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Posts Tagged ‘burnout’

Principle THREE: Restoring Balance

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is part 4 of 6 in a series of posts about the Five Principles and Supporting Practices of Conscious Social Change.

Principle THREE: Restoring Balance
Conscious change also requires change agents to remain grounded and discern when it is necessary to take a step back from their social change efforts to restore themselves. Just as attachment and aversion are the root of individual suffering, so can these extremes affect the work of change agents.

A common pitfall of change leaders is over-attachment to a single agenda or way forward. This can cause competitiveness between groups with a common purpose, diluting resources and rendering leaders blind to opportunities to collaborate. It can further lead to rigid organizations unable to examine changing priorities at the root level of their chosen issue. I’ll explore attachment further with the next principle.

Detachment, a form of aversion, is the opposite extreme. Advocacy-based organizations are always challenged by the attitudes of the general public that “this has nothing to do with me” or “that’s not my problem”. Increasingly, without renewal, individuals within their own ranks can experience burn-out and disillusionment. The need to restore balance exists among all who serve and bear witness to deep injustice or suffering, including humanitarian aid workers, trauma counselors, emergency first responders, community organizers, peace-keepers and others in service at the front lines. There are many contributing factors including dangerous working conditions, lack of resources to conduct work, repeated exposure to horrific scenes, stories and experiences, moral anguish, overwork and separation from family. These circumstances can result in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or secondary (vicariously-experienced) traumatic stress, insomnia and other psychosomatic symptoms, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and even depression. The impact of such stress indicators is broad, including not only high turn-over rates, but also higher rates of illness, poor decision-making, increased risk-taking, and higher accident rates.

Individuals and organizations can embrace consciousness practices that allow them to both foster a healthy balance and proactively address the need for renewal. A consciousness-based approach allows time for personal restoration so workers on the front lines can tap creativity and energy to continue to serve those in need.

Supporting Practice THREE: Self-Care
One of the most important things in preparing to do and continuing to do conscious social change work is self-care. This includes not only the personal transformation and self-awareness practices that have already been explored, but it means understanding and attending to our own needs for wellbeing. When we are not whole, we are doing a disservice to our work. While this would appear to be a “no-brainer”, conversations with activists and aid workers throughout North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East indicate this is the easiest to ignore and first thing that is sacrificed in advancing their work. Self-care takes many forms and it is equally important to aim for a holistic balance between our physical, mental and emotional centers:

Taking Care of the Body: Our bodies are our sacred temple for being able to bring change into the world. It is critical that we take care of them so that we can draw on their strength when we need to. This includes getting exercise, good nutrition, deep rest and the medical attention we need to stay well.

Taking Care of the Heart: Our emotional center is what drives our desire to support others in need and in reaching their greatest potential. It provides us with a sense of harmony, interconnectedness, love, forgiveness and compassion. It includes the ability to bear witness to another’s suffering and to discern when to abstain from trying to fix things. Our emotional health requires that we attend to imbalances in our own relationships, that we learn how to give and receive gratitude, that we make room for creative expression, that we remember to embrace joy in our lives, and that we find the space and serenity to experience ourselves, our feelings and our natural surroundings.

Taking Care of the Mind: The mind can help us discern the truth and keep us open to new possibilities. The mind can also block these same abilities when we cling to the past, worry about the future and pass judgment on ourselves and others. Caring for the mind includes living with integrity in the present moment, investing in not only our accumulation of knowledge, but in viewing our experiences as opportunities to learn.


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