Academic Acrobatics: Self-care for mutual support

At a recent research away day, attendees were prompted to reflect on their personal values and share an image that could represent these.  The image I shared was based on the picture shown above, and was inspired a story from Buddhist teachings called the Sedaka Sutta. In the teaching, the Buddha describes two acrobats who were talking about how best they should work together:

Once upon a time, monks, a bamboo acrobat, setting himself upon his bamboo pole, addressed his assistant Medakathalika: "Come you, my dear Medakathalika, and climbing up the bamboo pole, stand upon my shoulders." "Okay, master" the assistant Medakathalika replied to the bamboo acrobat; and climbing up the bamboo pole she stood on the master's shoulders.

So then the bamboo acrobat said this to his assistant Medakathalika: "You look after me, my dear Medakathalika, and I'll look after you. Thus with us looking after one another, guarding one another, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down the bamboo pole."

This being said, the assistant Medakathalika said this to the bamboo acrobat: "That will not do at all, master! You look after yourself, master, and I will look after myself. Thus with each of us looking after ourselves, guarding ourselves, we'll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down from the bamboo pole. That's the right way to do it!"
(translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki, full version available @

In the teaching, the Buddha endorses the assistant's approach, noting that "Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself."  In our day to day lives, we look after ourselves by developing our ability to be mindful of our thoughts, actions and words, being diligent in using this mindfulness to develop equanimity in the face of the different stresses we face day to day.  We look after others by developing patience, kindness and care for them.

In the context of being an academic, this idea of self-care to help others can apply to the way we work on developing our own academic practice and then use this knowledge and skill to help others.  For me this self-care means investing effort in developing my knowledge and expertise, maintaining the highest levels of integrity in my work.  Through this care for my own academic practice, I can help others by also developing a collaborative approach to my work and being supportive of their goals. At the same time, these collaborations and efforts to help others also help me develop my own academic practice.

So, through this idea of self-care for mutual support we can develop ways of working that lead to effective collaborations, high-impact multi disciplinary contributions to knowledge, and high quality results.  Thus the acrobatics of balancing our research, teaching, knowledge exchange or service activities can benefit from this approach of care for our own development, which in turn can be supportive of the development of others.


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