If you have ever flown on an airplane, you know that there is a safety presentation before each takeoff. Flight attendants make their way to the aisles to gesture along to the voiceover instructions coming in over the speakers. They stand authoritatively, indicating where emergency exits are, showing how to buckle your seatbelt and reminding you that you can use your seat as a flotation device if the plane goes down in water (which is honestly always the least of my worries considering a plane crash but hey, good to know).
Then, there is a part of this presentation that always catches my attention - “In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put on your own mask first before assisting others.”
There is an obvious metaphor here - you can’t help anyone before you have already secured your own wellbeing. I think this is generally wise advice to anyone and is an important tenet of the balance between self-care and service.
But this week I’ve been thinking about this in the context of our collective fight for the safety and freedom of humanity . I have had a particularly angsty soul regarding the state of our species and the planet lately. I’ve spent countless hours catching up on the science of what’s happening to the climate, and something about my studies this week connected all of the dots in a way that made me both scared and excited - I am clearer than ever about the problems we face, socially and otherwise, and what needs to happen to solve the issues.
I turned to some friends and family to share my anxieties and struggle to know how to participate in solving earth’s existential crisis. To my surprise, and it happened three separate times, the individual listening to me took a deep breath and said, “Wow, I don’t even think about that - I’m just trying to solve my own issues”
The guilty tone of my beloved friends and family struck me, because human liberation starts with personal liberation and awakening. We live in a world in which we have more extensive knowledge of global problems than human beings have ever had. It can feel totally overwhelming, especially because the systems we live in keep us tired, burned out, and distracted. It can indeed feel like all we have is the bandwidth to deal with our personal issues.
I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life working to understand exactly who I am and who I am not, and I had a few intense circumstances that accelerated my process of self-discovery. I did a deep dive. and have left very few stones unturned as I’ve scoured and questioned every aspect of my identity, values and motives. It is only after a decade of intense learning, studying, seeking, praying, struggling and writing that I have come to feel the need to participate more fully in a collective, larger-scale cause.
We all have to put on our own mask first.
Wherever you are in your journey for personal liberation and freedom, know that your personal work is sacred. It’s not just okay to put on your own mask first, it’s essential. In the words of a song I have always loved, our duty is to “take time to be holy”, in a way. Develop a relationship with your Self. Rest more. Find more silence. Connect to something bigger and more profound than yourself. You have all the answers to what you are looking for. This is the work of soaking up all of the oxygen you need so that once your own soul is vibrant and vital, you’ll be prepared to help another who is finding their way just like you did.