Seeking Joy in a Tumultuous Climate… Is it possible?

by Kim Saira

For the past two years, many of us have been affected by mass turmoil happening all around the world in different ways.

For many of us who have been affected by the pandemic, we’ve spent most of our days indoors in isolation, with our eyes glued to social media and TV screens, both of which have been giving us personal, firsthand, and valid perspectives of how systemic injustices and disruption continue to affect those around us.

As a queer Asian American advocate that uses social media as a platform to create awareness about social and racial issues, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated, angry, and then ultimately burnt out about all of the harm that continues to perpatuate the communities that I am a part of. On several occasions, I’d log onto social media in the morning and scroll through consecutive posts of people that look like me, getting attacked. Although I knew posts like this triggered me, I also felt like I couldn’t look away– If I ignored or looked away from triggering posts, I felt guilty and the last thing I wanted was to be ignorant to suffering.

But as months went by, I found myself feeling deeply hopeless.

I struggled getting out of bed. I isolated myself from communities in fear of being misunderstood. For months, I was terrified to leave my house because I felt like the world was truly just an evil place, and my life was in constant danger. I feared the world.

Even though I would create content for social media that centered advocating for equity and justice, I was angry offline, and would unknowingly re-traumatize myself by viewing other peoples’ equally distressing posts rooted in their own racial trauma. And for the longest time, I didn’t even realize that my posts, while informative, may have also inflicted my internal, unhealed, trauma onto others.

After talking to several people who work in the activism space, I learned that feeling exhausted, hopeless, and burnt out is extremely common, and in many ways, even normalized.

“This is why self care is so crucial in this space. If I don’t double down on my self care, I can’t do it,” my friend, who is an organizer, said.

I knew that personally (and due to protecting my own mental wellbeing), aligning myself to my trauma isn’t how I wanted to continue living. Like many others, I was tired of being tired.

After years of feeling a heavy obligation to constantly be in tune with all of the world’s issues, I finally entertained the idea of rest and what it means to encompass radical joy. And embodying rest and joy wasn’t as simple as a night-and-day mindset shift; It has been continuous internal work that involves reminding ourselves that despite all of the emotional and mental hardships that life continues to throw at us, we don’t need to stay where we are at.

In her book, “All About Love,” the late author and feminist bell hooks wrote, “The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame. It is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite, waiting for the heart to awaken.” Although sometimes it is difficult to feel it, the love inside of us is always here. We can learn how to love ourselves, so that we can learn to be more compassionate and loving towards others.

It is possible to envision a more loving, joyful world– but in order to fully encompass this belief, we must first truly understand what joy, love, and rest, even means for us. What does joy mean to you?

Seeking joy does not mean that you’re bypassing suffering and ignoring it. Choosing to seek joy means advocating for your own wellbeing, while also acknowledging that suffering is happening all around us (because multiple feelings can coexist at once).

Additionally, I learned that there are so many different ways that we can embody rest and joy, while still helping others (without having to normalize feeling burnt out)! There isn’t only one specific way to advocate for others. Only you know yourself, your mental and emotional threshold, and your boundaries that allow you to show up for the world in a way that is conducive to your mission.

The ways in which I advocate for communities might not look like the ways you do, and that’s okay. In fact, that is the beauty of humanity- the fact that we can all show up differently to the table, with the intention of stamping our own, unique light into the world.

Seeking radical joy and rest are now core pillars to my own mission and how I advocate for others, and I practice cultivating these pillars through my own personal practices of creating a connection with nature, grounding work, meditation, and journaling.

Have you given yourself the permission to feel joy?

What are ways that you can embody rest and joy?

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