It’s (Not Always) All About Me: 5 Ways Engaging Self Work Can Change The World


By Caits Meissner

Working my way through this tunnel of life full of questions and how to hold our people – from violence enacted, from violence against self – I recently asked my Mother why so many are medicated, what’s the deal? I always thought it a big conspiracy from the pharmaceutical companies.

“Have you looked at our world?” She said.

It was rhetorical. With the Internet’s omnipresence, with globalization, with this website, it is clear that we have the ability to see much more than ever before in history. The exhaustive nature of our current press is enough to make anyone with an empathetic lean dip over the edge. This past weekend I huddled together with eight women, most over the age of 50, of varying backgrounds to talk about the term poetic healing. None a stranger to art as a driving political force, and a profound social justice tool, each woman expounded on the critical need to create these spaces of refuge, refueling and relief.

If you’re anything like most people, it can feel disproportionately self-serving to take time out for working on our own spirits. Living within a culture that propels the narrative that only heartless capitalists are self-obsessed and looking out for number one, we feel confused when faced with an opportunity to engage our own needs. Isn’t that the ability of the highly privileged? On the other hand, if we don’t, we’ll burn out. But if we do, what will fall apart in our absence? It is true that having time and space means I do not wish that others could have the same? But then again, isn’t a breath possible for all? No wonder we’re confused and tired.

Luckily, we are witnessing a shift in our media and communities, pushing us towards an agenda of self-care as a crucial part of our contribution to the greater world. And yet, it can feel impossibly counterintuitive to internalize these adjustments, convincing ourselves that the self is counter to our work in community. How do we learn to believe that self-as-center is a critical part of our success? As a facilitator for change and a poet that engages tough topics from deeply personal entry points, I have been actively engaging the permission to celebrate and incorporate self-work into my steady practice.

Here are some ways we can engage self-work and internalize its dire necessity in our quest to create a most just world:

1. Dance with the shadow.

Jungian theory frames our shadow self as referring to:

“(1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious.” (Definition culled from Wikipedia.)

What teaching in prison has taught me is that good and bad are not separate ends of a long spectrum, but connected partners in our daily existence. Dancing with the shadow propels all participants, including myself as instructor, to reframe the definition of a “good person.” It is my deep belief that we are all inherently good, and life circumstances can push us to actions that leave us in regret, guilt or shame. Without the acknowledgement of our own complex place in the very issues we stand for, progress is halted as a soapbox ideal, the “we’s” become generalized and rifts are pronounced and deepened.

Playing out in both micro and macro scenarios, we don’t have to dig far beneath the surface to encounter the shadow. How many of us revert to masking our own propensity for mistakes and bad judgment in order to appear “good” to our friends and community? How many of us are frustrated by the soapbox leaders who appear “good,” only to disappoint when their own vices and spiritual trespassing’s are revealed publicly? And how many of us are exhausted by the Keeping Up With the Joneses facade of social media?

We are expansive, but we are limited, mortal, subject to illness and exhaustion and a deep threat of self-destruction through hoisting the world onto our shoulders. By seeing ourselves as whole individuals, and revealing the many sides – attractive and unattractive – of our own psyche, we are able to more authentically approach each area of life. We can see beyond rigid definitions to include a great spectrum of human action, forgive others and ourselves for past treasons, and recommit to walking in the world as an empowered and awake individual. We humanize our causes and characters, giving them a face we can relate to and recognize. And we can feel the tremendous relief of sincere honesty, with self and others.

2. Spark empathy.

Confronted with a world so overwhelming in its injustice and pain, I have personally turned towards one on one interpersonal processes that shift a human heart. Here I feel capable of making change, of engaging humanity in dire spaces, of seeing shifts immediately, openly. The truth underneath the truth is that I get a great deal out of these exchanges, too. My reasons are complex and a strong part of my motivation is to feel good, important, valuable, of purpose. It is for these reasons most people do anything at all, it is how we are psychologically built. And if we are able to face our motives with curiosity, non-judgment and pure honesty, we begin to engage from a space of deeper empathy and ethics.

