Anatomy of a burned-out sacred activist

I could probably write a novel on my personal experience with burnout, but I won’t because I simply don’t have the time. I’m in seminary and a sound healing program; I work for a nonprofit, at a restaurant, and for myself as a healer and coach; I live in a collective household and must devote time to maintaining the house, my body, my spiritual practice, and my relationships. Who the heck has time to read for pleasure or watch a movie?? Until a few weeks ago, when I felt myself about to crumple from exhaustion, I hadn’t had a single day off in about 3 ½ months. It seems that almost everything I do is for the benefit and betterment of the world, my community, and – hopefully – myself, though I’ve found that what may cause some burnout is that I have trouble giving myself attention for the sake of myself. My motives lie within improving myself for the sake of my community or world. There is no separation and I still haven’t determined whether or not this is a negative or positive quality. It’s probably both.

Anyway, since it’s been a pattern for me to experience intense burnout about twice a year (and I’m talking intense, like literally-checking-out-mentally-and-experiencing-physical-problems intense), I have spent a lot of time reflecting on why I burn out (and of course, trying not to burn out in the first place). Why do I feel like I can’t stop working? Sometimes I feel like I can’t play until my work is finished. I feel like I have to change the world before I’m allowed to rest. This is an attachment to some sort of imagined outcome. Is it really realistic to think that one day, everything will finally be perfect? Is it really realistic to think that I am going to be around to witness the end of all war and famine and greed and self-imposed disease and self-imposed suffering? When I get to this point, I have to step back and realize that I am simply a part of the change; I am not the change (this may be the difference between being the change and being the change). Also at this point, I have to realize that change occurs within a process. The word “process” is change in motion! This is a reminder to surrender to the flow.

Another feeling that arises is a fear that I will miss out on being part of the change. Again, this appears to be an attachment to personally being part of the change. I have really explored this within in myself and I don’t think it is a need for credit. I know that I truly believe that the change is greater than I am; I am simply a vessel. However, the fear of missing out comes up when I fear what the changes in our world will bring. Let me explain. Sometimes, I feel infected by a pervading fear of something terrible happening, something destructive, something apocalyptic perhaps. I do understand that part of my mission and work on this earth is combatting these fears. Terrorism has already succeeded as it has a sturdy grasp on the current paradigm of our world and I know in my deepest heart of hearts that this does not have to be true. My work involves helping to bring others to this realization. However, I still often experience a creeping fear within myself as I walk the streets of New York City. Who knows if this is simply an infection of fear or actual prescience! It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Fear is fear. I am slowly releasing myself from this because what I actually fear the most is being overcome by fear. So, when I find myself experiencing relief when I am out of town, hoping that whatever happens to New York will happen when I’m gone, what comes up is this fear of missing out – as if I won’t have a mission to fulfill because I’ve simply escaped catastrophe! I think my fear of missing out is really a cue to let me know that I have some sort of purpose in ushering in the change. Fear of missing out is really a cue to let me know that something deep inside is stronger than any fear and it’s my responsibility to face it rather than avoid it. The burden of escape is greater than the burden of fear. What brings me to burnout is the continued challenge of finding balance between all of these sensations.

The lesson that keeps smacking me in the face is that I must commit to daily spiritual practice if I am going to survive. I need to take time every single day in silence and connection to God, not only to give myself some reprieve from the struggles (and joys) of the world, but also to offer up anything that feels like I am too small to handle on my own (which is a lot!).

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