I’m a nerd. I love going to professional conferences to learn new things and get jazzed up about my work. Even so, what usually happens, is that I leave with a head full of new ideas and good intentions. I have learned a lot of things from my conference adventures but most of them did not stick, with a few notable exceptions. The most notable of these exceptions was the time I heard Laura van Dernoot Lipsky speak about “trauma stewardship” at the annual conference put on by the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She had just published a book called Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others and she spent 3 hours walking us through the concepts. She planted a very important seed in my brain that day when she had us ask ourselves, “what is my plan B?"
Then I read her book and I have carried it around with me as a guide, a sort of spiritual text for helping professionals, for almost a decade now. Van Dernoot Lipsky defines trauma stewardship as “the daily practice through which individuals, organizations, and societies tend to the hardship, pain or trauma experienced by humans, other living beings, or our planet itself.” When we help others, we must do so responsibly, and this means we need to first take care of ourselves. I’m sure you have heard about the oxygen mask.
This book is not a list of things you can do to pamper yourself.
You will not find a list of 101 things to do in the free time you cannot find because you are burned out, ideas like “get a massage,” “take a bath,” or “go to yoga.” Instead, Van Dernoot Lipsky asks you to first take an honest look at how your profession has affected your approach to the world. Then she asks you to imagine how it might be shifted in tiny ways or through major life changes so that you can take on your work as a healthy, grounded, and compassionate human being. This is probably one of those times when “simple but not easy” comes into play. She says, “Effective trauma stewardship may require that we question some of our most deeply held beliefs about our lives and our work.”
Suffering because there is suffering only adds to the pile of suffering.
What are your most deeply held beliefs? One of mine was that I could not be (or did not deserve to be) happy as long as there were other people suffering. Because of the seed planted by Van Dernoot Lipsky, I came to experience first hand what she meant when she said, “I encourage you to remember that nothing has to change in the world for us to transform our own life experience.” In fact, when I reached that moment of truly understanding that my happiness was not only important, but crucial for my own trauma stewardship, I wrote a song about it. It’s called “Rollin’ with Love” and some of the lyrics are: “Nothin’s changed / I see the pain / No need to look the other way.” Happiness isn’t about ignoring the fact that people are suffering and there are things that can be done to improve our world. Instead, its about seeing that our own suffering because there is suffering is a giant waste of time and only adds to the pile of suffering we are trying to whittle away.
What happens when you find ways to love yourself first? When you put on your own oxygen mask first? This is when you can begin to #LovetheWorld. Loving the world is about having compassion for others whose views differ from ours. It is about having compassion for someone who causes damage to the earth or another human being. It is not about condoning harmful actions but simply acknowledging that we cannot change what has already happened and someone who has caused harm is deeply wounded themselves. Loving the world is also about acknowledging that we may not always be right and the other person wrong. It is about allowing for shades of gray, for opposites to be true, for nuance. It is about realizing that we have something in common with everyone, including our perceived worst enemy.
"We are profound people, and what we contribute to the world has profound ramifications. The world does not need more hostility; it does not need more judgment; it does not need more walls between people, species, or nations. And so we can always contribute to the betterment of the world if we initiate compassionate action in the face of wrongdoing.” - Laura van Dernoot Lipsky
Let me clarify: YOU are a profound person and YOUR actions have profound ramifications. Knowing yourself and how you are affected by suffering is the first step in taking deliberate profound actions that you can feel really good about.
We need you to get on board.
“Being present is a radical act,” says Van Dernoot Lipsky. “Best of all, our quality of presence is something we can cultivate, moment by moment. It permits us to greet what arises in our lives with our most enlightened selves, thereby allowing us to have the best chance of truly repairing the world.” If you are a helping professional, this book is required reading. If you are someone who volunteers to better the world in any way, this book is for you too. I encourage you to take the baby step of purchasing this book and investing in your longterm happiness, inner peace, and effectiveness as a helping professional. We need you to get on board.
Please share, ask questions, leave comments, suggest topics, and tell stories! I want to hear about your moments of magic, miracles, and synchronicity.
Dare to be immortal.
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