Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
"In the ruin of heartbreak, you find the diamond of a divine passion that can resurrect the dead" ~Rumi
Do you sometimes feel despair when you consider the magnitude of the challenges currently facing the planetary community? If so, I'm actually relieved for you - it means that you have access to your feelings and are not completely shut down, and we need our feelings in order to fully engage awakened activism. Your despair gives me hope, it means you care deeply.
What if despair is actually a sign of mental and emotional health given our current circumstances?
I believe that every one of us with some capacity for empathy and with some awareness of the relentless degradation of all earth's living systems and the pervasive social injustices in so many of our industrialized cultures, would experience despair at least occasionally, if not daily.
As sacred activist and writer Andrew Harvey points out, when you are brave enough to let in the magnitude of what is happening on a global scale, "...the only sane, human, and useful reaction is heartbreak."
Why is despair useful?
Joanna Macy says it beautifully here:
The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life - flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic - but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information.
What is despair? The online Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as "The feeling that there is no hope and that you can do nothing to improve a difficult or worrying situation."
This feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness, while healthy and appropriate, can be very uncomfortable and I don't want to minimize it in any way. The key is learning how to constructively engage your feelings of despair so you become liberated to respond to situations more effectively.
Four steps for working with despair from an awakened activism perspective:
3. Community & Support
STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE
Let's begin by acknowledging three basic truths:
First: it is just hard to be here, period. Yes, there are countless awesome and wonderful things about being alive, and, it is also challenging to be in a body that is vulnerable, has needs and limits, and is dying a little bit every day. It is intense being in a world that is so complex and beyond our control, with so many forces that are so much bigger than us. There's a way in which being in this imperfect world, in an imperfect and tender body, is just a really challenging deal... even in the best of times.
Second: we can acknowledge that it's especially challenging to be here right now at this particular moment in history, when so much is at stake and things seem to be heading toward multiple global crises. It can be really hard to know what to do, overwhelming even.
Third: we can acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with feeling despair! It's an indication we have a healthy dose of empathy and care for our planet and her inhabitants. Despair is normal when you feel "you can do nothing to improve a difficult or worrying situation."
Acknowledging these three things may not take the despair away, but it can provide an important kind of relief that comes when we stop fighting ourselves.
Only when we stop fighting or resisting despair can we begin to transform it.
STEP 2: INTEGRATE
From an awakened activism perspective, any uncomfortable experience is seen as a doorway to spiritual growth. Our feelings and reactions are intelligent and hold our evolutionary potential, and we gain this evolutionary potential - and learn to trust it - by consciously integrating rather than dismissing our feelings. Also, because we are awakening into our wholeness there is no need to exile any part of our experience, despair included!
Here is a suggestion for integrating despair. The key is to feel fully while at the same time compassionately witnessing your experience: Feel it, Be it, and See it.
Note: You won't "get rid of despair once and for all" by doing this process. Because of our capacity to love, there's a way in which heartbreak is just a natural condition of being in this wild world of matter because there will always be some form of suffering and loss. However, as we continue to integrate, despair gradually becomes less debilitating, our hearts widen to hold more and more life, and joy and trust become increasingly accessible.
STEP 3: COMMUNITY & SUPPORT
We don't need to do this alone! Nor can we...
It can be very helpful to find kindred souls with whom you can share your concerns, ideas, and mutual encouragement. You may want to check out spiritual groups with an interest in activism (e.g. my All Hearts on Deck subtle activism group), or gather some friends for a book group around activism topics, or find an online group that resonates with you. In addition, you may consider exposing yourself to stories of people who are taking action, such as YES magazine, or the Drawdown project. Being with others, and being inspired by others, can help us move into action.
Because the integration process can be challenging to do alone, skilled facilitation can be invaluable, e.g. working with a conscious therapist, counselor, or coach for focused one-on-one support.
If you really want to leverage activism as a spiritual path, then it would be helpful if your supporter is grounded in an awakened perspective and experience.
"...[A]lone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatizing. But once people have tasted that they can, with each other, speak about what they see and feel is happening to our world, a number of things happen, in addition to the fact that they fall in love with each other. There is a trust and realization of, "Oh my god, I'm not alone."
STEP 4: ACTION
Paradoxically, taking some action, even a small one, may often us move out of the sunk place despair can hold us in.
I invite you to explore making a commitment to lean in and participate somehow, even if it seems inconsequential. Let yourself be surprised at what happens when you choose to act out of love anyway, despite what your mind thinks the odds of success are. Taking small actions can change our energy, start the ball rolling, and can give us a sense of meaning. Begin with your immediate sphere of influence, and explore the various aspects of your lifestyle - food, clothing, transportation, shelter, community, local ecosystem.
If you've already made a commitment and taken lots of action and still feel that you're not doing enough, you may need to go through the integration process a bit more, and focus on the "not enough" feeling. There's some deep and important work in the feeling of not enough that can be very liberating in the long run.
Sometimes despair sets up camp and there may be periods when you're just not able to do very much. When this happens, some self-forgiveness might be good medicine - we don't have as much control over our emotions as pop culture might have us believe, especially when the despair we're feeling has echoes in past trauma.
