by Dana Frasz, Founder of Food Shift, a project of Earth Island Institute
Upon arrival, I was exhausted. Not the kind of ‘tired after a night out’ or ‘a bad night of sleep’ exhausted, but a deep inner fatigue that had gone on for so long it felt normal. After eight years of leading, hustling, and giving my all to the organization I founded, Food Shift, my energy was tapped and I was burned out. Tears filled my eyes the few times I was able to admit it.
I was not alone.
As I and other animal rights activists broke silence to share our personal experiences throughout the retreat, it was revealed just how many of us had or were currently suffering from anxiety, depression, insomnia, or incessant stress from working on such big issues with so few resources.
These realities reminded me of a Thomas Merton quote:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. … The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one’s work for peace. It destroys one’s inner capacity of peace.”
This retreat was all about nourishing one’s inner capacity for peace, and as a result, I found it profoundly restful. The consistent daily structure still allowed for short naps or long walks on beautiful tree-lined roads throughout the day. The content, led by Monk Tashi Nyima, was approachable and engaging — and left plenty of room for asking questions or processing through personal quiet inquiry. The vegan food was abundant with flavors, options, healthy, fresh, and packed with love.
The vow of silence was a gift; an invitation to go inward and a release of the pressure to socialize verbally. Permission to just be. The silence created such a peaceful space that I found I could deeply rest and return to myself while still experiencing a gentle intimacy and connection with the group.
“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”
– Khalil Gibran
I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. Thank you to the Pollination Project, Banyan Grove, ServiceSpace, and the dedicated leaders within the movement. As we work to end the suffering of others, may we free ourselves from the patterns that lead to our own suffering. I hope that more experiences like this can support the adoption of tools and practices that lead to greater personal and collective peace.
Dana has dedicated her life to cultivating a more just, sustainable, and less wasteful world. She recently left her role at Food Shift, is open to new opportunities, and has dreams of finding land, investors, and collaborators to start a justice-oriented land-based permaculture project.
Learn more at foodshift.net.