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Past, present, future

Random reflections on walking, burnout, resilience, meaning and “raising awareness”, from Gaza to San Francisco. 

Winter is approaching and I find myself reflecting on another intense year gone by. I was in Jerusalem in September, a time when both the Jewish and the Muslim new year were celebrated. It suited me well because I tend to do my yearly reflections around this time of the year. Over the last months, I took a long break from blogging (not from writing): I spent my summer holidays hiking on an ancient route in Northern Spain and studying documentary photography in London.

I’m treating this post as an update on past, present and future and as a peek into what matters to me and to those readers who want to continue following Mindfulnext.


Walking is the best meditation for me. This summer I walked 650 km in Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. What struck me the most was how happy I was with few possessions, with limited internet (no internet would have been even better, but long gone are those days even on a spiritual route) and with 25-30 km on my shoulders every day. Walking has the power to drive me straight into the arms of what matters to me. 

Gaza, where people teach (me) life

“We teach life” says a popular poem on Gaza. They do indeed. I was fortunate enough to be invited to work in Gaza City in September and I’m still pondering over the experience in awe of the kindness, warmth and curiosity I found in the young leaders I encountered. Every time I return to Palestine people teach me life. I guess that is why I keep returning.

Resilience in the field

I recently got this note from a an aid worker who read my book (I love receiving lovely emails out of the blue from people I don’t know):

Dear Alessandra,

I have just finished reading your book and I am sure it will stay with me forever.
It took me really long to finish it. I found almost every chapter worth re-reading and re-thinking many times.
I started reading it in Antakya, Turkey so I really felt close to your experience when talking to my colleagues from Syria.
Later, still reading your book, I was leaving Turkey and considering another deployment or return home. I took the advice and had a long leave before I decided.
And now, I finished the book already working in Iraq.
Thank you for giving me support in all this. Thank you for making me have second thoughts.

Who needs marketing when you have such kind readers?

Burnout and Organisational Mindfulness

“Organizations cannot hire one person for a job that requires three people and wonder why the person is exhausted or not able to deliver everything that needs to be delivered. I’m shocked at the number of people who, after working a whole day, go home, eat something quickly, and go to work again. It is great that many cultures are at the stage where work is about fulfillment and not just about paying bills, but the idea that I get my fulfillment and identity just from my work is absolutely crazy. You strip people from their profession and they don’t know who they are.”

This is an extract from my conversation with Tana Paddock, host of Organization Unbound, a Cape Town-based blog full of wonderful ideas and practices for social change organisations. Tana turned our long conversations into an interview and you can read the full gig here.

Meaning and On Being Gathering

When I was 16 my friend Vlatka, who went on to become an amazing artist, gave me a copy of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Her inscription read: “To help you search for meaning, or whatever it is we are looking for”. Over two decades later I’m still handling this fascinating topic, it’s a theme close to my heart, that I explored in my book in relation to burnout, and that has implications in most areas of our lives. As some of you may know I am a big fan of On Being, a podcast that explores life and meaning. This is how they describe themselves:

“What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.”

The exciting news is that I have been selected and offered a scholarship to attend the On Being Gathering which will take place in Santa Cruz, California in February 2018. I feel so privileged to have this possibility to refuel and get inspired. While on the West Coast I will take the opportunity to do a “mini book-tour” – do get in touch if you are in the LA or Bay area and want to organise a talk on burnout and resilience with your organisation.

Paternalism and Raising awareness

Last but not least a bit of critical thinking over an issue where none is invited. A friend drew my attention on this brilliant post on the shallowness of breast cancer awareness month (October, in case the pink all over the world hasn’t hit you in the field). I’m sharing this reflection not only because I have a vested interest in seeing the end of this “solidarity farce”, but also because I see a tragic parallel with the approach that many well-meaning aid organisations have when investing in a cause. And this is the problem: people are individuals, they are not “a cause”, no matter how much we want to end poverty, wars or cancer. Also it’s time to drop the belligerent language of “fighting poverty, fighting cancer, fighting war”. If you ever considered wearing a pink ribbon or anything of the kind, I invite you to read the full post and think again about what solidarity really means. In the meanwhile here’s a snippet:

“There are breast cancer awareness parties held during October where organizers promote the illusion of doing something wonderfully admirable for women, but in reality the events are just another excuse to throw a party, serve silly refreshments, talk about boobs all night long and/or make money.” 

Doesn’t it sound tragically similar to some of the fundraising initiatives that go on in aid? 

I’ll leave you with this thought and wish you a good autumn.

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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.