This drive for comfort, purpose and the reassurance that we are good and powerful people are part of the reason we post articles about our broken world on Facebook. The illusion of control and of voice. Spreading awareness is a noble act, but at bottom line, it serves the deep well within us that feels paralyzed and helpless. It helps assuage our fear, guilt and despair, and puts us to sleep at night. There is nothing wrong with this at the core, but what is there is a better way? Another, more nourishing way to tend to ourselves and through that clarity, reveal our most profound humanity?

When we enact awareness and self-care, our weaknesses, strong emotions and sadness come wrestling to the surface. Here we find the heart’s compass. It is within this awareness that we grow the capacity to connect the dots to the shared experience of all people. How can our heartbreak relate to a woman living across the world going through the same disruption? How can loss propel our understanding of the world’s great and varied atrocities and how it affects families and communities?

In self-examination we open to the possibility that the essential human spirit exists across the societal divides of culture, race, class and gender. We see this essential spirit rise in our own bodies and recognize it in the face of others – especially those we may have averted our eyes from. We learn it is possible to embrace all walks of life and see each human as equally deserving of love, shelter, food, expression and thriving beyond survival.

3. Get centered in strength.

Engaging self-work is often framed in developing our strengths and offerings. While not the entire puzzle, it is a large piece of the grander narrative. By bolstering our internal gifts, and enacting kindness toward our own experience, we cultivate fertile ground for expanding those gifts outwardly. The fact is, we need you alive and well and engaged.

Simply turning our attention towards self-support bolsters our spirit’s skeleton to stand as a tree, able to bend in the winds of change, remain rooted in the earth and stand firm in our convictions. We are able to see our great well of beauty as the backbone to our existence, and engage from a clear, present mind that knows it’s worth, can hush the ego to remain open to disparate viewpoints and welcome in new knowledge without being a threat to our identity.

4. See our place in the bigger picture…
And simultaneously be the bigger picture.

When I find my way from the city to the woods, all I want to do is escape into the Internet – which sickness and addiction pulling me back to the sea of human noise. There I can measure myself against the popular sentiment – am I living right? Are my feelings justified? Am I angry enough to warrant the titles I hold and cling to? What cry can I add my voice to and feel less alone in my private suffering? It all boils down to a deep fear of the Other. It is my belief that not being able to appreciate, celebrate and find connections with the otherness of the “Other” is the root of all historical and modern evil, and our systems seek to uphold an orderly society that support these deep divides. If we approach harmony, it is dangerous for those who hold the power.

The same stardust sparking the sky has been proven to be the very matter all life is created with. In this sense, we are both as big as the Milky Way and small as the ant. I am obsessed lately with reconnecting to nature, but find I stand so separate, typing on a keyboard and replacing instinct with Google. Under all the armor, the essence seeks connection with all life. Slowly I peel off the layers like a dress sticky from dancing. I let the ocean’s hands touch my naked skin. I learn the song of the birds and no matter what, I keep singing. This balance is grounding place to work from, helping us both understand our great capacity to enact change and instills necessary humility. When we honor ourselves with attention and time, we create an opportunity to touch and unfold the vastness that lives within.

5. Be the mirror.

By facing ourselves with intentional honesty and bravery, we invite others to see themselves in our reflection. Those around us grow in their own strength by noticing that we are not afraid, giving permission to enter their own journey of self-work. These little ripples crack open new possibilities, moving person to person to rustle up creativity and allow us to be the model we are seeking to create. Our community strengthens, stands up and shines.


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Caits Meissner is a poet, facilitator and vibrant creative force dedicated to transformation and healing through storytelling. She created Digging Deep, Facing Self, a 30 day intensive online writing course designed to uplift, heal and transform women into their boldest selves, to address the need for self work in greater world change. To learn more about the upcoming course, starting June 2015, visit