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Nyctinasty: some thoughts for my own community of faith folks with some privilege

The plants on my porch seem like they close up at night. Get a little smaller, shrunken, like they can tuck themselves in under their own covers. The internet says it’s real and called nyctinasty. The theories are abundant for why - to conserve sweet smells, keep from freezing, protect the pollen inside. Every morning they open up again. They shake it out, get up the gumption and begin.

We’re doing some things that afraid people do: withdrawing, hunkering down, narrowing our horizons. I see some of us on Facebook and in my inbox, around my kitchen table and at the work check-in call. We are taking a social media sabbath, getting off the news, taking a break, going on vacation, plotting an escape, retirement, a different job, a different country.  

And some of us have every reason to be afraid for our literal, actual, human lives. Others of us have every reason to be afraid for the lives of the values that we hold dear. Locate your fear. Reality check it. Don’t be cavalier with surveillance, targeting and threats of fascism. But, if you have more privilege, be on guard for the fear that seduces you into inaction, cowardice and complicity. That guides you away from boldness, vision and risk. Tricks you into thinking your survival is at risk and only your survival matters. When really, your survival, physically, may not be at risk. Consider it. Consider the buffers of money saved in USD even if it’s not a lot. Consider all you could sell. Consider what may be blue passport and visas. Consider the people you could call if it really came to that who also have those things.

  Image of Nyctinasty from Wikipedia

Image of Nyctinasty from Wikipedia

Don’t get confused. We can only opt out of witnessing. We can’t opt out of this world. We can’t opt out of what is happening. Yes, absolutely, sometimes turn it off. Get nyctinasty. Shield up your tender and delicate parts, guard the pollen for tomorrow, stay soft, always. Don’t get stuck though. The flowers know, when the sun is up and it is time to shine.

Consider how fear is moving in you. What pull toward withdrawal, isolation and overwhelm might be healed, not with tuning out but by tuning in and turning up our organizing, our engagement, our risk, our love.

Know the difference between low morale and burnout.

Low morale:

  • Isolation
  • Disconnect
  • Timidity and fragility
  • Undermining our own and others’ contributions

Burnout:

  • Low executive functioning
  • Not enough sleep, food, water
  • Constant state of adrenaline fueled crisis
  • The crash that comes after

Low morale and burnout can both find us lashing out, not at the source of our pain but at whatever and whoever is nearby. We may fail to direct our crucial, brilliant anger and rage at those we are actually most angry at. We may become harsh, brittle, defensive - behaviors that may serve us if directed towards those we need protection from. But we can also be hard on ourselves and our community if directed towards whoever is closest, including our own spirits and bodies.

The antidote to burnout, is often time away, rest, intentionally narrowing our focus. The antidote to low morale, to not feeling part of the flow of something powerful, not having teammates to cheer you on and get you off your butt and always have your back, is actually not time away. No amount of social media sabbath or vacation can cure not having a team and a vision. No autoresponder can ignite commitment and power.  

Sometimes turn it off.  Don’t be exposed to what is needlessly harmful. To an onslaught we already know about. And sometimes, tune in. Turn it up. Get out there in the mess. Build new connections and deepen those you already have. Go towards community, and collaboration and risk. It’s all of our survival.

Get nyctinasty. But always tomorrow, bloom.

A few resources that may be of use for you

Check out these resources on Self-care / Collective Care

Learn more about Trauma Stewardship and this short speech, Beyond the Cliff, by Laura Lipsky

Onward,

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Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, Senior Strategist, Side with Love