Burn Out? Never: A guide to Compassionate, Mindful Activism

A guest post by Robertson Work

Anyone who is awake today is aware of the many dangers and possibilities facing our country and world in this make-or-break year and decade. Here are some of my reflections and advice for you sensitive and responsive ones, taken from my new book, A Compassionate Civilization: The Urgency of Sustainable Development and Mindful Activism.

“After I had been a UNDP staff member for many years, people would sometimes ask me if I had just joined. I would ask them why they asked me that and they would say because I seemed fresh, positive and non-cynical. I would then say that I have been an international civil servant for 15 years but that I take care of myself. Every day I do things that maintain my sense of awareness, integrity, hope and relevance. Taking care of oneself is very important but it doesn’t happen by accident.

“If we don’t take care of ourselves we can burn out or become disillusioned, cynical, complacent, self-satisfied, distracted or despairing. My definition of a cynic is an idealist who has burned out. Most people begin their lives or careers with hope, vision and energy. Then we encounter the “real world” of struggle, egos, resistance, conflict and failure.

“In my 20s I believed that my NGO and I would transform the world within 10 years. In my 40s I believed that the UN and I would transform the world in 20 years. In my 60s I believe that the human race and I will transform the world within 100 years. But what will the transformation be? Will we create a compassionate civilization of sustainable human development or will we live in misery on a degraded planet?

“How do we maintain our commitment and passion for transformation as we deal with our aging bodies and the stubborn resistance that we encounter in individual psyches and behaviors and in collective assumptions and institutions? How do we do what needs to be done today while we envision what could be realized in some tomorrow? How do I take care of myself so that I keep on keeping on?

“One of the things I do every morning is remember who I am and what I am about. I express gratitude for my life and for life itself. I articulate my vows and intentions. I remember those who have gone before me and those I love. I stand before the really real and rededicate myself to a life of compassion and understanding. I find that this is the most important thing I do all day long. It is my action before the action.  In that moment everything is realized and I am at peace and ready to know, do and be all that I can for all that can be.” pgs. 196-197 ACC

Let’s keep on keeping on. Our actions are critical to the future of life on Earth. Being a mindful activist is our bodhisattva mission these days. And please remember to take care of yourself every day.

Robertson Work is NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service adjunct professor of innovative leadership, founder and facilitator of the Collaborative for Compassionate Civilization, and as a facilitator and trainer for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN-Habitat, and the East-West Center, among others. Additionally, Work is a Fulbright Senior Specialist assisting universities overseas and a Fellow of the NYU Wagner Research Center for Leadership in Action and author of A Compassionate Civilization: The Urgency of Sustainable Development and Mindful Activism—Reflections and Recommendations, now available at Amazon and major book retailers. His blog is “A Compassionate Civilization.” You can read more from an interview of Robertson at Buddhisdoor Global on Creating a Compassionate Civilization.

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