Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World, by Shelly Tygielski
New World Library, 1608687449, 256 pages, October 2021
Self-care is all the rage right now, but how often does it extend outwardly to encompass a community? Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World by Shelly Tygielski is a beautiful reminder of what can happen when honoring the need for mutual support and community as part of our self-care practice. This isn’t a “Ms. Independent” tale of how self-care is synonymous with “me-first”; it’s a potent story of struggling to make one’s way through life amid challenge and still choosing to show up each and every day for yourself and the people who count on you.
Through this book, Tygielski candidly recalls stories of her past, even some of her family’s tales too, as she guides readers to rediscover meaning in their life, overcome limiting mindsets, and build encompassing communities that redefine the structures of society. She starts off by reminding readers of their own agency, which she likens to free will. In the section “Forget the Guru, Find the Yuru” (which I loved!) she writes:
“We all spend a lifetime climbing the proverbial mountain with an expectation that we’ll find a wise person at the top who will tell us the meaning of life. This person doesn’t exist, I promise. The ability to thrive, love, be happy, and fulfill all comes from within. Every single bit of it. It comes from the realization that we have been bestowed with the gift of agency to choose how and when to cultivate it in ourselves.”1
Once the reader has been reminded of the importance of them actively participating in their journey, Tygielski moves through a whole range of heartfelt wisdom she’s cultivated in life, channeling through her relatable stories of how she built this practice for herself. I for one always love hearing someone else’s story; it gives me motivation and affirmation that if they can do it, I can do it. Chapters include “Good is Good Enough”, “Not Broken”, “Familiarization”, “Sustainable Self-Care”, and more.
I will delve into each a bit more, but I wanted to mention how much I like Tygielski’s style. Tygielski has a way of writing about her experience without making it feel like this book is a tout of her success. It’s almost as though a close friend is having a heart to heart with you about all they’ve gone through recently, revealing their own vulnerabilities, fears, and doubts, as well as how they mustered the strength to keep going.
For instance, Tygielski writes about “deconstructing” ourselves to learn more about the narratives shaping our lives (many of which aren’t the healthiest and deserve some care from us) and then “reconstructing” ourselves in more realistic ways that allow for self-acceptance, grace with our mistakes, and affirmation that we are enough.
I tried this practice myself, after a few months of feeling woefully inadequate and caught up in a comparison-game with others, and found it to be very relieving. It helped me to see what stories I was telling myself and then actively reshape them into a more accurate and honest perspective, bolstered with a dose of “good enough” and self-love.
One of Tygielski’s defining moments in her life is finding out she has uveitis, which is an inflammatory disease of the eye, when she woke up blind one morning! I honestly can’t even imagine how scary this would be for her. She described the sensation, as well as how she had to get her toddler son ready for school without her sight, trying to remain calm until a friend could take her to the hospital.
Since it’s the leading cause of what makes people under 40 go blind and she’d require treatment the rest of her life, being diagnosed with this was a huge shift in her life. Naturally, she spun down a rabbit-hole of fear, but she made a decision to lean into her emotions, rather than try to suppress or deny them, inviting the reader to also stop masking their own pain and find happiness that isn’t based on the condition that things are all good. Tygielski writes, “I came to recognize that by changing my perception of these problems, or if I saw even the worst experience in a different light, I experienced them all differently. I felt set free.”2
It was at this point in her journey that Tygielski began examining her Jewish faith, taking up meditation, and learning more about the path of Buddhism. She describes racing thoughts and the challenges of starting this practice. However, by breaking things into small chunks, she was able to move forward with her goal of practicing self-care.
One of my favorite things Tygielski did was creating “chunks” in her to-do list (which she shares an image of!) that breaks things down into categories. I started doing this with my own to-do this and have found the organization of it to be both practical and pleasing. So, the book has not only meaningful inspiration, but also real examples that can be practiced in one’s life to cultivate this foundation.
Tygielski realized this path to change wasn’t going to happen overnight, yet her dedication to working towards getting to the root of her negative thinking, make changes in her life, and develop self-care practices never waivered. Through trial and error, she was able to find a self-care practice that works for her. And while she suggests times to include self-care, such as when transitioning from one thing to another during the day, her message encourages readers to find self-care practices and routines that fit their own lifestyle.
She also reflects on the importance of authentic self-care, as well as how it has been misconstrued in society “by corporations to create a very profitable industrial wellness complex, one that focuses on beauty, happiness, and comfort in the name of self-love and self-compassion.”3 YES! I am really glad she pointed that out, while also explaining how self-care is a key component to making the world a better place through participatory transformation.
What I like most about Sit Down to Rise Up is how Tygielski brings it outward to her community. During the pandemic, she created a grassroots mutual aid organization called Pandemic of Love. She explores the importance of mutual aid, which once was the center of community-life, but has recently disappeared in our modern culture.
Reviving this solidarity and calling upon the strength of one’s village is a self-care practice in itself, one that has a power to change the very fabric of society as people choose to offer love, kindness, generosity, and support, even to those who seem very unlike themselves. Tygielski’s organization has grown exponentially, and I’m glad because she has her priorities straight and an agenda that is truly devoted to service.
“The success and growth of Pandemic of Love proved that mutual aid goes beyond charity by mobilizing humans on behalf of humanity. It provides us with a powerful vision of the type of alternative society that is possible, one where we can be a global community connected by cooperative compassion and where we are no longer consumers in endless capitalist competition.”4
I am all on board with this call to practice self-care on behalf of not only oneself, but the entire world, so perfectly framed by Tygielski. If this message speaks to you, if you’re ready to change the world by going through the effort of changing yourself first, then Sit Down to Rise Up is definitely a must-read. It’s inspiring, empowering, and liberating to one’s spirit. As we change ourselves, the world around us changes too. By caring for ourselves, we learn how to create communities that care for others as well. I’m thrilled to see Tygielski’s community thriving — its success definitely points to what the heart of society is longing for right now.
Alanna Kali is an astrologer, numerologist, and pioneer spirit that loves to explore life through the lens of depth psychology. She has a passion for studying the humanities and social trends. Her academic work is centered upon reuniting body, mind, and spirit through eco-psychology. She loves reading, spending time in nature, and travel.