Self-Care Doesn’t Have to Be Selfish: Mindfulness Teacher Shelly Tygielski On Generosity and Wellbeing
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It’s easy to careen through the day,We are barely aware of all the transactions we make, large or small. Pay for a coffee with a wave of your phone, order a week’s groceries by voice command. If there is a catastrophe, you can give money or sprinkle support emojis on social. Just tap, tap and tap.
It’s the age of ininsta-generosity. Insta-consumption. Insta-everything. And that’s not entirely a bad thing. With the tools that we use to create sneakers on our doorstep, we can easily raise large amounts of money in hours. But in both cases, we’re scarily removed from the people on the other side of our screens. This chasm between us has never been greater as we now live our entire lives online.
This disconnect was addressed when Shelly Tygielski, a mindfulness teacher and activist for the community, created an grassroots organization called Mutual Aid. Pandemic of LoveIn March 2020, right as the coronavirus was descending on her South Florida neighbourhood.
As she writes in her new book, “Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World,” the concept was to match donors directly with those in need ensuring that there’d be an interaction between giver and receiver.
“What I’m proudest of is the fact that I purposely built Pandemic of Love to be sure that human beings could connect at a time of isolation,” says Shelly. “We could have taken money on behalf of people and then just distributed it, which is fine. But I knew that we all needed human interaction as much as anything else.”
A year and a half later, the organization has become a global phenomenon, connecting almost two million people who’ve shown up for each other and been changed by the experience. And in a year of many heroes, Shelly was named one of CNN’s 2020 Heroes of the Year, not just because of the $60 million in aid that Pandemic of LoveIt was possible because the group used social media technology and technology to create person-to-person relationships.
“It’s not just giving financial assistance or supplies,” says Shelly. It’s that you’re making someone feel seen and letting them know that they’re not alone. And the people on the donor side also feel seen from these interactions.” These very personal transactions are not without vulnerability, both for those who are asking for help from a stranger, and the givers who are opening themselves to another’s life and struggle. Clearly, there’s a yearning for this kind of connection. There are thousands of Pandemic of LovePeople around the world are matched by volunteers to offer everything, from diapers to a single mother to rent money.
This type of mutual assistance addresses the other pandemic.That of toxic division. This book contains uplifting stories. Pandemic of LoveTo see one another differently, donors and recipients had to cross cultural and political boundaries. (We’ve showcased some of these case studies in this newsletter. And below, you’ll find the tale of two women who connected, much to their own surprise: Eileen, a self-described New York hippy liberal, and Christine, a single mom from Mobile, Alabama.)
The other argument Shelly makes is that self-care and community care are not in opposition; they’re entwined. “The successful inner journey of me leads towards a collective healing of we,” She writes. As a single mom with a new health condition, it was an important lesson. She’d hit a wall and admitted to a few close friends that she couldn’t handle what was on her plate.
They formed a group of friends to help each other, sharing their plans for self-care and their to-do list. The friends offered support to each other by offering assistance, such as covering school pick-ups. They also held each other responsible for self-care practices that promote resilience like priority sleep. Shelly expanded this grassroots safety net to a wider array of acquaintances and found that when one person raised their hand and said, “I need help,” a door opened for everyone.
“In emergencies like when there’s a death or a hurricane, everyone steps up,” says Shelly. “But we need to normalize that kind of community care even when there isn’t a disaster. Social media isn’t going to show you what might be happening on your street. You don’t know if your neighbor is struggling with mental illness or if they just lost their job because we just don’t talk about it. We need to create forums for these conversations.”
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When I ask Shelly how to create a community of care if we aren’t as organized as she is, she points out that she didn’t intend to create a huge aid organization. She wanted to ensure that her community was able to weather the epidemic. According to her:
“We all have an opportunity to show up. There’s a beautiful Buddhist proverb that says: tend the area of the garden that you can reach. If we only took responsibility to tend to our garden, our block or, a floor in our building—forget the whole building just one floor—or our department at work, and we made sure that everyone had enough, it would transform the world.”
However, it is worth focusing on your well-being as well as your immediate family if you feel tired.
“We can’t survive without each other,” says Shelly. “Our grandparents and great grandparent’s generation knew this. And it’s still true. Take a look at what supply chain problems are currently occurring. Or the first responders and front-line workers we relied upon over the last year.”
Shelly offers a short meditation as a way of reminding ourselves that we don’t exist in a bubble. She tries not to buy anything, even tomatoes, without stopping and thinking about its origins.
“Consider the thousands of hands that touched that tomato in some way—Those who tended the earth, planted the seeds, and packed the boxes,” she says. “And all millions who inspired and cared for thosePeople. It’s a beautiful meditative exercise to just pause for a moment of reflection and think about that as often as you can during the day. It’s humbling.”
Perhaps you could call it heart training. It’s a way to envision the bonds between us and the world. At the very least, it’s a bid for awe over anger.
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EVIDENCE OF HUMAN KINDNESS❤️
Here’s a reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all. And this week, we’re republishing a story from Pandemic of Love that shows how giving can help us cultural Divides
Eileen describes herself as a feminist and liberal. hippie-New YorkerRetired social worker, she was primarily involved with the LBGTQIA+ community and immigrant communities. Her match was made in early April. Pandemic of LoveChristine, a mother of one, was in Mobile, Alabama and needed assistance.
Eileen describes the initial shock of the connection as one between “two very different people from two very different worlds.” When Eileen found out that she had voted for President Trump in the last election and planned to vote for him again, her initial instinct was to ask if she could be re-assigned to another family. Christine had the same thought at the start, “to be honest; I didn’t think I was going to like her when we met. She is a New Yorker, and I am just a Southern girl at heart.”
However, the couple decided to go ahead. And since July, Eileen has been sending Christine and her family bi-weekly help for groceries and essentials, and upon learning that Christine’s 8-year old daughter loves to read, she started to send her books. “I honestly do not know what I would have done without her all this time,” says Christine.
They are unlikely friends who text and talk often and discuss everything, from the Holocaust to Confederate Army. Christine believes she will always be close friends with Eileen. And while Eileen began the relationship thinking Christine was living in a red-state bubble, she says she’s shocked to realize “how long I have been living in a bubble, too.”
Story by Shelly Tygielski author of “To rise up, sit down” and founder of Pandemic of LoveA grassroots mutual aid organisation that connects volunteers and donors with people in need.
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