Resources: Identifying Ecosystems of Care

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Resources: Identifying Ecosystems of Care

There are countless institutional and interpersonal demands made of our minds and bodies daily. Time and energy are simply concepts when these parts of us are needed to focus on survival. When faced with the overwhelm of navigating these expectations, it becomes even harder to identify what is needed beyond survival. It is not the responsibility of individuals to remedy the damage done by capitalistic, cisheteropatriarchal structures. When considering these barriers to the ability to give and receive care, it is difficult to see what we really have: ourselves. The only things of which we have true possession are our bodies, minds and spirits. For most people, only some parts of themselves can be recognised as their own; parts of the mind are numbed to make space for other people’s demands, and parts of our bodies are numbed to power through pain. This numbing is a reflexive facet of societal conditioning. This numbing is indicating that we need care. 

Care is a basic need. In order to identify care, it is necessary to consider how you have come to conceptualize care. Our understanding of care is rooted in the support or lack thereof that was accessible in our early lives. What we received from guardians, family members, friends, or mentors shaped the expectations we have of the people who later enter our lives. From these prior experiences, we are able to recognize which actions and words were harmful or helpful in the past. A care practice can be developed by reclaiming small parts of ourselves. We do this regularly, when relishing in the comfort of saying ‘no’, even taking an extra five minutes for a “bathroom break” at work; these are ways that we express that our bodies and our abilities belong to us. These are small acts of resistance. These small acts can be integrated with the intention of care for ourselves and our communities. Our capacity to give and receive care is defined by more than will or desire; it requires accessibility, compassion, and maintenance. In order to fully receive the care available, internal and external resources must be identifiable. These resources are any material or abstract forms of support that contribute to holistic functionality. Internal resources can range from developing boundaries to developing a physical care routine. External resources can encompass group hobbies or building a support system. Both types of resources contribute to an ecosystem of care in our lives. 

Internal resources come from yourself. These are feelings, thoughts and actions that contribute to your comfort, enjoyment, safety, and rest. Determination, hopefulness, sense of purpose, your ability to experience gratitude; these are examples of internal resources. These resources provide the necessary foundations to participate in our relationships and commitments. They are acquired and strengthened with time: picking up hobbies, having a regular movement practice, meditating, and any other activity that supports a stronger sense of self. When our internal resources are depleted, it usually means that there is an imbalance in our lives that makes it difficult to practice these self-care routines and activities. The strengthening of internal resources can appear in varying ways. The only things they ‘need’ to be are mindful, incremental, and flexible. Often, when deciding to do better for our well-being, we tend to be grand and rigid with the expectations of ourselves and the adjustments we want to make. Being mindful requires self-checking to see if plans align with inner needs. An incremental approach would apply small amounts of change over a period of time. Flexible expectations would look like adjusting goals based on what is true as opposed to what is desired. Important questions to ask of ourselves are: what do I have? What do I need? What is accessible to me? 

With this knowledge, “I want to start a movement practice, so I will do 1 hour of yoga every day for the next 3 months,” becomes “I want to start a movement practice, so I will do a 15 minute yoga practice once a week for a month.” The latter sets realistic expectations and can be adjusted based on what this person may want or have the space to do at the moment. 

Another way to apply this would be through creating a personal rubric based on energy levels. Here is an example using a journal practice:

Low Energy DaysAverage Energy DaysConquering the World Days
Write down 5 thoughts and feelings in bullet points.Write 1-2 pages about 3 recent feelings/events based on a prompt.Draw an image that represents what is happening internally. Write 3 pages to express what that means.
Record 30 seconds for an audio journal entry if writing isn’t accessible.Record 3 minutes of emotional ramblings if writing isn’t accessible.Record a 5 minute video journal entry, then dance to your favourite song.

When internal resources are supported based on specific needs, it opens up more possibilities to extend care to ourselves because we now know what to expect. Of course, some days, even the activities slated for the lowest energy levels can be too much. This is where patience and flexibility can be applied to expectations of the self. This is also, hopefully, where we can lean on our external resources. 

External resources are what we can get from others. This could be support from our friends, relatives, chosen families, and communities. It is important to note that external resources are meant to give more than they take. Much like internal resources, they contribute to comfort, safety, and capability. These kinds of support can take multiple forms, like receiving food from a friend during a time of grief, or requesting mutual aid from a local community organization. Other representations of external resources include starting a spiritual practice, attending support groups, gardening or coworking via Zoom with a friend. Through these shared actions, our communities thrive when we are intentional about how we show support. 

More tangible expressions of external resources can be found in activities like skill-sharing. Skill-sharing refers to an event or small gathering where people gather and exchange their skills. There are microcosmic ways to practice this with friends by bartering with skills. This may look like someone editing an essay or article in exchange for someone else, in return, creating a personalized budget template. Both people benefit from tasks that would have been otherwise time-consuming or inaccessible to do on their own. Another structure that can strengthen external resources is negotiating care webs. A care web is a disability-friendly network of people who agree to provide different kinds of support for each other in absence of support from entities like healthcare providers or organizations. Through care webs, people are vulnerable about their physical or emotional needs and capabilities, so they can support each other where these things overlap. A living example of this is someone who drives a friend to their monthly doctor’s appointment. In return, this friend pays for gas or their post-appointment lunch date. Through this care web, these people share a supportive bond that acknowledges both of their needs. 

External resources can be difficult to access for many. This can be attributed to conflict, lack of availability, internalized shame, or other contributing factors that hinder the ability to connect to others. If external resources are not within your reach for any reason, I recommend using the concept to inform what you desire from the people who will enter your life in the future. 

Both internal and external resources are necessary for individual and collective well-being. In order to reinforce internal resources, external resources are needed. When there are less external resources, life becomes difficult for everyone. Who are you when you are your most resourced? This is who is needed to move beyond survival. This person is accessible through practice. Practices need repetition to create more cohesive approaches to resistance. While we cannot self care our way out of a violent existence, there are steps we can take to offer ourselves more grace. When this grace is internalized, there is more safety to extend and receive care from ourselves and others. 

Meditation Exercise

Here is a guided meditation for your use. This 10-minute meditation utilizes mindfulness and muscle relaxation techniques to assist in relieving some physical tension and finding mental spaciousness. No special equipment is needed. You are encouraged to use your discernment to identify which parts of this practice work best for you and your body.