“Don’t tell them you’re a healer!”. This is exactly what a very good friend of mine said after I told him that I was taking a step back from working inside the development sector, to working with the people who work inside the development sector… as a healer!
“Don’t tell them you’re a healer! They won’t respect you!” he said.
I thought about this for a while. At first I bought into it. Yes, I better not tell ANYONE I am a healer and that I help people to balance their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, that I work with energy, and that I can actually help people to figure out who they truly are so they don’t have to run around being who they aren’t in an attempt to get respect and social recognition.
Those hardcore development professionals and aid workers, they are not going to like it!
I was actually shocked that I had bought into this… shocked at my narrow view of the development sector. That I believe it to be a hardcore, rational sector with no space for the ‘softer’ issues such as personal development, healing and spirituality.
And perhaps I am right to a certain degree… but I had forgotten that the development sector is made up of human beings. And as long as there are human beings there will be diversity… and there definitely will be a need for and interest in healing and spirituality.
Healing for social change…
In my view, spirituality – stories about our experiences as more than just flesh-and-bone human beings, is at the crux of our human experience. It has been a key aspect in the way in which we ‘organise’ and explain our world, despite the fact that spirituality has not been given serious attention in the secular world of modernity and Enlightenment, which is what has created the foundation of most of development theory today.
However, Enlightenment thinking’s rationality as well as need for logic and reason has not been able to capture the essence and importance of spirituality, as well as the complexities of how people interact with and use spirituality and healing in their everyday lives.
Several academic scholars are, nevertheless, beginning to open up to the thought that spirituality and healing are in fact essential building blocks for social change (e.g. Jim Ife 2009 and Fran Gale, Natalie Bolzan & Dorothy McRae-McMahon 2007).
But is there space for healing and spirituality in today’s development discourse?
Jim Ife in his book Human Rights from Below (2009) suggests that we need an alternative to the traditional academic prose that is often the main form of communication in development talk, because healing and spirituality extends beyond the normal understanding of ‘rational’, ‘analytical’ or ‘logical’.
I guess what Ife is trying to say is that an LFA (Logical Framework: a widely used linear and ‘rational’ tool used to plan projects and programmes) is not always enough to capture the important aspects of healing and spiritual development necessary for social change.
‘Heal ourselves to heal the world': Spirituality in practice…
A few days after my friend had told me not to tell anyone in the development sector that I work with healing and spirituality I actually met a woman who uses different methods of healing and spirituality to work with children who are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. This was a system of healing that she had learnt in Rwanda through an organisation called Capacitar (http://www.capacitar.org), whose vision is to ‘heal ourselves to heal the world’! They teach people to use different kinds of healing therapies from chakra healing to EFT (emotional freedom techniques) to acupuncture and other kinds of energy work, and they include methods and techniques from different indigenous healing practices too. I also met a woman who uses yoga and breathing techniques to help young people in Kibera to reduce stress.
Additionally, I came into contact with an organisation who works with ‘deep democracy’ (http://www.ddi-eastafrica.co.ke/), who focus on the importance of not only openness to other individuals, groups, and diverse views, but also an openness to internal experiences including feelings, dreams, body symptoms, and altered states of consciousness, and how awareness of oneself affects our reality, and therefore how we interact with and affect other people.
All of the above are, in my view, healers!
Are these people and organisations not to tell anyone that they are in fact healers? Have they already lost the respect of the development sector? They have nothing but gained mine for daring to look at the deep human aspects of social change!
Development and spirituality…
I do, however, understand the aversion towards incorporating spirituality into the development agenda. There is a danger, and unfortunately this is what has given it a bad name, when spirituality turns into exclusive fundamentalism in an attempt to explain the world from a standard set of rules, as opposed to promoting inclusivity and respect for diversity.
But does the fact that this danger exists mean that we cannot work with healing and spirituality within international development? It gives us reason to be careful, indeed… but if we neglect spirituality and people’s search to become whole beings, then, in my view, development becomes rather empty.
Arnold Mindell has described the inter-relationship between development, democracy and spirituality very beautifully in his description of his coined term ‘Deep Democracy': “[It is] our sense that the world is here to help us become our entire selves, and we are here to help the world become whole.”
To me, this is the essence of development.
During my time as a programme coordinator working for a large global organisation – amongst all the LFAs, reports, keeping indicators measurable and simple, and ensuring ambitious income targets, I had lost track of the diversity of the development sector. I had forgotten that the development sector is as much about ‘healing the world’ as it is about building roads. I had forgotten that the development sector was as much about creating a space for people to experience themselves as whole spiritual beings as it is about measuring whether the money is spent ‘efficiently’.
And I guess my friend had too, when he told me: “Don’t tell them you’re a healer!”.