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"So long as we skim across the surface of our lives at high speeds, it is impossible to dig down more deeply. People cannot move horizontally and vertically at the same time. . . .It is no coincidence that every enduring spiritual tradition has emphasized practices such as prayer, retreat, contemplation, and meditation – all a means by which to quietly connect with and regularly revisit what matters most.” (Loehr and Schwartz)
Humanitarian work is not a profession renowned for the slow, stable, measured pace of work. Instead, in many different ways, humanitarian workers focus on meeting human need and assuaging suffering, and the immediate urgency of this work brings with it intensity. This intensity, and the dynamic of the humanitarian industry (an industry that often favors short-term contracts and projects over much more extended investments), breeds pressure related to time and resources.
Humanitarian workers often feel that no matter how hard or long they work, they will never be able to complete their ultimate mission. This work can seem never ending, precisely because it is never ending. Unless humanitarian workers are intentional about caring for themselves in the face of a need that can seem endless and overwhelming, in the long run they are likely to end up feeling rather hopeless and paralyzed, or exhausted and burned out.
Clarifying your assumptions and beliefs, understanding your values and your purpose, prayer, meditation, reading, journaling, experiencing nature, being creative, and many other spiritual practices, all take time – quiet, uninterrupted, time. It can seem grossly self-indulgent to humanitarian workers to carve out such time in the face of an urgent global need and the demands of their fast-paced job, particularly in disaster settings. There will also be times when it’s genuinely impossible to do so. But if taking time to be quiet, to center yourself spiritually in some way, never seems possible or acceptable to you, then that is a choice that you are making about what to prioritize in your life, not something that life is doing to you.
Take time regularly to cultivate quiet in your life. It is foundational to spiritual self-care and it will pay dividends in the long run – for you and for others.
“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” (Hans Margolius)
How and when do you cultivate and experience quiet in your life? What sort of quiet refreshes and restores you? Try taking fifteen minutes every day this week to be quiet in some way. See if it makes a difference in how you feel about your work.
Adapted by Fara Choi from our Peace by Piece series on spirituality written by Lisa McKay.
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