Healing from toxic stress

This blog is written by Minna Järvenpää.  For Minna, yoga and meditation have played a key role in regaining inner balance. She is now finding ways to share the tools she learned, through Tools for Inner Peace, which promotes the mental and emotional wellbeing of aid workers, journalists and other frontline professionals.

first_snow_on_the_main_bridge_in_mitrovica

First snow on the main bridge in Mitrovica. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere along a decade-long road from Sarajevo to Kabul I started tilting out of balance – as a result of toxic levels of stress.

The tipping point came on a day of rioting in Mitrovica on 17 March 2004. Nineteen people were killed that day and two hundred hospitalised. I was the ‘Mayor’ of Mitrovica, appointed by the UN in Kosovo as caretaker when the Serbs of the divided town refused to vote. I had seen the violence coming but had been unable to convince those who could have prevented it to act. During the months after leaving Kosovo, I sat and stared out at the Adriatic sea, until the images of that day blurred along with the remembered smell of tear-gas and the sound of bullets ricocheting from the trees.

Already in the lead-up to the violence, I had developed brutal insomnia and started lashing out at people in a state of exhausted dysfunction. The only times I remember experiencing real relaxation in the months before March 2004 were when a friend and colleague in Mitrovica dragged me along to a yoga class.

In the aftermath, when I began suffering from hypervigilance (every car on the road was potentially out to run me over) and avoiding people and conversations that would trigger 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