate the simple joys of being alive. 

So, along with all the important things you do to support goodness and righteousness and humanity in the world, take care of yourself. Turn your hands towards your own heart and send it oceans of love and compassion. Often. Serve yourself so you can have the energy to serve others with higher levels of energy, commitment, love, and whole-heartedness. We're in this for the long run, and his is not ending any time soon. Now more than ever, we need to be dedicated to ourselves, each other, and the practices that keep us alive and well.

Raising my heart and my fist to all of you who are standing up for freedom, justice, and peace,

Andrea Penagos


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