Unfolding Stories – Transforming Understandings of Development Through Spiritual Empathy

Once upon a time, there was a gardener who left her home garden towards the wild forests. The unknown weeds seemed to hamper the flowers. Her hands pulled at the thorns and the thorns pulled at her hands. In pain, she sat down in tears and suddenly she saw the berries growing from the wild weeds. “What is my role than, if I am not a caring gardener?”, she asked herself. The thorns answered: “You could care for your torn hands.”

This story portrays my starting point: I search for healing of my torn hands, wounded by my blocking belief in postcolonial – moral/modern – discourses that reproduce ‘development’ as a teleological promise of salvation.

To transform my paralysis, I focus on experiential ways of knowing, existing within myself and other actors working in development cooperation. Stories about diverse experiences of spirituality, taken from everyday work, twist my single story of ‘development’ transrationally. This I portray within creative writing, which can evoke resonance on your spiritual layer.

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During my research process, I learned that orientation in development cooperation does not only arise from growth, but from values, intuitions, emancipation, and continuous reflection. The professional’s agency is experienced as divided between personal freedom and a collective, complex energy. Suffering, guilt, and limitations point beyond what is rationally understandable and thereby open spaces for transformation. Finally, a transpersonal connection is the base of various stories of unfolding. Reflecting on this process, I realised that spirituality is not a driving force of development, as I had formerly expected. Instead, spirituality continuously produces a doubt, a gap, a twist, that transforms linear ‘development’ into an ever-changing dance of unfolding.

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