Monday, April 23, 2012

Shifting the Mood Through a Fresh Perspective

This week will mark my 5th month living in Rwanda. In exchange for 4+ months of service, I was awarded time away, so I spent 1 week traveling throughout Rwanda with a dear friend from home, and 2 weeks out of the country entirely. I have to honestly admit that I was ready to fly away and get a fresh perspective (and a hot shower), so the time away was a welcome change. I think it is so important to step away from our place in this world every now and again in order to recharge and reawaken our senses. We all have a tendency to become a bit stagnant when we are idle for too long, especially when we are so absorbed in our own community. My post in Rwanda is unique in that I live, play, and work in the same small community, so I am not often awarded the opportunity to step out of my little bubble.
While away, I really focused on thinking about the following:
  • What are my sources of strength?
  • What are my sources of inspiration?
  • What are my sources of satisfaction?
The past few months have awarded me with an incredible gift of time. I have time to sit and reflect, to think, to analyze, and to dream. I have finally been able to slow my life down and really try to be present and live in the moment. Although life in Rwanda is filled with many challenges, both new and familiar from past experiences and relationships, I really want to come to appreciate and enjoy the environment I am in for the time being. We all face hardships and frustrations no matter where we are, but we are also surrounded by positivity and wonderful opportunities for change and improvement. My time away helped me not only appreciate what existed outside my bubble, but also helped me reorient my negative feelings toward certain aspects in Rwanda and re-frame them as opportunities for improvement, and opportunities for learning.

My first week out of the country was spent in Scotland with my beloved parents. Although an occasional Skype conversation or the near-daily phone conversations keep us connected, nothing soothes the heart like a physical hug, and nothing convinces mom and dad that I am not starving to death or rotting from mosquito bites (as you can see in the silly picture to the left, I am not) like seeing me face-to-face. This trip was so multi-faceted - it gave the 3 of us the opportunity to drive nearly 1300 miles together and see the many parts of the exceptionally beautiful country, while allowing us to enjoy each others company and have a few hearty laughs along the way. I felt like we had our first few moments of joy since my brother's death, and those segments felt so refreshing and helped my heart remember what it feels like to feel something positive.

My second week away was spent in Israel. Although I was raised Jewish, I am the first in my family to travel to Israel, and that in itself made the trip special. Predominantly, I went to attend the mid-year seminar for all of the JSC Fellows, sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee, the organization which funds my position in Rwanda. Above all, the most amazing part of the seminar was meeting the other Fellows, hearing about their experiences (positive and challenging), and having amazing conversations about our posts around the world. Although we are so isolated in so many ways, with respect to physical location, specific roles and responsibilities, etc., we are also so very interconnected with one another, which is quite comforting. Over the course of 4 days, I made amazing connections with people and picked up invaluable insight and wisdom which will undoubtedly help me throughout the remainder of my post, as well as through the years ahead. A segment that I found interesting, as it intertwines with my reasons for taking a year away to live in Rwanda, and which I would like to share is the following about INDIVIDUAL SUSTAINABILITY.
The notion is to
maintain the balance, pacing, and efficiency of our energy to sustain us over our lifetime of service. Areas of focus include:
  • general health
  • spiritual sense of being (personal grounding)
  • heart and emotions
  • sense of place

Balance has always been something I have struggled with, and is something that I have fervently worked on for the past 4+ years, so this particular topic and discussion was important for me, as it reminded me of the importance of not getting lost in any one aspect of my life. It reminded me that the recipe for success and happiness is to truly listen to myself internally and to be in touch with what my mind, body, and spirit tell me.

Other take-aways from the seminar, (which can help all of us) include:

  • the idea of focusing on personal and professional strengths, and seeing how each of us can move them from good to great
  • keeping in mind that words create worlds
  • remembering that what we study grows
  • reminding ourselves that negativity breeds negativity, so there is a need to always be cognizant of the energy that surrounds us

All of the lessons circle back conveniently to the three bullets that I wanted to focus on while I was away - the idea of strength, inspiration, and satisfaction. These are the driving forces behind how and why I live my life.

One final note - While in Israel, I also had the amazing opportunity to meet with Ralph Goldman, Honorary Executive VP of the Joint Distribution Committee. When it came time to ask the nearly-100 year old man questions, one stood out to me. I asked Mr. Goldman to share the best piece of advice he has ever received. I will finish this post by sharing his piece of advice, which I believe can live within each of us. After a bit of a diatribe and references to his time as Ben-Gurion's (Israel's first Prime Minister) right-hand man, he told me that he has always tried to learn from everyone he has encountered, but that the following still resonates with him,

Decide what your role is and work toward that, but do the exception to the rule once in a while to remind yourself that you are alive.