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July/August 2001
The “B” Word

By Redwood Mary


Mohandas Gandhi wrote and said: “Nonviolence without the cooperation of the head, the intellect and the heart cannot produce the intended result. Look at any conflict here on the planet each side harboring a violence ready to break loose, then spilling out horrors of violence, as in an uncontrollable tidal wave sweeping away everything in its path, dignity, compassion, intellect.”

And here’s a passage from Gandhi’s writings on nonviolent resistance:
“How kings played, how they became enemies of one another, how they murdered one another, is found accurately recorded in history, and if this were all that happened in the world, it would have ended long ago…The greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of [the] force of love and not the force of arms is to be found in the fact that in spite of wars, the world still lives on. Little quarrels of millions of families in their daily lives disappear before the exercise of this force. Hundreds of nations live in peace together. History does not and cannot take note of this fact. History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul.”

So what does this all have to do with burnout? Gandhi hits upon the idea of integrating the intellect and the heart. I use the writings from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, and various spiritual masters and traditions as a way to ground myself. In doing work as an “active citizen” I come across countless obstacles—my own and those presented by others. We are all striving for the same result with different approaches and struggling with various challenges.

Burnout is real. I see many workshops in various movements, from outreach to direct action and everything in between, but rarely a workshop on the “B” word—BURNOUT—and what steps we can take to take care of ourselves doing the work we do.

How do I deal with my own burnout? I include (when I can) music, song or dance in my repertoire of activism by collaborating with others! We have to make it fun or why do it?

My own reference point is to work from a place of love and compassion while keeping in mind that I am human and that it doesn’t always work perfectly. I always tell myself and others to keep forgiving and also “to remain detached from the results.” This way our ego won’t be bruised or disappointed if things have to change or they do not go as planned.

I have to make time to stop and see what I need. Am I hungry? Do I need to take a rest or even take a day off? All of these elements seem so simple and trivial, but many of us ignore them; behind many cranky activists can be the simple need to get some food to stabilize the blood sugar, or to simply get rest. And I have to keep work out of my rest time!

Most important: I limit my input. I stay away from any violence, be it films, people or places. I limit my intake of “terrible news.” I do not turn away from the problems of the world; I note them then make a plan for what I am able to do to create a solution. I cannot solve all of the problems of the forest or the world. I cry when I have to—by myself or with others. Grief is real and we do not cry enough! Tears are a release and healing.

I limit phone calls. I find a balance by taking a walk in nature, locally or in a park when I am traveling. I stop and enjoy a lunch rather than eat when working. And I make sure I get a solid night’s sleep. I delegate what I can and let go. I make it my mantra to realize that everyone is doing their best even when things go wrong and I may see another way to do something. I have to move away from folks who like to do what I call “armchair activism,” who have a list of criticisms for all of our social and environmental ills and are always telling me and others what we should be doing and how. I bless these “energy spinners” and move on. I look for commonalities with people rather than differences, and I remember that I cannot change anyone and do not waste energy trying. I try to remember to give praise and gratitude. If I have to give criticism I ask myself if it will be constructive and provide a solution, and check to see if it will be well-received.

I have a whole collection of tapes and CDs of calm, good-energy music—from folk and new age to soft jazz and Classical—that I play to get into a “good space.” I have upbeat music for harder tasks. I pray. I meditate. I talk to the salmon fingerlings (young fry) in the stream when I can find them. And I hug trees and people!

As the saying goes: “It is not what we do—it is how we do it and treat each other along the way.” I take it a step further and I make a point to check in with how I am treating myself!

With Love And Respect For All Life.

Redwood Mary is an environmental activist who works on behalf of the Plight of The Redwoods Campaign. Contact or visit


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