by Simcha Bensefis
Full disclosure: I absolutely loathe the phrase “self-care”. I also deeply dislike the way we talk about the concept, especially without deconstructing the social class privilege that comes with it. B. Loewe wrote a great piece about this and many other problems in the cultural construct of self-care. I believe its important to re-define what we mean by self-care that does not come with capitalist or Middle-Class assumptions about accessibility and productivity. In a nutshell: not everyone can afford a spa day nor should be driven into the dirt by the capitalist boot heel.
That being said, praxis of self-care may be useful. Also, what is self-care? A general definition of self-care that I have found useful is, self-care is any sort of action you do to take care of your health in various its domains (physical, mental, emotional) with an emphasis on intentionality. It is intentional actions to care for yourself. This can be as basic as making a meal for oneself or having a good cry.
In each of our worlds, we face difficult challenges. Many of us also face structural challenges that have immediate harm for us or may include long-term effects on our physical and mental health. Not only is this a compelling acknowledgement for self care in general, I believe that this highlights the need for self-care on a deeper, spiritual level. A lot of talk about self-care emphasises tripartite model of mind-body-emotions, but I see many other domains of our lives that could benefit from self-care. How about the health of our families, our communities and our spiritual selves?
What can spiritual self-care look like? Some immediate ideas are energetic or chakric cleaning. Many of us have practices to cleanse our spiritual body through different means. Washing with agua florida, smoke cleansing, balancing chakras with stones, casting circles are all some examples of this psychic cleansing.
I would also argue that the structure of ritual or following seasonal patterns, and celebrations etc. could provide a meaningful experience in connecting to the spirit world and validating our spiritual selves. This may also include connecting with other pagans, witches and wyrd folk: social connection as self-care.
Connecting to creativity is something that many practice as a self-care activity. Being creative doesn’t have to mean artistic production; you can get creative with some kitchen witchery or try your hand at spell craft. I’ve found anti-anxiety spells on Tumblr and Deborah Blake provided a great “chill out” spell in this years Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook that I like to think of as an anger management self-hex!
To personalize this essay, I want to reflect on how gentrification has affected my mental health and how I am combating it through spiritual self-care. My city has changed a lot. Many times I do not even feel that it belongs to me anymore. Many of the places I used to frequent no longer exist. Many of my friends are moving away because they cannot afford to live here. I fear the time when I too, will not be able to remain in this place. This city had been un refugio for me for so long but that has changed.
I have worked in mental health and community organizing for over a decade and now more than ever I am hearing from people about the depression and anxiety that comes with income inequality and gentrification. I feel it in my bones as well. I absolutely believe that gentrification has mental health consequences. A quick internet search finds articles from the CDC, academic journals and even Everyday Feminism talking about the negative health outcomes that are being discovered as cities gentrify (please see the further reading section).
What can we do about it? I was heartened to read about the collective WITCH in Chicago, who perform ritual/art to protest housing inequality and it galvanized me to organize something similar here in the Northwest. I’ve had friends gather at my home to make hex bottles for combating neighborhood gentrification; we attend hearings on housing and post fliers warning neighbors of impending construction of luxury condos. Perhaps a more visible action is warranted.
For me the creation of hex bottles taps into both my creative side as well as my empowered, brujx identity. I feel as though I am fighting back. It’s like creating war water, I am going into battle for the soul of the place I reside in. It’s my town, it’s my home and I have a duty to protect it. Spending all my time complaining about gentrification only gets me so far, it doesn’t make me feel better in the way that action does.
To wrap up this essay, I want to touch on a recent discovery of mine and how it can help human beings (and perhaps especially pagans) in times of suffering or mental health distress. I came across the biophilia hypothesis in my professional work and it totally connected to my worldview as a pagan and a person coming from a subaltern cultural experience. The biophilia hypothesis was posited by Edward O. Wilson and proposes that human beings have an intrinsic need to seek out connection with the natural world. This idea of interconnectedness has been a focal point of indigenous cultures the world over.
Perhaps with the advent of capitalism, industry and colonialism, many cultures and peoples have been torn away from this connection. Perhaps reconnected with naturaleza is a way to heal from these wounds. When we talk about gentrification and the way that cities are constructed, I think the biophilia hypothesis has great implications for how we cope with the negative mental health effects (as well as physiological problems) that are associated with displacement and gentrification.
In connecting to nature or other living beings, we reaffirm our place in the world as connected to others. If we turn towards this interconnectedness and really start caring for the land and the other beings who live with us, perhaps what we love will save us after all.
- “An End to Self Care” by B. Loewe
- Wild Hunt article about WITCH collective
- CDC article on the health effects of gentrification:
- “Gentrification is a Public Health Crisis” by The Center for Health Journalism
- “Being Gentrified is Bad for Your Health” by Jorge Rivas
- Wikipedia entry on biophilia
- “Plants and People: The Biophilia Hypothesis” by Sean Heffernan
Simcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.
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