“We are carried so far out to sea that we lose sight of the quiet haven where we set forth” Gregory the Great
“Seated alone in silence undisturbed
Within my heart a shaded light I see.
How futile the activity of man.” Natsume Soseki
When first employed by FWA in the new city, two colleagues and myself set out to ‘plough the virgin land’ with some vigour and no doubt considerable naivety. It was with some frustration therefore that we found ourselves required by the agency to journey to London every fortnight for a meeting of ‘new’ workers. The air in the car was warmed by mutterings about navel gazing. How could such self-indulgent introspection be justified when there was so much work to do? This debate must be echoed in every social work agency – how much time can be spent on meetings, supervision etc., and how much on the ‘real work’? I’m put in mind by the Japanese quotation, of the academic content of social work courses, where much energy is spent in showing us that one method of intervention with clients appears to have no more effect than any other.
The Bereavement Project had the same balance between the volunteers’ and my personal development, the time for reflection and attention to our own needs, and on the other hand the external activity, delivering the service to clients and community. In particular, with many of the volunteers brought to the project by their own experience of bereavement, we had to assess how far people had learnt from and were coping with their own unhappiness. The preparation course was designed to prepare people for visiting the bereaved, but more than one participant spoke of how it had helped them with their own loss. It could be said that the continuing task of the project in supporting the volunteers was to hold together these two aspects of the experience of volunteering; the internal development of the volunteers and the external reality of providing a service. Where they become split, the volunteers either felt their private experience to be intruded on or to be unsupported because of the emotions that providing a service brought up.