The word "wellbeing" still triggers resistance in me. It sounds like a provocation. I see myself drinking smoothies, doing yoga and sleeping in while exhausted nurses scurry down neon hallways and young, desperate activists on boats save lives in the Mediterranean. But I know that "wellbeing" is not "wellness". Not a privileged escape from the hardships of life, but my ability to deal mindfully and consciously with the inner tensions of increased complexity and uncertainty.
At least that's how I understand the term in the context of my work: I've been in charge of the betterplace well:being program at the betterplace lab since October last year. In a series of five workshops, we invite full-time and unsalaried volunteers into a room to experience and train self-care and self-contact. As someone who is committed to the topic of "wellbeing" every day in the third sector, I look seriously and critically in the mirror when it comes to the meaningfulness of these offers. Because despite my intensive examination, the term "wellbeing" creates unpleasant feelings and thoughts in me. How can I take it upon myself that I and others should be fine while so many are suffering or pushing themselves to the breaking point every day to make sure the suffering stops?
We know that we should put on our oxygen masks first before we take care of those close to us. But "wellbeing" is not about surviving, preventing the next burnout, about "functioning better" in a dysfunctional system. In the German language there is no really good translation of this term, which is already more established in international discourse. Well-being is there in the online encyclopedia. The term describes a state in which I feel good. But what does that mean? I'm wondering about the good life. Because how is it possible and justifiable, this comfortable state - in a pandemic, in a global climate crisis, in a system of injustice?
And shame and guilt are just around the corner, because I know that I am currently getting many of the needs of the needs pyramid met and that I am therefore challenging myself to even be allowed to ask this question. I'm doing well, materially and socially secure, integrated into a network of support.
But for years I lacked access to my physicality and emotionality as the key to a holistic perspective. And I lack the language to describe these aspects of my perception. I read about transformation, holacracy, systems theory, spiral dynamics, theory U, complexity and the need to include more information in problem solving. However, how exactly this inclusion should work remains a blank for me. Because bodies and feelings are often little more than a subordinate clause in the approaches mentioned, tools of a superior rationality.
So I started looking for a while ago and came across spaces for self-awareness, bodywork, relationship practices, artistic-immersive performances and a range of literature by feminist, anti-racist activists that help me to fill these gaps. There is, for example, Adrienne Maree Brown's Pleasure Activism (2019), in which the black social justice activist and feminist argues that the degree to which we feel pleasure in our bodies is a direct expression of the freedom we feel as citizens. In Tender and Free: From the Fall of Patriarchy (2021), Carolin Wiedemann advocates dissolving binary gender orders as an embodied experience within us. I stumble across Audré Lorde's 1978 lecture The Use of the Erotic as Power, in which the African-American civil rights activist demands that we need self-contact and self-care in order to face the challenges of the patriarchal and racist society. Lorde describes in it our access to an inner standard and a power in which we feel connected and satisfied with what we do. I devour Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her (2018), in which she liberates female anger as a direct source of feminist activism.
In these intersectoral perspectives, I learn to understand “wellbeing” as a compass, as an activism deeply rooted in one's own body and emotions, complemented by the intelligent analysis of the head. This understanding of self-contact is always aimed at the world and the outside, but at the same time addresses the mechanisms of suppression of our body perceptions and feelings as well as the overexploitation that we thus overexploit on ourselves. The authors encourage me to use my feelings and body perceptions as equal sources of wisdom and knowledge.
In the five beginner workshops of the betterplace well:being program, we therefore convey an attitude towards self-contact that is always aimed at strengthening our work in the world. Participants learn to perceive themselves physically, mentally and emotionally, to give a name to the sensations they experience and to better understand them through well-founded psychological concepts and ultimately to improve their decision-making skills and cooperation with others through this understanding. Curious? You can read about how it all works here in my colleague Lea's field report.
The betterplace well:being program is a betterplace lab project and is supported by BKK∙VBU, pronova BKK and Salus BKK.
Foto: Calle Macarone | Unsplash