Sustainability. It’s the 6th principle of Disability Justice. Sins Invalid describes it like this: “Sustainability: We pace ourselves, individually and collectively, to be sustained long term. Our embodied experiences guide us toward ongoing justice and liberation.”
I’d really love to hear YOUR thoughts about sustainability. Have you found ways, personally and/or collectively, to support sustainability? What have you learned about it? I really want to hear from you!
Here is what I am noticing for myself right now:
I seem to be coming out of a difficult period of big shifts in my life, feeling more grounded, feeling happier, feeling not depressed. Creativity is blooming, I am active in a number of projects, feeling connected to many people and activities. And I am noticing a familiar pattern — when I’m feeling this alive and engaged, I tend to say yes to things. Potentially too many things. I take on so much, and for a while I totally love it. Of course I want to do all the things! And, I’m pretty sure this stage is one that usually precedes burnout.
I’m actually just coming out of a period of burnout. Part of what contributed to it was that for many years I’d been devoting the majority of my free time to Dharma organizations, and not fully tending to the fact that being in those communities was exacerbating my own internalized oppression around fat and disability. I’d go through various struggles with feeling burned out, almost always from reaching some threshold amount of ableism or fat phobia, but then I’d recover — enough to keep doing it. But as I entered an even deeper commitment to those communities by going through a leadership training program, it started becoming clearer to me that it wasn’t going to be sustainable, because along with taking on too much work, I was at that threshold of ability to tolerate the ableism and fat phobia for too long. I had taken on so much that I didn’t have the time and energy to nurture myself in those areas. It broke me. Maybe in a good way? It broke my ability or willingness to keep doing what I’d been doing for 10 years, tolerating a system that was feeding my internalized oppression.
I am noticing several friends I work with on various projects, saying they feel exhausted. I want to support them to have the time and space they need to find a sustainable pace. It feels complicated, and how we work with it is a mashup of our differing histories and contexts around work and survival and family and life, now in relationship with each other.
How can we support each other in our individual and collective sustainability? We need to, because the world is not going to stop throwing shit at us that needs taking care of, and many, many of us are barely surviving because of too much shit and too few resources. I want to know what different people and communities are doing to sustain over the long haul.
I can feel ways that capitalism drives me to be continually productive. The ways my identity, and even my joy sometimes, is wrapped up in what I produce, and how much I am showing up for others. Holding the DJ principle of anti-capitalism is really helpful. I keep reminding myself, noticing, bringing anti-capitalism back into my framework. Wanting it to become anchored there, deeply informing every aspect of how I live. I want to bring this into every conversation, because I really want to know what happens when we bring this into life more transparently, rather than just letting our default ways dictate how we live.
I’m feeling, too, how the wisdom from the indigenous elders at the “Living on Ohlone Land” event is sitting with me, percolating, remaking something central about my relationship to being in this world, in this body on this land. This feels deeply connected to the question of sustainability. Knowing who I am and where I come from as a necessary foundation for being in right relationship with everything. That being grounded in the truth is necessary, and liberating — it’s the only thing that can move us toward the possibility of collective liberation. I want to move deeper with this thread over the coming weeks.
Giving thanks for all that I am learning in this time, thanks to the generous lives of so many beings. Love. So much love.
[Image description: A fluffy cat mottled with white, gray, tabby stripes, and orange nose sleeps soundly with one leg dangling forward, on a wooden chair with a brown cushion.]