I’ve felt myself slipping a little recently – the signs of overwhelm are there, I have moments of real winter dread, ongoing concern about the state of our minds and the planet, and a hefty lump of Brexit-terror. At the same time, I’m fully aware of the privileged, comfortable, well-fed, generally warm and cosy life I lead, bringing with it a layer of guilt. Combined, it’s easy to be numbed into inaction.
Instead, and following on from last week’s instalment of Friday Featuring …, I’d like to share my thoughts on taking action in the world. I’m prompted by a number of recent events, including a trip to the theatre to see The Jungle, set in 2016 in Calais. This second time around, I started crying before it even began, but it was mainly fury I was feeling by the end. I keep thinking there must be more than we can do for our fellow humans.
And there is. On Wednesday night, I went to a fundraising yoga workshop for a charity called The OmPowerment Project. The absolutely inspirational Leila Sadeghee and Katy Appleton led us through a practice that opened our hearts, revealed our strength and instilled courage to bear light in this world, for ourselves, each other, and all beings. It was a perfect example of why yoga is so much more than the poses.
Acting with kindness, bearing the light, is good for us too. A couple of years ago, I went to see the Dalai Lama in an event organised by Action for Happiness. I couldn’t hear much, but it was all very exciting, and I brought back to the office a big bundle of flyers entitled “GREAT DREAM: Ten Keys to Happier Living”. I’m still not sure if I was allowed to do this, but I distributed them all over my floor, as if it had been a centrally-organised initiative. I hoped it would be more useful for people than those little bears in branded T-shirts.
Anyway, the point is that first on the list of Keys to Happier Living – Number 1 – is “Giving”. It seems to be well-established now that as well as being just a good thing to do, taking kind action is beneficial for our own wellbeing. It triggers the reward system in the brain, and can counter the sense of overwhelm. Action for Happiness says that giving, “Increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduce(s) stress”. It can expand our communities, meeting one of our basic human needs. It can simply take our minds off our own (and the generalised world’s) woes.
With that in mind, here’s some suggestions – please don’t feel like this is another item for a to-do list and definitely don’t feel guilty – I know so many do so much already. This is simply a small invitation for those feeling stuck to burst through the detritus layer of “things I know I should be doing” to pick one thing, and do it, and reap the rewards:
This list is deliberately non-financial. If you have money, donate some of it! Buy The Big Issue, buy a stranger a hot drink. Set up a regular direct debit and sign up for that organisation’s newsletter. See how it makes a difference. Join your employee giving programme, sponsor everyone in your office who does one of those crazy things people do. It makes a personal connection as well.
And there it is. I’m hoping today’s blog might be useful for others paralysed by the desire to help and the overwhelm of options, and the hopeless-looking state of things. Please do add your suggestions below!
And do make time to breathe, make space, be compassionate.
The Jungle is a play set during the refugee crisis in Calais in 2016, which ended in the destruction of the makeshift homes of 7000 (officially, maybe more than 8,000) people (including over 1000 unaccompanied children). It is a play which touches on the full gamut of human emotion; there’s fear, hope, trust, empathy, rage and confusion. The Guardian review leads with “This is that rare thing: A necessary piece of theatre”. I’d agree. I keep wondering if they’ve shown it in Parliament, and if they’ll show kids in schools.
Julia Midland founded The OmPowerment Project in 2016 after spending 12 years as an aid worker in areas of crisis all over the globe. The charity’s mission is to empower refugees to lead themselves and members of their communities in the healing practice of trauma-informed yoga.
Ourmala was founded in 2011 by Emily Brett to provide a safe space to breathe and heal through yoga for people who are refugees and asylum-seekers, including survivors of trafficking and modern-day slavery. I see first-hand the work that they do at the Happy Baby Community in North London where I help to co-ordinate the English Programme. The women and children who attend also benefit from other services such as yoga, advice, baby massage time and a hot lunch. Please do get in touch with me if you’re able to help.