When you "hit bottom" you are given a choice: to give up, or to offer what you can. If you need some time in the dark waters of depression and cynicism, so be it. I've been there too, and will be again. Yet I invite you to keep choosing to take one small action for the good of other beings, and remember you're part of a much bigger evolutionary movement. Check out my Power of Small Steps blog post.
Activism as a Spiritual Path
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
5:30 - 7:00 pm
Olympia Timberland Library
Photo by Dmitry Kotov on Unsplash
Imagine what scientists, lawyers, doctors, therapists, politicians, economists, and activists of all kinds could effect as embodied and illumined instruments of compassion and justice."
You might be wondering what spiritual awakening is and what it has to do with activism. Is awakening bogus, some sort of new-agey trend or delusion? And if it is real, why is it important?
As an atheist and environmental engineer with a deep interest in psychology, my spiritual life has been hard-won. However, based on my direct experience and that of many friends and colleagues (both in- and outside of Trillium Awakening), I now know spiritual awakening is very real... and very attainable.
So, what do I mean by the term "spiritual awakening?"
Spiritual milestones have been cataloged over millennia by a number of eastern traditions. [For a truly brilliant, integrated map of human development, I suggest you check out the new Strauss-Griggs "iConscious Human Development Model"]
From a developmental point of view, an embodied, conscious awakening to the fundamental unity of life can be seen as an important indictor of natural human psycho-spiritual growth - it marks a pivotal and distinct threshold.
What I mean by awakening is a fully embodied (not solely transcendent, dissociated from matter) and stabilized (not just a temporary glimpse) realization of the unity of all of life, which includes the paradox of being both infinite, unbounded awareness and simultaneously being this unique, fleshy, quirky, limited, human body-mind.
We awaken from the common but limited perspective of separation and realize that while we are distinct, we are fundamentally not separate from the Totality in any way. Some call the foundation of unity Consciousness, while others may experience it as Love, or Stillness.
What does spiritual awakening give us as activists?
An embodied awakening, especially when done in mutuality with others who help us see and integrate our unconscious conditioning, can give us:
Perhaps most importantly, embodied awakening anchors us so deeply within the web of life that our hearts are no longer separated and compassion becomes our primary currency.
What might be possible when we express these capacities of awakened human maturity?
Andrew Harvey, a spiritual teacher and author of the book The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, suggests that spirituality and activism need each other. Activism without spirit can lean too heavily on an addiction to doing, and is fueled by a martyr or messiah complex which often leads us to rage, resentment, burnout, and despair. Conversely, spirituality without activism can leave us in a kind of dissociated distance from the world and an unwillingness to engage its messy challenges.
In my experience, an embodied realization of non-separation with all of life resolves this split and gives us the deepest possible "ballast" with which to relate and respond to the world around us. It provides a fundamental sense of wellbeing and trust that results in an essential ease and spaciousness as we move through life. The deep inter-connectivity also increases our ability to hold discomfort and suffering -- our own as well as others.'
Embodied awakening gives us a much greater capacity to be with life... as it really is. This, in turn, allows us to respond more effectively to the necessities of the moment."
Our lives become more fluid and organic. Instead of the constant struggling, pushing, arguing, forcing, blaming, manipulating, and fighting that characterizes much of pre-awakened activism, we start actually cooperating with what is unfolding before us.
Planning is still important, but we become more open to possibility and movement, and view set-backs as signals for creative re-direction. Synchronicity and ease become commonplace as we relax our grip on outcome while participating fully.
Finally, instead of adding more aggression and divisiveness into the mix -- a common characteristic of pre-awakened activism -- our spaciousness, curiosity, compassion, and ability to hold paradox and complexity lets us encounter and collaborate with others in ways not previously possible.
Do you want support in your awakening process?
Come to our Free Intro Night and discover how Trillium Awakening can help you!
Friday, May 4, from 5: 00 - 7:00 pm
at The Harbor House on Olympia's boardwalk
...[T]here is the subtle power of small steps whose impact only becomes evident when we step back and see the larger picture they contribute to."
I want to offer a possibility: what if you could trust what you feel drawn to do?
Industrialized civilization's negative impact on the health of our living Earth is massive and complex. No wonder many of us feel overwhelmed and impotent when we ask ourselves what we can do to make a positive difference.
The feeling of impotence is often magnified in Western cultures where the gospel of individualism keeps us more isolated. Yet there are inklings of a communion-oriented awareness arising around the world - from new business and organizational structures that work more like biological systems (see Frederic Laloux's excellent book Reinventing Organizations), to a growing interest in inter-subjective consciousness in spiritual communities (e.g. Integral Spirituality; Patricia Albere's Evolutionary Collective work; Trillium Awakening's emphasis on mutuality; etc.)
What if human consciousness was itself evolving? And, since you are reading this awakened activism blog, what if you are already a part of this evolution?
...[W]e recognize that we're not separate individuals in our own little bubbles, but connected parts in a much larger story."
