Big Love: Practicing Self-Love in Community

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AB Banks posing in a meditative state, standing with their left hand over their chest.
AB Banks posing in a meditative state, standing with their left hand over their chest. (Via AB Banks)

We kick off our four-part series on BIG LOVE by looking at self-love. 


AB Banks, defines love as "doing the right thing with a passion." That means taking care of themselves and their folks, and they see the potential of self-love to be communal and revolutionary.

Day-to-day AB works with the People’s Programs in Oakland, supporting their unhoused neighbors through clinics and food donations. Outside of that, AB is deep in the practice of meditation. After setting out on a personal journey to learn the art of meditation, which included a trip abroad to study with renowned practitioners. AB has recently launched the Mad Chill series of short meditative videos with the aim of making this practice more accessible.

In our conversation, AB shares what they've learned and some of the tools they've acquired on this journey to understanding the various shapes self-love can take. 

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with AB Banks.

Pen: What's your definition of love?

AB: Been thinking about this. I came up with a couple of definitions, but the one that I'm holding to is, “the passion to do the right thing and to practice it.”

Pen: How did you land on that?

AB: Thinking about all the moments where I was in love, or deep in love, not even just with a significant other, but just acting out love… It was always me doing the right thing with a passion.

AB: … My definition of sin is going against yourself. So self-love is me doing the right thing. Waking up, drinking water, not immediately grabbing my phone, doing the morning routine, meditating, stretching. These are all things that we know internally - for most of us - that we should be doing. So that's self-love ya know…

Pen: How does self-love tie into community? Or is it a communal act?

AB: Mmmm. Yes, yes, self-love is a communal act. I think people feel that they have to do self-love alone, but experiencing self-love in a group/community is one of the most powerful things. I'm thinking about Ramadan, for example, you’re fasting in a group setting. Fasting is one of the highest forms of self-love for me. If you find a community to take a journey of self-love with, I think that amplifies it.

Pen: I got to go back to that… fasting is the highest form of self-love? When I have fasted, it doesn't feel good… It doesn't feel like self-love.

AB: I feel you but, look, this is the thing about - not just Ramadan - but fasting… Your purpose has to be aligned, right? Also without the prayer [laughs] oh you’re done.

AB: … All my work stems back to action. That's why 'the practice of doing the right thing.' The passion to practice it. Because, love is a verb... Revolution is one of the most radical forms of self-love to me: Being real with yourself about what's going on outside and not pushing it under the rug, not pretending like it's not happening, but actually doing material things to shift it.

AB: I'm here on this world and I wanna make sure if I see somebody starving outside… That is going to go directly against my self-love, ya feel me? I can't visually watch this and not do anything and then have all this self-love for me. I need to be material as well because I'm a materialist, I'm a dialectic materialist.

Pen: Dialectic materialist?... Break that down. What does that mean to you?

AB: Think about stuff going on right outside our door. It's not an idea that there's homeless people, there's actually homeless people out there. So that's the material part. I'm not thinking about ‘oh, capitalism, it works in theory.’ But it's not working in practice, it's not working in the material world.

AB: And then the dialectic part is that things are changeable. And things do change every day. We get pigeonholed into thinking like: ‘well, we don't know if socialism is going to work, so let's not try it.’ We have never seen that change before. That change is scary, but things change every day! So we can have faith that if we change something that we can make that work. We can make a world where there's no homeless people because things are always changing.

AB: The act of really figuring out a solution for me is where the love comes in.. ‘cuz I would be messed up inside myself, if I didn't go find that answer, ya know.. Giving back is my work in terms of self-love!

PEN: Your work with The People's Program. What is The People's Program? What's your work there and how does self-love times into it?

AB: We outta West Oakland. We a Black socialist organization doing decolonization programs, thinking about ways to really create sustainable programs for our people, by our people. So we got a clinic, we give out food every Sunday. We give out groceries every other Friday. We got a garden. Got a legal program, we got political education. All of our donations come from the people. We serve the shelterless or the homeless community in West Oakland which is a big group of people that need our presence. I personally work with the clinics. So I make sure we got doctors, nurses and enough volunteers to keep the clinic going. And then I'm also the garden lead. So I handle all things with our garden and urban farm in West Oakland with the aim and focus to get produce from the garden into the grocery boxes.

Pen: What do people get wrong about self-love?

AB: I think people think there's a certain way to do it. Self-love can be anything in the world as long as it's making you happy, you’re present, you're not judging yourself. And people also put a quota on time on it like, ‘Oh, it has to be all day.’ ... You could take three deep breaths right now. That's self-love! That's a love note to your body.

Pen: I'm a big fan of laying on the ground… on stressful days, between meetings or phone calls I lay down on the floor, just for like two minutes, take a couple of deep breaths.

AB: That’s amazing! Being on the ground, closer to the Earth, that’s a good one! I’m going to add that to my toolbox. I have a toolbox just full of [self-love], and I go in there, pick stuff out. It's not like I do the same thing every time, like, ‘Oh, I'm sad, let me do this because I know it works’ like, no, let me go to my toolbox.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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