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  • Writer's pictureRob Sassor

Taking Care—Even Now

Natural incandescence over the Santa Rosa mountains of California.

A touch of wonder from the source that does it best.

Amid the conflict and discord happening near and far, it’s easy for anyone who is empathetic to be preoccupied to the point of distress. 

One of the ways that I stay grounded (and I mean this earnestly) is through my work. “People and planet as one” is more than a tagline. It’s my declaration—my reason for being. 

This past week, I’ve had the chance to draft with Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) colleagues a message framework for their community-centered conservation work in western Tanzania, where I used to live and work as a member of JGI’s team. As clients go, JGI is a natural fit. Jane’s vision has been holistic from the start. The health of the environment, people, and other animals are inextricably linked. We cannot merely care for one; we must care for all life. 

Writing sentences like the following, with the previous night’s news one mental click away, I felt like I was living in a contradiction: 

The Kigoma region is home to many ecological treasures. From the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park; to the nearly three hundred species of fish that occur nowhere else in the world; and the plants and animals that give the region its distinct character, like scaly pangolins, mninga trees, and serval cats. 

Our livelihoods are intrinsically linked with their survival and the health of local ecosystems. From the fish we eat to the water we drink and the soil in which we grow our food—the lake, rivers, and forests in western Tanzania are core to our health and prosperity today and for generations to come. 

And, with respect to gender inequality: 

Mother Earth’s ability to nourish us and our treatment of women and girls are interconnected …. For us all to thrive, we must care for and respect the women who give us life and help us tend to Mother Earth in kind.

It is disconcerting when true words of interconnection seem so at odds with the news media clickbait and fictional universes (most of which are nothing to Marvel at) that permeate our waking lives. 

My coach, Lori Darley, asked me how I was doing yesterday. I practically unspooled. The distance between our aspirational selves and who we are as a people—as a species with relatively recent shared roots—is too vast. Lori said this: 

What we focus on, we expand.  Hate breeds hate.  Fear breeds fear.  Love also breeds love.

Then we set about establishing practical ways for me to recenter joy and love in my life. Here are a few things I am trying on and wanted to share, in case they are helpful for you: 

  1. Media diet: Distancing myself from the noise economy. Lowering the volume does not equate to apathy. It merely means that I am focusing my attention on the people, wisdom, and values that I find affirming, and allowing those to expand in and around me. 

  2. Creativity: As my work on behalf of another beloved past client, the Creating Connection initiative, testifies: when we engage in creativity, we are better able to connect with ourselves, with those we love, with our community, and with cultures all around the globe. My most consistent medium is creative writing, but I love nurturing the dilettante in me—dabbling in all forms of creative expression. Most recently, fashion design. I connect with joy so quickly in these moments, and all I need is a little light, a 6B pencil, and cheap newsprint paper. In moments when I would normally reach for the latest news updates, I will reconsider and reach for the pencil instead. 

  3. Centering joy and wonder: My partner, Mike, is naturally funny. I am a lighter version of myself when it’s just the two of us—often out in nature, by the pool, or at a candlelit dinner. We’ve recently taken to surprising each other with “wonder” or “joy” dates. A late-night picnic under the stars in Joshua Tree, for example, or a trip to the waterpark to race each other down waterslides. As with the above, doing this doesn’t require special skills or expenses; it’s just about refocusing where we put our energy. 

As someone whose conditioning is to give to the point of embodying a physical posture that tends to curl and lean forward, none of this comes easy for me. The above list can feel “selfish.” Funny that: taking care of oneself is indulgent. Another teacher of mine, Staci Haines, speaks to the embodied patterns that make it hard to say “no” and easy to tend to others at the expense of ourselves. 

In this cultural context, self-love is sometimes conjoined with the term “radical.” Funny that, too. 

Whether it be radical, practical, or both, the world can use a little more compassion. If you’re refocusing on love and joy, too, and if we can be in community together on the journey, let me know. After all, these are powerful antidotes to hate and violence and core ingredients for individual and collective resilience. The world can use a little more resilience, too.

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