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Aid to Zen: N – Not Harming

This post is part of Aid to Zen – A Quick Guide to Surviving Aid Work from A to Z by Alessandra Pigni.


If you have been reading Aid to Zen this far, you will know it’s a mix of serious and ironic reflections on Aidland and the world of do-gooders from a psycho-social point of view. Twenty-six letters, twenty-six posts. Under the letter N, my Aid to Zen draft lists the following key terms: neocolonial, narcissist, national staff. All easy picks, all somehow connected, nothing new: we’ve all heard about the neocolonial, narcissist aid worker who enjoys privileges over national staff (now called “locally hired” in aidspeak) because of his/her expat (now “mobile”) status. If you want to read something along those lines there are some great blogs that broke the news five years ago: Aidland is an unfair place, just like the rest of the world.

So I won’t give my five cents on the narcissist, neocolonial expat vs. the good-hearted, community driven, national staff. Rather I’m going to offer a reflection (with a Buddhist twist) about not harming ourselves and others, in the pursuit of doing something good and meaningful. Here’s wise Pema for us all:

“Nonaggression has the power to heal. Not harming ourselves or others is the basis of enlightened society. This is how there could be a sane world. It starts with sane citizens, and that is us. The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.

The ground of not causing harm is mindfulness, a sense of clear seeing with respect and compassion for what it is we see. This is what basic practice shows us. But mindfulness doesn’t stop with formal meditation. It helps us relate with all the details of our lives. It helps us see and hear and smell without closing our eyes or our ears or our noses. It’s a lifetime’s journey to relate honestly to the immediacy of our experience and to respect ourselves enough not to judge it. As we become more wholehearted in this journey of gentle honesty, it comes as a shock to realize how much we’ve blinded ourselves to some of the ways in which we cause harm.

It’s painful to face how we harm others, and it takes a while. It’s a journey that happens because of our commitment to gentleness and honesty, our commitment to staying awake, to being mindful. Because of mindfulness, we see our desires and our aggression, our jealousy, and our ignorance. We don’t act on them; we just see them. Without mindfulness, we don’t see them and they proliferate.” *

A sane world starts with sane citizens. Beyond nationalities.


What to read:

*Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty


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Mindfulnext/Aid to Zen 2011-2017 Creative Commons License
Mindfulnext by Alessandra Pigni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.