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As a sex educator, the majority of my professional career is spent holding space for others as they process their own needs. It’s sacred, fulfilling work, but emotionally exhausting in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.
So how exactly do healers strike a balance between others’ healing and their own?
The process can take on varied forms. Taylor Ursula, astrologer, tarot card reader, energy worker, and potion maker, defines it as a constant flux of self-awareness and recontextualizing: “Everything that I help others work through, I am called to check within myself,” she says. “I work hard to keep my emotions and experiences transparent and clear within myself so that I can keep my motives and channels open and compassionate.” Ursula turns to journaling, stretching, and meditation as often as she can, as well as regularly checking in with her network of fellow healers, with whom she exchanges services and shares experiences and ideas. “My self-healing work led me to work with others, and every session I have with a client teaches me something new about my boundaries and needs and how I establish and fulfill them,” she notes. “Often, the evolution of my healing is in step with my work in helping others heal.”
“Every session I have with a client teaches me something new about my boundaries and needs.”
Jamila Reddy, a writer and transformational coach, also sees self-healing as an important part of the professional journey: “For me, healing looks like self-awareness. Mindfulness. Consciousness. Healing is an ongoing process of me tending to my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds, which requires that I first be aware of what they are and how they manifest,” she explains. “These days, in my life, healing looks like daily journaling, practicing Nichiren Buddhism, meditating, eating nourishing foods, doing yoga, dancing, resting, grieving, laughing, spending time with nature, connecting with friends and families. What healing looks like changes day-to-day, but these are all of the things that support me feeling my best.”
By recognizing that her healing and the healing of her communities are two sides of the same coin, Reddy says, “When I heal myself, I give everyone around me permission to do the same. I lead by example. I also know that my offerings are only as strong as I am. If I am depleted, exhausted, and ragged, my coaching reflects that. My writing reflects that. I can’t show up with integrity as a healer if I not taking care of my own self first.” She adds, “A Buddhist friend told me once that in everything we do, there has to be a balance between whether it’s good for us and good for others. If ever we get to a point where our actions are unbalanced and causing harm to ourselves or others, something needs to change. We have to recommit to the intention of our practice. We have to give ourselves our own medicine.”
“When I heal myself, I give everyone around me permission to do the same. I lead by example.”
It can be especially hard for Black and non-Black people of color to feel like they can prioritize their own healing.
“It is important to find that precise balance between acknowledging and honoring our progress in our personal healing, while remaining humble about what issues are still triggers for us,” Ursula advises. “As people who have been taught to maintain poor boundaries and self-respect, it can feel beyond empowering to draw boundaries, say no, and call others out for disrespecting us and others. We’ve learned that respect from others starts with respect for self — but in ways that do not perpetuate anger, aggression, and violent communication.”
But Reddy advises us to remember that wellness is for all of us: “We are alive to have a beautiful human experience. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that we have to do, or become, something in order to be deserving of our desires. We think we have to ‘earn’ rest and wellness and peace and pleasure and fun. The truth is we are inherently deserving of a beautiful experience. We are inherently deserving of a totally expansive, abundant, magnificent life. I think that’s why we’re here. My advice is to give yourself permission to claim that — give yourself permission to have a beautiful life.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about self-care and balance, however, comes from the idea that it can only be accomplished in isolation. In fact, community often plays a vital role in helping healers refill their own cups and be able to provide the best care to their clients. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a lot of healer friends in person, but I’m lucky that there’s so many Black holistic folks on IG. I’m able to vent to them about problems that I have in my career or in my head and they can give me their perspective because we all have different perspectives as healers,” says Jamila Anahata, a holistic lifestyle coach that focuses on veganism and activism. “We have similar ancestors and perspectives on navigating the world through oppressive systems. It’s great to vent to other people who are conscious-minded. It’s really nice to be in contact with people who are aware of their surroundings, downfalls, and how to fix them. It gives me a new perspective on how to heal myself.”
For Anahata, healing goes beyond candles and bubble baths, but diving into the hard work of: “Facing your darkness, acknowledging it, and telling yourself that it’s okay. Almost like feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Not letting resistance keep you from a state of allowing.”
Community also plays an important role in healing for Haylin Belay, a “trauma-responsive health educator, sexuality expert, yoga instructor, and witch.” For her, personal and professional definitions of healing overlap.
“As a professional, my manifesto is ‘all people deserve an integrated sex life and a healthy pursuit of pleasure.’ I think of my role, with all of the things I do, as helping people to reintegrate and bridge those gaps. A lot of what growing up in the world entails is encountering trauma and so, as a professional and a healer, I hold space for other people. But that professional definition goes long the personal definition in my life. My personal journey with healing and trauma and my own personal development… so much of what I do for other people is stuff I’ve learned how to do or why it’s important to do on my own.”
But foundationally, healing can come in many different forms. “The answer you may have heard from others already is that you can’t pour from an empty cup — you can’t be functional when you’re also suffering. But another part of that that I’ve been leaning into a lot lately is the idea of evolving self-care to community care,” Belay says. “The dialogue on self-care and healing has put a lot of onus on the individual to do that work, and it’s not that simple. In reality, if I’m healing others, I’m pouring into those cups so I can heal others; but it doesn’t always need to come from me.”
Healing is varied and complicated and can take many different forms for those who seek help and those who guide others. But healer or not, it’s important that we examine the ways that we can all benefit from refilling our cups before they run on empty.