Sea Change

SeaChange-Image-1

Source: MIT Water Club 

My father taught us very early on to respect the sea. As young girls, my sister and I would go into the water with him on an inflatable raft and learn to “catch” waves, to ride them into the shore. If we started paddling too late, we would miss the wave entirely; too soon, and it would break on top of us and sometimes throw us off the raft. We would go tumbling along on the sand under the water, forced to hold our breath until the wave let us come up for air again (getting “rolled”, as he called it). It was scary, but exhilarating.

Our most important lesson came on calm days, when he taught us not to mistake the smooth surface of the water and absence of waves for a lack of action underneath. Even when they are barely visible on the surface, there are always currents and sometimes a strong undertow. These powerful forces can carry us very far — in a direction that we may or may not want to go. And sometimes they act stealthily, taking us a ways down the shore before we even realize that we are being redirected.

When I first took a break from aid work, I felt burnt out and alone.  I started this blog in part to confront that stereotype, to respond to the many whispered conversations and questions of, “I feel like that too” and “But how did you do it?” and “Aren’t you scared you’ll never be able to go back?” I had seen a close colleague and friend, someone who I had long admired in the field, leave her job in a sudden and heartbreaking way. I supported her as best I could during her last few months at work, when she felt abandoned by the very entity that she had given so much to over the years. She eventually took the difficult and Continue reading

Taking a sabbatical from violence

When I first shared that I would be leaving my job, I was met with a lot of questions and some stunned silences. This felt a little isolating, to say the least. It had been a difficult decision to make, and it was even more difficult to communicate.

About a month after giving notice, I took part in a team retreat with several days devoted to staff care. It was facilitated by an amazing woman who had a long history of working with survivors of domestic violence, mostly within the U.S. At one of the breaks, I approached her to ask for advice about how to approach this next phase of my life. She told me how she’d run a support hotline for women in the 1980s. She carried a beeper and would receive pages in the middle of the night and run outside to the nearest payphone to respond to them.

She continued her work with survivors for many years, to a point where she felt that she needed some separation from it, some time to attend to herself and the vicarious trauma she experienced. So she took a year-long “sabbatical from violence” in which she even Continue reading

Advice from a Buddhist monk

At the beginning of taking this time off, I thought about… I had this open question of, ‘Do I want to stay in the ‘do-gooder field,’ you know the humanitarian, NGO whatever. Because there’s a lot that’s wrong with it, and there’s a lot that doesn’t address, or doesn’t really get at root issues and root causes of suffering… I don’t want to get into idiot compassion, I don’t want to do it for that reason. When I think about other things that I have always had a strong interest in, when I was younger I thought I’d be an environmentalist. In another life, I must’ve been a dancer because I don’t really do dance at all in this life, but I idolize dancers.

Sokuzan: You already dance with your own life, the thing you do with your life is kind of a Continue reading