Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.
Somehow it has become mid-December and the year is drawing to a close. What can we really say about 2020, other than maybe ”oof”. Those of us lucky enough to have been born and raised fairly privileged in wealthy countries, collectively have probably never had such a strange and difficult year in our lives. Many of us have lost loved ones, or have had to stand by and worry about losing them when they got sick from the new disease. Many of us have had to face financial difficulties, unable to run our businesses or keep our jobs during the economic shutdown or slowdown. Almost all of us have had to adapt our jobs, education and lives to new measures of distancing to “flatten the curve” and slow the epidemic.
Just when we needed our family, friends and community the most, we were told we had to stay away from them — for some of us that has meant staying an ocean away from our loved ones while worrying about their physical and mental well-being. How can we wrap up this tough year and celebrate the holiday season when we can’t be with our loved ones? I think that this year, more than ever, we must try and turn to love to get through the season as we head slowly towards the light at the end of the tunnel (I am not talking about the changing of the calendar, I am talking about the rollout of the covid19 vaccine)! I don’t blame you if you are tired and limping toward the finish line and think I am crazy to suggest “love is all you need”. Please just bear with me for a minute and read on.
First of all, if you are barely hanging on, you need to love and show yourself compassion before you extend it to anyone else. In September I wrote about recognizing and coping with stress, please take a look and see if you might benefit from anything written there. Increasingly throughout the year, I have seen the advice to not beat yourself up if you haven’t accomplished much more than existing this year and I think that is appropriate to some extent. However, I would caution against using that advice to glue yourself under the kotatsu watching Netflix 24/7. Sure, watch some Netflix, rest, read a good book, but also take care of yourself in other ways: eat some vegetables and fruit, go for a walk to get some fresh air and see some nature, do something that stimulates your mind. Loving yourself means caring for yourself; at some point binge-watching Netflix moves from appropriate resting to unhealthy sloth. You’ll know when you’ve crossed that line, be honest with yourself and gentle — no need to feel guilty or anything like that — just do something to take care of your body and reset your emotions, maybe even just taking a nice warm bath to help you shift gears. Taking care of yourself also means reaching out if you need to. Ask for what you need from your friends, family, and support group (being AFWJ is really helpful here) and if you think you need an unbiased shoulder to lean on or some professional mental health help, don’t hesitate to contact TELL or a medical professional.
If you have the capacity, you can move beyond showing love and compassion to yourself and extend it to your friends and family. Even though we can’t be physically together this year, you can still share the holiday joy and love with them — love can be expressed across great distances. Phone, write letters or send cards to those who may find those modes of communication easier or warmer than internet communication — or if those modes allow you to more easily express your heartfelt love! Send messages to friends you haven’t heard from for a while. Plan a video chat with family and friends who are comfortable with that. For those of us with social anxiety or strong introvert tendencies, this holiday season might be more comfortable than usual as it lets us reach out in ways that aren’t as overwhelming as big in-person gatherings. Sure, you can send gifts, but I strongly believe a kind word and connection is far more appreciated than an object, especially this year. Getting in touch with people might help you notice if anyone you know is struggling this season and needs some extra help. If they are in Japan and Japanese speakers, you can guide them toward their local 命の電話 helpline, which you can find here: prefectural helplines or to the internet consultation here: internet consultation guide.
Now if you are feeling robust enough, I would encourage you to spread the love beyond your inner circle out to the greater community. As I mentioned above, many have had financial struggles this year and may need help. If you have the means, consider donating to your local food bank or kodomo shokudo. Or chose from the charities I wrote about last December in The Giving Season blog or a charity that is close to your heart. I bet all organizations that run on donations are really feeling the pinch this year and need every penny/yen they can get. If you want to extend your love internationally and stretch your donation as far as possible, but don’t know where to start, check out the Effective Altruism movement. It uses evidence and analysis to determine the best causes to work on. If you don’t have any extra money but still want to express love and compassion through and action, try to give some time. It is a little hard to volunteer at the moment when many volunteer options require being around other people. Consider showing the environment some love by cleaning your little corner of the earth, whether that means in your neighbourhood or doing a forest, beach or riverbank clean-up. Many cities offer “volunteer bags” for cleaning up public spaces, so check if your city does before you head out there.
Don’t feel bad or guilty if you aren’t at a place to go out and save the world at the moment. Just start with taking care of yourself. If all you can do is sit under that kotatsu with Netflix, then do not underestimate the value of watching documentaries. Learning new things is good for your brain and it might help you see a bigger picture and inspire you to loving actions further down the line. If you are ready to save the world, remember social justice fuelled by anger can burn out quickly but rooting your social justice action in love will help sustain you through the most difficult times.
Now that I have come to the end of my wish for you to nurture your capacity for love, I hope you don’t think this blog was too… idealistic? Hippy-dippy? Unrealistic? Whatever you think, may the final days of your 2020 be filled with kindness, love and compassion. Happy Holidays from all of us here in AFWJ.