From “I Vow Not to Burn Out”, by Mushim Patricia Ikeda



“Is it possible for us, as disciples of the Buddha, to engage with systemic change, grow and deepen our spiritual practice, and, if we’re laypeople, also care for our families? How can we do all of this without collapsing? In my world, there always seems to be way too much to do, along with too much suffering and societal corruption and not enough spaces of deep rest and regeneration.


Burnout and self-sacrifice, the paradigm of the lone hero who takes nothing for herself and gives everything to others, injure all of us who are trying to bring the dharma into everyday lay life through communities of transformative well-being, where the exchange of self for other is re-envisioned as the care of self in service to the community. The longer we live, the healthier we are; the happier we feel, the more we can gain the experience and wisdom needed to contribute toward a collective reimagining of relationships, education, work, and play.


I advocate for more forgiving and spacious schedules of spiritual practice that value being well-rested and that move toward honoring the body–mind’s need for enough sleep and downtime. Social justice activist Angela Davis, in an interview in YES! Magazine, says:

I think our notions of what counts as radical have changed over time. Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles. That wasn’t the case before. And I think that now we’re thinking deeply about the connection between interior life and what happens in the social world. Even those who are fighting against state violence often incorporate impulses that are based on state violence in their relations with other people.

Healing. Rest. Self-care. Restorative justice. Restorative yoga. Trauma-informed dynamic mindfulness. Compassion. Love. Community healing. These are words I hear every day within spiritual activist forums, from “scholartivists” and from people embodying the bodhisattva vow to save all beings.


How can you make your life sustainable—physically, emotionally, financially, intellectually, spiritually? Are you helping create communities rooted in values of sustainability, including environmental and cultural sustainability? Do you feel that you have enough time and space to take in thoughts and images and experiences of things that are joyful and nourishing? What are your resources when you feel isolated or powerless?

Samsara is burning down all of our houses. We need a path of radical transformation, and there’s no question in my mind that the bodhisattva path is it. Speaking as a mother and a woman of color, I think we’re all going to need to be braver than some of us have been prepared to be. But brave in a sustainable way—remaining with our children, our families, and our communities. We need to build this new “woke” way of living together—how it functions, handles conflict, makes decisions, eats and loves, grieves and plays. And we can’t do that by burning out.”

From “I Vow Not to Burn Out”, by Mushim Patricia Ikeda

2 thoughts on “From “I Vow Not to Burn Out”, by Mushim Patricia Ikeda

  1. Yes I face this problem myself in a big way. I work shift-work that is always changing from days to nights and back again. This makes it almost impossible to do anything in a routine way. Since Buddhism is a practice it makes it at times very difficult to devote the right amount of time. The term commonly used in the Buddhist scriptures for ones like us is a “house holder” I don’t know if many people talk into account that in most of the written teachings (Scripture) of the Buddha he was speaking directly to monks. This is important because what was expected of the monks and a house holder was very different for the very reasons you mentioned. This is exactly why the Buddha felt that his followers had to leave their home life and become monks in order to devote the right amount of time without distractions to the practice. But all is not lost. If you read the Vimalakirti Sutra it is all about one such house holder who even with the distractions of a normal life reached a high level of understanding. Good luck on your spiritual journey.


  2. Thank you for your comment.

    Many of us do face this problem; it appears to be widespread, even systemic, these days. At work, I am faced with it myself, and witness the same issue in many of those around me.

    I will check out the Vimalakirti Sutra today. Many thanks.


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