September 9, 2018

3 Self-Care Books every Activist should Read.

“Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

That may be logical, but not necessarily the instinctive reaction for most people.

And least so, for activists. We naturally tend to prioritise idealistic pursuits, be it justice, equality, or relieving others of their suffering over our personal interests, don’t we?

Over the years, I have seen warriors around me go through burnouts, turn fanatical, or worse—became cynical and bitter. Myself included, many times over.

I wish these three books existed 10 years ago. But it’s never too late to start healing ourselves and our relationships so we can go on to contribute to healing the world.

Take care of yourself:

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown

This book tackles two seemingly opposite concepts: belonging and standing alone.

This is particularly helpful for activists because we constantly find ourselves in the minority. As we explore what we believe in and the causes we are passionate enough to fight for, we usually feel isolated from our existing social circles. Be it our family, friends, partners, or colleagues, most of them (understandably) may not agree with the new stance we take or the new lifestyle we adopt.

That is the first uncomfortable moment of standing alone and not belonging.

We then would naturally seek out like-minded people for support, join groups, and start engaging in movements. That is the honeymoon period in activism. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is short-lived.

“True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group,” Brené explained, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.”

It is important to cultivate true belonging in order to handle the next phase.

Ironically, it is not easy to be among a group of “good people.”

A group of idealists and revolutionists, armed with passion and righteousness, can easily become a hotbed of egoism and narcissism over small differences. It can also be devastating to make the daily choice between compromising for tiny, incremental improvements and fighting for complete reform that comes with the risk of absolute defeat.

Needless to say, feeling helpless about the mission you believe in and being misunderstood along the way can break any dreamer’s spirit.

Brené also gives the guiding principle of “BRAVING” to cultivate true belonging by building trust in the self as well as others:


“You are only free when you realise you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” ~ Maya Angelou

Take care of your relationships:

Beyond Beliefs: A Guide to Improving Relationships and Communication for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters by Melanie Joy

This book simply blew my mind.

The most eye-opening concept in this book is to dissect the root cause of relationship breakdowns in veg/non-veg relationships: trauma.

The same analysis is “applicable to any value-based ethic or ideology, not just veganism, to promote respectful understanding as the goal in discussions and interactions with people unfamiliar with the values behind the outward choice or stance,” as reviewer Cora has found.

Without giving away too much (you have to read this!), this book made me realise that the disconnectedness I experienced in most of my relationships is due to me feeling unsafe.

For vegans, and most activists, through exposure to an atrocity, we’ve developed a worldview that is based on trauma—a trauma narrative—where we see the world as one giant traumatic system with only three roles to be played: victim, perpetrator, and hero.

How can we feel safe in any relationship if we reduce the other person as a perpetrator because they do not hold the same value system as us?

Add to that the survivor guilt that we may carry upon ourselves, and the shame that comes along with it.

Then add everyday triggers. For vegans, these can be what is on the plate of the person right across the dining table, something from the news, a disparaging remark, or mocking behaviours that trigger the secondary traumatic stress (STS) response similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Joy offers practical advice on how to nurture relationships and reconnect with loved ones despite these challenges. It is a deeply healing piece of work that applies social science and psychology research to a niche kind of open wound that is eating us up.

Take care of oneness:

The Conscious Activist: Where Activism Meets Mysticism by James O’Dea

James O’Dea is the award-winning author of Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st-century Peace Ambassador and Creative Stress: A Path for Evolving Souls through Personal and Planetary Upheaval.

Other than his amazing credentials—he’s headed Amnesty International and the Seva Foundation and has trained more than 800 peace ambassadors from 30 countries—what is fascinating about this book is the combination of mystical awakening and effective activism.

Part I of the book offers parallel narratives of James O’Dea’s training and spiritual development as both a mystic and an activist. The mystic, he explains, must move past petty ego concerns in order to experience oneness with each other and our divine source. The activist, on the other hand, explores the role of passion and conscience in activating social change.

In Part II of the book, O’Dea explores the meeting ground between the two worlds, where spirituality and action unite to spark an accelerated transition toward our greater goal: a more evolved civilization. He asks us all to become conscious activists—to learn, collectively, how to move beyond our rigid conformity to beliefs of the past and its archaic structures of power and control.

This quote sums it up perfectly:

“Activists and mystics are pioneers and adventurers. They leave the safer territory of comforting spirituality and charitable service and venture to the edges of personal and social transformation. They have a degree of longing and passion that makes some people uncomfortable. They have an unsettling degree of intensity. They ache for breakthroughs. They destabilise normality. They rock the boat of acceptability. They go off the radar screen of life’s prescribed trajectories only to return bursting with ecstatic insight, fiery conscience and new codes to rouse us from a sleepy moral conformity.”

Bless you all, activists fighting for a better world.

May you be safe.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.


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Elaine Siu

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