There is an urgency to every social movement that I have ever been part of: racial justice, men working on misogyny, food justice, organic farming, environmental justice, queer liberation, and healing justice. This urgency drives us to not only change the next moment but also to change this very moment. This is not only unsustainable but unattainable. If racism exists in this moment, then it exists in this moment. Urgency creates an endless to-do list and a dynamic within social justice work that is stressed, rushed, and perpetually unsatisfied. This has led to social justice idealizing the martyr: someone self-sacrificing to the movement, working every possible moment of every day, showing up at every protest, negating their own needs (and often that of their families), not ever resting. I have seen the harm of this ideal break bodies down, because we don’t take care of them or release the tension that is building every day from the work that they are doing. We need to rest; we need time away—and that actually nourishes our social change work.
Tara Brach says, “We are uncomfortable in our lives because everything in our lives keeps changing—our inner moods, our bodies, our work, the people we love, the world we live in. We can’t hang on to anything—a beautiful sunset, a sweet taste, an intimate moment with a lover, our very existence as the body/ mind we call self—because all things come and go. Lacking any permanent satisfaction, we continually need another injection of fuel, stimulation, reassurance from loved ones, medicine, exercise, and meditation. We are continually driven to become something more, to experience something else.” The work of equanimity is counter to our instincts; it forges a new neural pathway. This perpetuation of craving, of always wanting more or wanting different, doesn’t create happiness or liberation—it is a cycle of suffering. The patience, kindness, and spaciousness implied in the teaching to accept this moment is important for all of us—and important to social justice work in particular. It has allowed me to take a breath; otherwise I would resist and just keep moving.
After consulting many teachers on this question of equanimity and social justice, Larry Yang answered my inquiry about equanimity in a satisfying way. He said, “The scripture doesn’t say anything about the next moment.” We can accept things as they are in this moment, and we must, for it already exists—while at the same time trying to prevent harm in the world in the next moment. It helps me be with the oppression, the powerlessness, the despair present in this moment if I can feel empowered to change the next moment. I can offer compassion to this moment in human history if I know that I and comrades that I work with are doing everything we can on personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels to create justice and equity.