Humanitarian book review: Wild Zen

This post is written by Gemma Houldey and originally appeared on her blog, Life in Crisis, where she shares research and reflections on stress and burnout in aid work. Gemma is an an aid worker, researcher, writer, human rights defender, yogi, conscious explorer, and activist. Follow her on Twitter @AidSoulSearch. 

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Carl Jung (1875-1961). Source: brewminate.com

I recently finished reading the book Wild Zen: An Inner Roadmap to Humanity by Claire Higgins, which charts the experiences of humanitarian workers, including herself, and others who have undergone – and been transformed by – trauma, violence and other forms of extreme suffering.

Claire worked for more than ten years on humanitarian and human rights programmes, and now works as an executive coach. She has tested and trained in many different therapeutic methods as a means to healing herself as well as others; and Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes, which are the guideposts for this book, is one such method. In the book we learn about archetypes such as the Caregiver, the Explorer (also known as the Adventurer or Seeker), the Warrior (also known as the Hero) and the Sage through the eyes of some of the people Clare meets. These include a humanitarian worker who was shot in Chechnya, a bowel cancer survivor, a former political prisoner and several Continue reading

Between Two Worlds

This post is written by Jennifer L. Robinson. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @thepenofjen.

Between Two Worlds Jennifer

The author with her brother somewhere on the road. Credit: Jennifer Robinson

When I left Iraq in the spring of 2016 after two full years responding to the Syrian refugee crisis and later to the overwhelming wave of internally displaced people from Mosul, I felt certain that I was done for a while. I knew I wanted a break and could commit to taking one. During that break I would learn to quiet myself, find my center, and focus on a season of creativity. When I said goodbye to my colleagues, I didn’t plan on seeing any of them for at least a year.

My dad picked me up from the airport in San Diego in a new (used) Mercedes, which we filled with the smell of fast food tacos. On the ride home, we chatted about my flight and the weather in Erbil, his work and latest golf scores. My dad was giving me the space to talk if I wanted; I was waiting for a question. After a few minutes we both decided to Continue reading

Exhale on 2016.

Exhale.  We made it.  We’re in 2017.  The churning jowls of last year didn’t devour all of us, even if they ground our souls to gristle.

Why did 2016 feel so existentially threatening?  For those of us involved in international affairs, especially humanitarianism, the broad political trends were hard not to take personally.  Brexit was a stunning reminder—a wake-up call?—that growing global cooperation is by no means a given; many components of the Leave Campaign demonstrated the power of xenophobic falsehoods, fear-fueled hatreds that then reared their ugly heads time and time again throughout the Republican campaign for the American presidency.  As these efforts and others, like the “no” vote for Colombian peace, drew to their nasty, lamentable ends, we became increasingly distrustful of those around us: are my neighbors closet xenophobes?  Are my friends secretly racist?  What do my family members really think?  The gap between public polls and private voting booths left us wondering if civility had crumbled behind closed doors.  The loss of trust was one of 2016’s greatest casualties.

As humanitarian aid and international development workers, we were right to take far-right political campaigns personally: they targeted our livelihoods, which reflect core sets Continue reading

Writing to Save Our Lives

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Is anyone reading me?  Source: http://static.guim.co.uk

Writing is a matter of life and death.  I sincerely believe that.  If you do not, consider what it meant for a person’s name to be written—or not—on Schindler’s list.  If writing were not so grave, governments would not target journalists with such chilling zeal.  Words are power, and we face a moral obligation to harness them with as much heart and conscience as we can.

As crucial as I know the act of writing to be—a godsend for humanitarians and, we hope, a salve for readers—I marvel and sometimes despair at how much we are writing about so little.  My natural inclination should be to support the proliferation of the written word.  But when The Guardian published a “call to arms” last month, calling for an end to the “report writing madness,” I raised the pitchfork.  We are writing into the void.  When I Continue reading

Brené Brown & the Power of Vulnerability

In aidspeak, ‘vulnerability’ is almost always a negative word. It denotes weakness, fragility,  a heightened possiblity of something or someone being in danger or at risk, unsafe or unprotected. It is something to be guarded against, mitigated, planned for; we often talk or (moreso) write about how our programs will ‘target vulnerable populations’ or ‘reduce vulnerability.’ We show donors and security officers how we recognize existing vulnerabilities and have made plans to keep ourselves and our staff safe.

This is not the fault of the aid world. Merriam-Webster defines vulnerability as meaning “easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally” or “open to attack, harm, or damage.”  A quick scan of other online dictionaries did not turn up any indication of Continue reading

Singing in the storm

bird-by-bird“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

― Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Random acts of kindness

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

BBC Radio 4 has a magazine programme on Saturday mornings, hosted by ex-Communard and now the Reverend Richard Coles; it’s essential listening for me when I’m at home, and doubles as my backdrop to experimental cooking.

About 5 years ago, the programmed featured a slot precipitated by a listener who wanted to thank a stranger who had helped them in a moment of crisis. Since they had not even taken the person’s name, they thought they might reach them by telling the story, and saying thank you, on national radio.

Listening as I fiddled about with lavender ice-cream, I thought about such critical moments in my life; times when complete strangers offered help and kindness for no reason other than as a gift of humanity. I decided then that I would make an effort to ‘do’ a random act of kindness every day, that I would pay attention and act when I thought it would help. And so for the last 5 years, I have done this – sometimes with very small gestures and other times by doing something more significant.

For example, I was once at Paddington Station at 8.30am. It was rush hour into London, the station was packed with people, the entrance to the Tube had been closed because Continue reading

On change

to take and to give, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 519 x 880 cm. Artist: Chris Ofili. Source: http://www.victoria-miro.com/artists/6-chris-ofili/

Chris Ofili, painter, on moving from London to Trinidad:

I felt ready for the change to happen, and I knew it was happening inside me, he said, straining to be clear. It’s hard to go away from something that’s very enjoyable, and a domain where I felt supremely confident. Before, I was focussing on high impact, and what I wanted to find was less complex and maybe less visible.