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The Heart-Mind-Body workshop, held at Chengeta Lodge just outside Harare (April 9 – 10), brought together 26 women, each with diverse experiences, perspectives and survival strategies, all united by a common concern: sustaining the work we do in incredibly stressful situations.

The venue, set in the midst of an animal park, was open, lushly green and energizing. There was fire to warm not just the open meeting area but also our lives. The chairs were comfortable and cosy; the seating arrangements allowed for easy interaction and sharing collective wisdom. In the safety of that room we were able to forget the linear world of development that defines how we facilitate our workshops. Instead, we acknowledged the primal elements that sustain us: fire, air, nature and water.

The hosting organizations, JASS and Musasa, took great care to create an open, inclusive and welcoming space—no hierarchy, no speeches, no “queen mothers” or ageism. There was an awareness that everyone was needed and that anyone could contribute some personal reflections that might spark a collective insight. Soul-feeding gifts such as colourful socks, and simple notebooks for writing our own thoughts, insights and reflections only added to the spirit of sisterhood, love and camaraderie.

Over two days, we gave ourselves permission to create a new world. A world where we were stripped bare; a world where the young, the old and those in-between felt free to explore themselves deeply, to enjoy the curiosity and delight provoked by the space, to risk and abandon our positions. We were not afraid to be regarded as “unprofessional,” our organizational affiliations did not matter. It was a space where we felt safe to laugh, cry or just be, and to place our innermost thoughts on the table. Without the distractions of work or the outside world, the wisdom hidden within each one of us surfaced. Wisdom many of us had not even recognized as such. The retreat reintroduced us to a world many of us had forgotten—a world of knowing who we are as we pass through this world. We acknowledged the pain we had buried and shared some skills to address it. Sisters shared some hilarious survival strategies, innovative concepts and tips to use in our work but also to support us as we journey through this planet called earth.

We learned the importance of breathing right, stretching and connecting the mind, body and soul. Activities such as a game drive, one-on-one counselling sessions and small intimate conversations and heart-mind-body exercises (breathing, meditation, drumming, and moments of silence) fostered curiosity, clarity and a sense of connection to ourselves as more than mere bodies but as individuals.

The notion that our own exhaustion contributes to organizational failure was revelatory to many of us who survive in a work culture where the soul is often disconnected from the work that we do as individuals. This inevitably creates a toxic atmosphere, increased frustration and a sense of ‘I am doing this because I need money but this is not where I should be’ in our approach to work.

It’s easy to put work at the centre of our lives. But along the way we can lose sight of the whole system, of ourselves, of sisterhood and of the essence of that which connects us as human beings. In the name of professionalism we become isolated; we lose our creativity, audacity, energy and love of our work. The work itself loses meaning and we end up feeling perpetually angry, anxious over deadlines, fatigued and lonely. The process helped many of us realize that it is legitimate to bring who we are into the work we do. What we need is to create organizations with a soul.

After two days, we extricated ourselves from this nourishing oasis, rightly named Chengeta (take care), inspired, energized and excited by the shared ideas. We left convinced that we have the wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges and determined to make the path that we started at Chengeta by continuing to walk on it. While savouring the invaluable collective experience, we each gained tools to re-conceptualize our lives, our work places, institutional strategies and operations.

Thanks to JASS and Musasa for pioneering this work.

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