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Self-care doesn’t have to be selfish: Mindfulness teacher Shelly Tygielski on generosity and wellbeing

Self-care doesn’t have to be selfish: Mindfulness teacher Shelly Tygielski on generosity and wellbeing

  • October 29, 2021

A version of this article also appeared in the It’s Not Just You newsletter. Sign up here to get a new issue every weekend.

It’s easy to get through the day Little aware of our large and small transactions. Pay for a coffee with a wave of your phone and order a week’s groceries by voice command. And when a disaster hits the news, donate money and distribute supportive emojis on social networks, just tap, tap, tap.

This is the age of insta-generosity, insta-consumption, insta-everything. And that’s not that bad. With the same tools that we use to make sneakers appear on our doorstep, we can raise tremendous funds in a matter of hours. But in either case, we’re terrifyingly removed from the people on the other side of our screens. And this gap between us has never been greater than it is now, as we are more distant from our lives.
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Fixing this breakup has been a priority as a mindfulness teacher and community activist Shelly Tygielski founded a grassroots mutual aid organization called Pandemic of love in March 2020, just as the coronavirus hit their neighborhood in South Florida.

As she writes in her new book: “Sit to Stand: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World“The concept was to match donors directly with those in need to ensure that there was an interaction between donor and recipient.

“What I’m proud of is the fact that I built on purpose Pandemic of love to make sure people can connect in times of isolation, ”says Shelly. “We could have taken money on people’s behalf and then just distributed it, which is fine. But I knew that we all need just as much human interaction as anything else. “

Courtesy Shelly Tygielski

A year and a half later, the organization has become a global phenomenon, connecting nearly two million people who have shown up for each other and changed by the experience. And in a year of many heroes, Shelly became one of CNN’s Heroes of the Year 2020, not just because of the $ 60 million in aid that Pandemic of love but because of the unique way the group uses social media and technology to foster personal connections.

“It’s not just about providing financial aid or deliveries,” says Shelly. “They make someone feel like they are being seen and let them know that they are not alone. And the people on the donor side also feel seen through these interactions. “

These very personal transactions are not without vulnerability, both to those who seek help from a stranger and to those givers who are open to the life and struggle of another. Obviously there is a longing for this type of connection. thousands of Pandemic of love Volunteers bring people together around the world to provide everything from diapers for a single mother to money to rent.

This kind of mutual aid addresses our other pandemic, that of toxic division. The book contains uplifting stories in which Pandemic of love Donors and recipients crossed political and cultural barriers to see each other differently. (We featured some of these case studies in this newsletter. And below is the story of two women who, to their surprise, joined forces: Eileen, a self-proclaimed New York hippie liberal, and Christine, a single mother from Mobile, Alabama .)

The other argument Shelly makes is that self-care and community care are not in conflict; they are intertwined. “The successful inner journey of mine leads to a collective healing of us” She writes. It was a lesson she discovered as a single mother dealing with a newly diagnosed health condition. She had hit a wall and admitted to some close friends that she couldn’t handle what was on her plate.

These friends became a small mutual support group that met to share their to-do lists and, most importantly, their self-care plans. They supported each other, offered help, such as taking care of school pickups, and held each other responsible for the types of self-care that promotes resilience, such as prioritizing sleep. Shelly expanded this grassroots safety net to include a wider range of acquaintances, noting that a door opened for everyone when a person raised their hand and said, “I need help.”

“In an emergency like a death or a hurricane, everyone is active,” says Shelly. “But we have to normalize this kind of church maintenance even when there is no disaster. Social media will not show you what is happening on your street. You don’t know if your neighbor is struggling with mental illness or just lost his job because we just don’t talk about it. We have to create forums for these discussions. “

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When I ask Shelly how to build a foster community when we’re not as organized as she is, she points out that she had no intention of starting a huge charity. Her initial goal was just to make sure the people in her community had enough to survive the pandemic. She says:

“We all have the opportunity to show ourselves. There is a beautiful Buddhist saying that goes: Maintain the area of ​​the garden that you can reach. If we just took our garden, block, or one floor in our building – forget the whole building just one floor – or our department at work and making sure everyone had enough, it would change the world. ”

But why not just focus on your own well-being and immediate family when you are feeling exhausted?

“We cannot survive without each other,“Says Shelly. “Our grandparents and the generation of great-grandparents knew that. And it’s still true. Take a look at the supply chain issues that are currently occurring. Or the first responders and frontline workers whom we relied on over the past year. “

Shelly offers a short meditation to remind us that we don’t exist in a bubble. Whenever she buys something, even a tomato, she tries to pause and think about the origin of the item.

“Think of the thousands of hands that touched this tomato in any way – the ones who tended the earth, planted the seeds, and packed the boxes,” she says. “And all the millions who have inspired and cared for those Persons. It is a nice meditative exercise to just pause for a moment and think about it as often as possible during the day. It’s humiliating. “

You could call it cardiac training, this decision to visualize the bonds that connect us with the world and with each other. At least it’s an attempt to be in awe of anger.

Register here to receive an essay by Susanna Schrobsdorff every weekend.


For more information on community building, check out this TEDTalk Inspiration for a life full of immersion. We all want to live full lives, but where do you start? In this luminous, far-reaching lecture, Jacqueline Novogratz introduces people who stand up for a cause, a community and a passion for justice.

How to ward off winter depression: As the days get shorter and nights start earlier, follow these steps to help prevent seasonal affective disorder.

People are not meant to talk that much: A lot is wrong with the Internet, but a lot of it boils down to this one problem: We all talk to each other all the time. Are there any arguments in favor of reducing and opting for fewer, deeper ties?

How to Learn Everything: The MasterClass Diaries“. Irina Dumitrescu, an essayist and professor of Medieval English Literature, took six months of online courses taught by celebrities such as RuPaul, Anna Wintour, and Gordon Ramsay. Your contribution to the MasterClass is a delightful take on the power of celebrity and learning new things. (This piece was added to this year’s The Best American Essays collection.)


Here is a reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all. And this week we’re posting a story from Pandemic of Love that shows how giving can help us culturally Splits.

Eileen is a self-proclaimed liberal, feminist, Hippie New Yorkers. As a retired social worker, she worked primarily with LBGTQIA + and immigrants. At the beginning of April she was matched by Pandemic of love with a single mother named Christine in Mobile, Alabama who needed help.

Eileen describes the initial shock of the connection as a connection between “two very different people from two very different worlds”. When Eileen found out she had voted for President Trump in the last election and wanted to vote for him again, her first instinct was to ask her if she could be moved to another family. Christine had the same thought at the beginning, “to be honest; I didn’t think I would like her when we met. She’s a New Yorker and I’m just a southern girl at heart. “

But the couple decided to move forward. And since July Eileen has been sending Christine and her family biweekly help with groceries and essentials, and when she found out that Christine’s 8-year-old daughter loves reading, she sent her books. “To be honest, I don’t know what I would have been doing all the time without her,” says Christine.

The two unusual friends speak and write frequently, and have spoken about everything from the Holocaust to the Confederate Army. Christine is certain that she and Eileen will be friends for life. And while Eileen started the relationship because she thought Christine was living in a red bubble, she says she was shocked to discover “no matter how long I live in a bubble.”

Story courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, Author of “Sit down to get up“And founder of Pandemic of love, a grassroots mutual aid organization that brings together volunteers, donors and those in need.

Write to me at: [email protected] or via Instagram: @SusannaSchrobs. And sign up here to receive a new edition of It’s Not Just You every weekend.

Thank You For Reading!


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