By Jen Thorpe
There are times when you need to stop. To sit down. To rest. To recoup. Sometimes they are simply a moment of defeat. We feel we cannot go on. At these times we stop because we feel that there is no other option – we cannot continue. The pressure from the world, our loved ones and ourselves to do what we should can become overwhelming.
But stopping, or resting, is not giving up. These periods of stillness can be incredibly important for us. These times help us to reflect. They are an opportunity to exercise compassion for ourselves and for the people who we interact with in our everyday lives. They can become a chance to assess whether we are on the right path, or whether we are doing what we think we should be doing.
Last year was tough. After a year of working hard in the field of sexual violence, and trying my hardest to make a change within the limited opportunities for feminist activism within the parameters of Patriarchal South Africa (We should be the PSA, not the RSA) I had begun to become impatient with my own inefficacy – how could I have been doing this for so long, and yet so little ground appeared to have been gained? Would it always be this hard? How would I continue for another year without despairing?
In an effort to distract myself from feelings that were not practical for someone who needs to be in this in the long haul, I took a complete break from work. I went on leave from the 16th of December, and will only return on the 10th. In this time I have read books, written for my own book, started attending a yoga class, been on holiday to the Transkei, gone for long walks, and eaten and drank as I pleased. This period of stillness has helped me immensely.
I was reading an incredible book recently, written by two yogis from the United States. The book showed them in extraordinary positions that I would love to master one day. Alongside the photographs were a number of comments from this pair, some of which I found reflected in my own life. There was one in particular that resonated with me after last year, and made me realise that sometimes we feminists can be very tough on ourselves. For those of you who don’t believe in yoga and karma, fair enough, but bare with me.
“Yoga practices help us develop awareness and detachment. When we can begin to watch our personality’s fearful reactions to situations, we can develop compassion for our own lack of courage. Through compassion we realise there is nothing to lose.” Sharon Gannon and David Life, The Art of Yoga
Essentially – we need to give ourselves a break. We can do everything or be everyone for everyone all the time. Sometimes we just need to be fearful, and retreat. This can help us to grow more courageous.
At the same time it is becoming increasingly important for us to raise our voices. Things are changing in many spheres of life, but for women they are often changing for the worse. Sexual violence continues to escalate with attacks perpetrated most often by men that the survivor knows. The glass ceiling might have been cleaned so much it is almost invisible, but it is nonetheless there. At our highest court in the country, few judges are women. At the pinnacle of political power stand men who are not able or brave enough to commend women, support women, decry violence against women and to suggest that things MUST change.
So my advice for 2012 (if you’re bothered) is to rest when you need to, and to rest well. Fill your cupboard with your favourite foods. Fill your bookshelf or television with stimulating reads or films. Allow yourself to become re-inspired, and your flame to be reignited. Then, when you are ready, get back to action and activism whether your activism is armchair, website, banner hanging, culture jamming or good old-fashioned street marching. Do it. Do it with everything you have left. There is a time for rest.
There is also a time to act, and to start to become people who live and participate in the world. I like to live in this world as a feminist, and I hope that this year our site helps you to find a comfortable space for you to live that way too.