Finding steady ground

IssueApril - May 2017
Feature by Daniel Hunter

ImageTo be in shape for the long haul, we have to get our minds and spirits ready, as well as jump into action.

When we’re in bad shape, our power is diminished – we’re less creative, more reactive, and less able to plan strategically. If we intend to stay active and effective in the world, we have a responsibility to tend to our spirits.

Here are seven behaviours we can use right away to strengthen ourselves, so we can keep taking more and more powerful and strategic actions.

Every day:

1. I will make a conscious decision about when and where I’ll get news – and what I’ll do afterwards.

What you choose to pay attention to during the day has an impact on you. Which news sources help you understand the world more fully, and which ones only leave you fearful and despairing? After getting your news, what works for you: moving your body, talking with friends, hopping onto social media? Make it conscious – and if it doesn’t work, don’t keep doing it.

Many ‘news’ sources are designed to trigger fears, sell products, create an addiction to that source, or reinforce pre-existing beliefs. Our goal is to understand what is happening in our world fully enough to be able to engage with it. Much of the information we need comes not from the news, but from the world around us, ie observable natural and human capacities, so it is critical to pay attention to those as well.

Once a week:

2. I will get together with some people face-to-face to support each other and make sure we stay in motion.

The goal is accountability, so that we don’t freeze up in the face of overload or despair. Check in to share and reflect on how you are staying in motion (like writing letters, volunteering, creating resistance art, preparing direct action campaigns). This may be in formal settings such as meetings or facilitated spaces, or informal spaces such as cafés, over dinner tables, or at the gym.

A natural response to conflict is to fight, flee or freeze. In the right context these instincts can lead to survival. Recognising when you are frozen is important because the longer you stay stuck the harder it is to move, take care of yourself, and be an agent of change. Of course, the goal isn’t just a fight or flight survival response, but linking that to our higher brain functions and bigger strategic actions. The support of others helps us do that.

Once a week:

3. I will pray, meditate, or reflect on those I know who are being impacted by oppressive policies, and extend that love to all who may be suffering.

Learn to cultivate love. One starting point may be holding compassionate space for your own pain or the pain of those close to you who are being impacted by the policies and politics of the time.

In that reflective space you can give yourself space to be, feel loss, grief, anger, frustration, helplessness, and conviction. Then hold your love and extend it beyond, to others you may not know who are also suffering.

And lastly, take time to notice that this is not all of your reality: you also may have joys with your folk around you, be surrounded by beautiful music or nature, and take delight in creation. Joy in the face of hard times is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

We have to learn to hold the emotions of these times, and continually grow our hearts to be in touch with the suffering of others, both within and beyond our own circle. Without extending our love to others, we are in no spiritual position to defend and struggle with them.

Once a week:

4. I will read, listen to, or share a story about how others have resisted injustice.

Millions have faced repression and injustices and we all can learn from them. Stories may be from ancestors, contemporaries in this country, or lessons from those around the globe who have faced more severe and repressive governments. The goal is to become a student of history so that you can take inspiration and deepen your understanding of how to struggle and thrive.

To find stories, seek out elders in your community, activists who have been in the trenches, and people who have lived through injustice. Or go to resources about different social movements and histories, such as:


  • This is an Uprising (a broad view on movement-building)
  • Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: an organizing guide (a handbook on building campaigns)
  • Strategy and Soul (a thrilling case study of a single campaign)

Case studies


  • Eyes on the Prize (story of the civil rights movement)
  • A Force More Powerful (six segments of different social movements around the globe)
  • Bringing Down a Dictator (the story of how people power in Serbia overthrew a dictator)

Once a week:

5. I will be aware of myself as one who creates.

The goal of injustice is to breed passivity – to make us believe that things happen to us, events happen to us, policies happen to us. To counteract this, we need to stay in touch with our sense of personal power. One goal is to see ourselves as people who create, whether it’s cooking a meal, organising a dazzling dramatic action, knitting a hat, making a sign, or playing the piano. We are more than consumers, and our humanity must be affirmed.

Once a week:

6. I will take a conscious break from social media.

Instead, fill the time with intentional and direct human interaction. You could take a full day a week away from social media as a healthy minimum, but you decide what is right for you.

The research is clear: staying on social media leads to more anxiety, more disconnection, and more mental distress. The exposure to graphic images and reactionary language too often keeps us in our reptilian (fight or flight) brain. That’s not to deny the power of social media, but for our own well-being, we must find healthy boundaries.

Once a week:

7. I will commit to sharing with others what’s helping me.

This is not meant to be a complete list, but rather a baseline for maintaining emotional well-being in hard times. These are keystone behaviours that can help generate new patterns and consciousness. Share this list with others and add your own to it, creating a commitment to health and building accountability as we strive for a better world.