Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
My graduate dissertation topic was self-trust and was aimed to explore what inside ourselves is trustworthy given that our inner experience can be filled with many contradictory "voices." The self-negating impacts of trauma and conditioning can create a lot of inner chaos, and make it quite difficult to sense, know, and trust our experience, let alone use it to navigate life.
I'm currently in the process of letting go of some major structures in my life involving leadership and organizational roles I've had for nearly nine years, in order to make room for something new that's wanting to be birthed through me. The new work involves writing and art and a much deeper synthesis of my passions including ecology, psychology, spirituality, creativity, social justice, and collective transformation. What shape it will take is completely unknown to me right now.
This morning I awoke feeling terrified and lost. A very young part of me is deeply afraid of making a mistake, of being stupid. She believes everything she does is wrong and that her impulses and ideas are highly suspect. She's just waiting to be shamed and scolded and told she's an unbelievably selfish idiot. She doesn't know how to act or choose, and is utterly unable to trust herself.
Of course, I took her into my heart and let her show me how she's feeling. Let her show me how unbearable it was to be so little and so frozen in fear and confusion. Things softened, she shifted. The wave was integrated. Note: the process I use to integrate activated energies like this is called Inner Relationship Focusing, as created by Ann Weiser Cornell.
Below is my subsequent journal entry, Grace & Chaos, that emerged through a potent writing process called Create! developed by my dear friend and colleague, Joanne Lee.
May it serve us all in this time of global chaos. May we trust that chaos' necessity will be revealed in retrospect.
Grace is everywhere. Grace. Is. Everywhere. Can't you see it? Can't you smell it? Can't you taste it? Can't you feel it? Can't you hear it?
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
Bigleaf Maple inflorescence (Acer Macrophyllum)
A traditional metaphor used to describe transition is a flying trapeze artist suspended in mid-air between two trapeze bars - one that was just released, and another that will soon be grabbed. The idea is this: the transition space, while uncomfortable, is just temporary as the old recedes and the new starts to emerge...something solid you can grab onto again.
The transition I believe we are on the edge of is more like a flying trapeze artist that is launched from the old trapeze into a free-fall that becomes a completely new way of being. Instead of anchoring ourselves onto another lofty fixation, we fall... fully naked... into the River of Life, where we learn to participate in the flow without holding onto anything anymore.
As some of you may know, (I believe) I'm in the process of writing a book about Awakened Activism. After an invigorating flush of recent inspiration, I've begun to struggle with creating just the right structure to birth this book. Fears about not finishing it push me to work harder than my soft animal body is willing, resulting in a push-crash-push-resist dynamic.
I decided to dialog with The Goddess (my moniker for Universe, Source, Life, God, Higher Self, etc.) and see what She had to say about all this.
Curious? I've posted my entire journal entry for you, below....
Me: I don't know how to do this, this new way, this birthing. I keep trying to create structures, goals, discipline...and they just don't work anymore.
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
3" Venus of Willendorf figure; Skokomish River, WA
Us Westerners tend to pray at the altar of Reason and Control, believing in deliverance from the messiness and unfairness of life. We grasp desperately onto ideas of how things should and should not be, and try to force our will onto the world.
Unfortunately (or fortunately!), life refuses to confine itself to any should or shouldn't that we come up with, no matter how brilliant it may be. Life's complexity is an infinitely receding horizon that bends away from us at the same rate as we attempt to approach it.
One thing COVID-19 might be inviting us to take in on a deeper level is how vulnerable we really are to life's demands and unpredictability.
Now, I'm not suggesting we therefore give up in despair or disengage with a kind of cavalier surrender. I believe we're called to continue participating in life as fully, creatively, and responsibly as we can!
What I am suggesting, however, is it might be time to find a new orientation to life besides Reason and Control and the delusion of mastery. One rooted in encountering and loving Life on its own terms.
Below is one of my recent journal entries which seems to speak to this new orientation.
We could call this new frame something like "Dancing within Mystery." Perhaps some important lessons are happening through the COVID pandemic we wouldn't have learned otherwise. Perhaps it is stripping away old structures that no longer work, and illuminating new necessities and directions. Perhaps it is an invitation for creatively engaged, loving surrender instead of rigidity, fear, force, and coercion...
