Regulars and Shorts

Ceremony & Spirituality: September 2009

By catalyst

A question of burnout.
by Donna Henes

Dear Mama Donna,

This is a prayer. This is a cry for help. The suffering in the air from the onslaught of world disasters has left my heart empty, and at the same time, full of something that I can’t leave behind. It’s true that none of us are the same as we were before, but just when everything seems to be getting back to normal, I am finding that I am going deeper into the abyss that was left in my spirit.

It feels like I am collapsing. All the internal structures that support me are melting and stretched to the point of destruction. I have nothing left to give. I’m trying to expand my heart to find more, but I can’t. I’ve done too much, been too selfless, and now it’s at my own expense. Please respond with your thoughts on this, if you can.

—Beaten Down in Boston


Dear Down But Not Out,

Funny you should ask. I have also been dealing with issues of overwork, over-extension, over-exertion, over-exhaustion and overload, after years of service to others. Years ministering to the needs of my community, working to ease the devastation wreaked upon the psyche of the people of the world who are suffering so.

I, too, recently suffered a sort of short circuit burnout, although my fall from center was manifested in the physical rather than the emotional realm. The fact of the matter, honey, is that you are tired and need to rest and resurrect your energy and good cheer. This is a syndrome with which I am quite familiar.

This spring, I had a consultation with a woman who was working extremely hard, nursing her husband who was ill with cancer. I counseled her to be careful, no matter how much she loved him, no mater how dedicated and driven she felt, not to give all of her attention and energy away. That she needed to take good, loving care of herself in order to be able to continue to manage her harrowing schedule of job and care-taking duties.

As I was speaking, my inner best self jumped in and chastised me severely. “How dare you give this advice, good advice though it is, when taking care of yourself is your own greatest downfall?” Well, I decided, if I am going to dispense this admonition, I damn well better practice it myself. After all, I am a person, too, also in desperate need and deserving of my own most tender ministrations.

Healer, heal thyself.
Love and compassion are necessities,
not luxuries. Without them, humanity
cannot survive.
—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

The holy books of every faith admonish one to “Love they neighbor as thy self.” This presupposes a foundation of self-love and respect as the basis for good fellowship with others. The bible never said to love your neighbor more than yourself.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote, “The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. I must love my neighbor as I do myself, because my neighbor and myself are interwoven. If I hate my neighbor, the hatred will recoil upon me. If I treat my neighbor’s pain and grief as foreign, I will end up suffering when my neighbor’s pain and grief curdle into rage. But if I realize that in simple fact the walls between us are full of holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection.”

These fine thoughts are equally meaningful the other way around. The planet is, in fact, one interwoven web of life. I must love myself as I do my neighbor, because my neighbor and myself are interwoven. If I hate myself, the hatred will recoil upon me as well as my neighbor. If I treat my pain and grief as foreign, my neighbor and I will both end up suffering when my pain and grief curdle into rage. But if I realize that in simple fact the walls between us are full of holes, I can reach through them in compassion and connection.

So take a break, dear heart. Allow your self to grieve and collapse. Honor your needs. Rest. Sleep. Dream. Sleep is a great healer. And dreaming is the perfect place to process all that you have been feeling. Be good to yourself and treat yourself in the same devoted manner as you treat those around you. This is such excellent advice that I am following it, myself.

Sleep that knits up the ravel’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds,
great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
—William Shakespeare

—xx Mama Donna


Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles, and celebrations to Mama Donna at



This article was originally published on August 29, 2009.