I invite you to consider the Great Turning is already moving through you, and that your job is to sense and follow where your heart (or heartbreak) leads you to participate with the world.
Trusting that we are part of a bigger pattern of change allows us to take small, conscious steps that are consistent with our values, temperament, and limits.
Offering ourselves in this way this gives us five things:
1. shift out of apathy and despair into a sense of movement and engagement
2. heightened awareness of your care for the world, from which grows a sense of meaning
3. sustainable engagement without getting overly burnt out
4. companionship with all the other people on the planet who are acting from care
5. more energy and creativity may come available to you
Like a tile in a beautiful mosaic, or a clarinet in a large symphony orchestra, or a stitch in a needlepoint canvas, I invite you to trust that you are an integral part of a larger evolutionary movement.
You don't have to do it the "right way." Just drop into your heart and do it "your way" - however you are able - one small step at a time.
Needlepoint by my mother, Edith.
"Escargot" design by Kaffe Fasset.
Years ago during a Monday night dance class, I remember feeling discouraged about the destruction of our living, blue-green Earth. My job at the time was to help WA manufacturers use fewer toxics and generate less waste. It was ambitious work and progress seemed desperately slow.
I felt like a tiny kayak pushing against the flank of a massive freighter - small, insignificant, alone. Discouraged, I danced into the heart of my grief and pushed my hands against the freighter-like studio wall, fear and rage firing my muscles. It all seemed too much to bear.
Even though it still feels too much to bear sometimes, things are shifting for me...
I recently held the very first All Hearts on Deck Monday Night Subtle Activism Practice Group. Olympia was luxuriating in a sublimely warm and beautiful spring evening which arrived like a blessing after months of Northwest rain, ice, and even some snow.
I was certain nobody would come indoors to join my meditation!
But one courageous woman showed up, voting with her body, committing her attention and time. We drank the potent nectar of companionship. We helped each other bear the grief and fear. We encouraged each other to keep caring and daring. We gathered strength.
Anchored in our shared concern, our interwoven prayers deepened to embrace the world. We became an unstoppable wellspring of radiant compassion.
We felt connected to and grateful for each other and all the people around the world we knew were leaning in with heart, soul, and shoulder. We were not alone.
Click Here for more info about the "All Hearts on Deck" Subtle Activism Practice Group
Next Meeting is Monday, March 26
When we draw on a sense of fellowship, belonging, and connection, it is as if we are remembering our root system. This is the power-with, which comes from the larger circle that we can draw on, that acts through us." - - Joanna Macy
What motivation will sustain you?
Awakened activism is not about right or wrong, should or should not. Life is much too Mysterious for such absolutes, and rules much too unreliable. Besides, self-righteousness can be so exhausting, no? Perhaps we can look to love...
What does my love of my brown-skinned friend, or an aging or mentally-ill relative, or a struggling single mother call me to do?
What actions do my love of the patient heron, the restless river, the ancient cedars, the regal elk, and the golden dragonfly dare me to take?
Without the connective threads of love I have no compass, and life cannot penetrate me and grow me up. Love gives my actions meaning, direction. In the long run, we may find that only love offers a sustainable motivation.
What if I slipped off the heavy cloak of separation and bathed in the wondrous and wild ocean of my embeddedness in Life?
What if I let myself be consumed by love and awe?
If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear. People who can open to the web of life that called us into being."
Because I believe we are ultimately here to dance—to live our uniqueness fully and with joy. I also believe we are here to grow into mature human adulthood. My sense is that these are the same thing.
Contemplative practices can help illuminate our conditioning, and as old constrictions loosen their grip we become increasingly liberated to follow our authentic impulses. Loving ourselves, loving life, and serving life, can co-evolve as we increasingly embody the vast spectrum of who and what we truly are.
Below is one of my favorite quotes for inspiration. If you are ready to take this journey of all journeys, and to share your unique dance in celebration and service, then I'm right here to support you.
In 1943, De Mille was hired to choreograph the musical Oklahoma!, which became an overnight sensation and ran for a record-setting 2,212 performances. Feeling that critics and the public had long ignored work into which she had poured her heart and soul, De Mille found herself dispirited by the sense that something she considered “only fairly good” was suddenly hailed as a “flamboyant success.” Shortly after the premiere, she met Graham “in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda” for a conversation that put into perspective her gnawing grievance and offered what De Mille considered the greatest thing ever said to her. She recounts the exchange:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.
Martha Graham (Photograph: Barbara Morgan)
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
“No artist is pleased.”
“But then there is no satisfaction?”
“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
by Joanna Macy
I vow to myself and to each of you:
To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future generations, and my brothers and sisters of all species.
To support others in our work for the world and to ask for help when I need it.
To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows.
This multi-dimensional global crisis that we're in invites us all to participate fully and to play our part, even if it feels inconsequential.
Joanna suggests that we can choose to give our actions significance by clarifying our intention and consciously committing to them.
In turn, our meaning-full actions become part of The Great Turning - the transition from an unsustainable industrial society to a generative one committed to the Earth's health.
What vows will serve you as you lean your heart and mind into the calling of these times?