Note 1: "The Goddess" is my moniker for Universe, Source, Life, Life-Force, God, Higher Self, Mystery, etc.
Note 2: This writing emerged from a depth journaling process called Create!, developed by my friend and colleague, Joanne Lee.
The Goddess is a River
Essential to what I call awakened activism is the shift in one's identity from fundamental separateness to fundamental unity with all of life. In my spiritual path, Trillium Awakening, we call this shift whole-being realization.
[Note: The Strauss-Griggs iConscious Human Development Model, names this transition "Chapter 9, Embodied Unity"]
This pivotal and very real shift in identity can be viewed as part of the natural process of human maturation. Working with students, one of my primary tasks is supporting this developmental process by initially engaging the pre-realization phase, which I call sacred unraveling.
Or, in Trillium Awakening terms, it is called unraveling from seeking and fixing strategies where:
The will to try new formulas for perfection and avoidance of suffering are dissolving, leaving one in a free-fall or groundless condition that feels disorienting, perhaps even devastating, but prepares the ground for the quantum shift of Whole Being Realization.
This process of unraveling from our fixing and seeking strategies, while sacred and auspicious, can be quite challenging and disorienting. A conceptual understanding of what's happening plus some good tools and skilled guidance can help us avoid unnecessary pain and confusion in what many consider to be a truly heroic passage.
Over time, and with support, this journey of radical vulnerability brings us deep into the heart of the Core Paradox, which is that place where our free, unbounded, infinite nature coexists with our fleshy, tender, messy human self.
Gradually surrendering more and more deeply into this paradox - this fundamental essence of our conscious human embodiment - allows the whole-being realization to mature in our Being.
Are You Unraveling?
If you resonate with one or more of the above descriptions, then you might find value in this video Sacred Unraveling: Surrendering Into the Core Paradox, where I offer three keys to leveraging your sacred unraveling process!
With love and trust,
Fax Gilbert, long-term Trillium Awakening teacher and editor of the Trillium newsletter recently wrote this inspiring editorial, which I'm reprinting with his permission. Enjoy!
2018 has brought to the forefront more clearly than ever before the limitations of perceiving with just the mind, of interpreting reality primarily through a default system of belief and opinion.
As we are bombarded with data bolstering ideological positions from all sides, the need to transcend the digital world and integrate a more comprehensive truth has never been greater--to connect with a more foundational area of our being that can hold differences, is comfortable with not knowing, and that thrives on fully living the paradoxical nature of who we are.
Twenty-five years ago Saniel Bonder had a series of seminal insights into the nature of spiritual development that are the basis of our Trillium work. These insights are as fresh and valid and alive today as they were then. Over the years our work as Trillium teachers has been to create a delivery system that translates this knowledge into teaching formats that lead to awakenings.
These formats have taken the form of refinements in gazing transmission, personal sessions, teacher led sittings, mutuality circles, retreats, on-line courses, organizational and hierarchical structure, and community events. Trillium's group dynamics of awakening are all designed to safely bring forward the innate knowledge and intelligence of each person toward an expansion of identity in all directions: up, to an ownership of our conscious nature; down, into our personality, proclivities, and patterning; and out, from our heart into our relationships.
We begin to live from the wholeness of our being - not just the mind - and over time become fluent in the language of mutuality to foster respect, humility, empathy, and personal transcendence--necessary skills through which to navigate and thrive in these tumultuous times.
We are living through challenging times when problems that seem both monumental and intractable beset us on all sides. The center of our common life seems to not be holding because our traditional cultural, political, spiritual, educational and commercial institutions all appear to be insufficient to the task of renewal. When what once was an edifice of is no longer, it isn’t entirely gone, it’s just broken into pieces and still exists as rubble which has been scattered.
The great mythologist, Michael Meade has said that an old Irish myth tells us that when the center no longer holds, we each need to look to the periphery to find the source of our own renewal. We need to find that thing which, while seeming marginalized, both attracts us and scares us. As we explore it, we will find a thread which, if we pull on it, will lead us back to the center where we will find all those others who have followed their threads and together we can, once again, weave the tapestry of trust.
As the awakening life progresses, the world often feels more and more kindred and intimate and at the same time dissembling becomes less and less possible to pull off. Care for people, the earth, the creatures, this whole life deepens and devotion feels increasingly appropriate. If you are one who is predisposed to great sensitivity, you may find in your awakening life that encounters with beauty, awe and reverence become frequent companions on your journey.
In my experience, it is often the case that the shyest and tenderest part of who you are is also your deepest and most inherent gift to give to the world. You will never feel more exposed than when you reveal this part of who you are and at the same time you will never be more radiantly generous to the world and your life itself may feel like a prayer.
~~ Steve Boggs
What happens is this:
I’m at the party talking, listening, sighing, laughing, snacking, dancing, singing along and after a couple hours I step out on to the porch headed for my truck thinking I’ve been having fun before when suddenly a whole new sensibility opens up in me; my belly relaxes, my heart opens and my whole body comes much more alive as I feel the cool night air caress my face and the quiet of the darkness cloaks me in the tenderest embrace. The deep sky beckons and I notice the large tree across the fence, a silent sentinel to a hundred autumns like this one, a witness to how many lightning strikes, how many assaults, how many first kisses, how many last breaths? The half moon is emerging from a cloud and also silhouettes the telephone line running through the ancient tree carrying conversations everywhere from Sioux City to the Seychelles bearing words of hope, boredom, impatience, compassion, amorous longing, betrayal, dread and delight. The tree extends as far under the earth as it does above, its roots penetrating deeply into the moist, fecund soil which is filled with numberless tiny insects, bacteria and fungi all endlessly and rapaciously feeding on the dying detritus of the life above and tonight they are feasting on the life blood of the opossum run over by the Buick that just flashed by. All this and more is pouring through me and this life and this world seem so incredibly precious and poignant and overflowing with exquisite beauty and exquisite pain and the two are locked in each other’s arms and a ferocious love of the whole throbbing, glorious, ghastly reality that is this existence incinerates this Steve Boggs character and the limited and the limitless are a little difficult to distinguish.
~~ Steve Boggs
The direct experience of life carries its own meaning and requires no intellectual explanation."
For the past month I've been experiencing an unsettling kind of "unraveling" where life isn't making much sense to me. What the heck is really going on here? What is life anyway? We somehow arrive in these imperfect, needy, and vulnerable bodies, in this totally wild and wacky world, and then die in a few dozen years.
Time is a bizarre construct, the whole universe arises anew each and every moment, evolution seems to be happening, and the whole thing is so much bigger than I am. Nothing I do matters... and yet everything I do matters. There are no right answers, no guarantees, no ultimate rules, and no ultimate maps.
My neat and tidy worldview seems to be undergoing another round of necessary disillusionment. Veils of certainty are dissolving, boxes are crumbling, old motivations are becoming highly suspect, and lines are getting very wiggly.
In the Trillium Awakening world, we have a beautiful term for this post-awakening process: Sacred Reconfiguration.
Sacred Reconfiguration: A post whole-being realization passage that is characterized by a profound reconfiguration of our most deeply held conditioning and beliefs about ourselves and the world.
What I realized this morning is that it's not so much that I feel life is meaningless, but it's that my mind is so utterly incapable of grasping the meaning of life. My mind is utterly incapable of comprehending the utter enormity of the Mystery. Over and over it just keeps landing on "wtf?!"
Awakened activism is a natural outcome of maturation and involves a deepening and widening beyond self and group identifications into something broader. It goes hand-in-hand with coming to know the self as much larger than a single identity, and acting accordingly.”
Would you like to hear some fresh voices exploring this new field of awakened activism? We're all fumbling this thing forward together, finding words and slowly placing muscles onto the bare bones. I recently interviewed two long-term friends and highly respected colleagues of mine, Leticia Nieto, PsyD, and Kirstin Eventyr, MA, about what this work means to them.
In this one-hour video we consider the following important dimensions of awakened activism:
Awakened activism is an aspect of Being that recognizes itself as one and the same with all of Creation and as a result caring very deeply for all of it, and simultaneously being able to deeply trust what is unfolding, to trust What Is.”
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
Margit Bantowksy, MA, is an artist, coach, teacher and facilitator.